Cantonal Museum of Geology

History of the Cantonal Museum of Geology in Lausanne


Museums are born and live from the passions of those who animate them. At the Museum of Geology, for almost two centuries, researchers have been digging in the ground, extracting fossils and crystals, studying them and building up remarkable collections that are the history books of a mysterious past for the general public.

The end of the 16th century and the beginning of the 19th century saw the gradual disappearance of the natural history cabinets, thus dispersing the private collections. In order to avoid this mess, the pastor Daniel Alexandre Chavannes (1765-1846) and his friend the forest inspector Charles Lardy (1780-1858) fought to obtain the necessary funds to purchase these precious collections.

Charles Lardy (1780-1858)

General director of the forests of the canton of Vaud, he founded, with Daniel Alexandre Chavannes, the Cantonal Museum in 1818. Lardy is the author of a remarkable Essay on the "geognostic constitution of the St Gothard", published in 1833 and dealing with the mineralogy of this region.

The first collection was acquired in 1818 following a public subscription. It was the mineral collection of Henri Struve (1751-1826), professor of chemistry and mineralogy at the Academy and director of the mines and saltworks of Bex. This acquisition, as well as that of the watercolor collection of the painter Abraham Louis Ducros, was the basis for the creation of an exhibition room at the Academy on July 27, 1818, thus encouraging science enthusiasts to donate their collections: the Cantonal Museum was born.

Crystals of cuprite, a natural copper oxide, formerly called "zigueline", from the old mine of Chessy near Lyon. Presentation of the 19th century morphology of the crystals.

Thus, the illustrious Frédéric-César de La Harpe (1754-1838), former tutor to Tsar Alexander I of Russia and a patriot of the canton of Vaud, donated his fine collection of minerals to the museum. At the same time, Jean de Charpentier (1786-1855), director of the Bex mines, donated his collection to the museum. This scientist, an extraordinary character, was born in 1786 in Freiberg, Saxony, in a city famous at the time for being at the forefront of research in mineralogy and mining technology where he attended the famous Bergakademie. He worked successively in the coal mines of Silesia, in the copper mines of the Pyrenees and, in 1813, took over the management of the salt mines of Bex, which were in the process of collapsing. In 1841, he published a memorable work devoted to glacial theories.

Jean de Charpentier (1786-1855)

Director of the mines and salt works of Bex, he donated his collection of minerals and rocks to the Museum. Author of several articles dealing with geology and glaciology, he also studied the crystallography of gypsum crystals from Bex and published his observations in 1818-1819 in "Leonhard's Taschenbuch für gessammte Mineralogie" in Frankfurt.

In 1820, the chemist Samuel Mercanton (1794-1871) took over the teaching of chemistry and mineralogy at the University from Henri Struve. His beautiful collection of systematic mineralogy, very well labeled and studied, will complete those of the museum. In 1874, under the impulse of Louis Ruchonnet, the Cantonal Museum was reorganized, the Museum of Geology was officially created in the former bishop's residence and the collections were separated thematically (zoology, botany, geology).

Miners from Freiberg, Saxony, in full regalia around the beginning of the 19th century. The profession of miner was highly respected at the time, and miners were organized into paramilitary troops with the right to bear arms. These brotherhoods marched regularly, especially on the occasion of Saint Barbara's Day (December 4), patron saint of miners and artificers. The two figures on the right are students of the famous Bergakademie in Freiberg, where mineralogy, geology, mining and ore processing techniques are taught. The professor of chemistry and mineralogy Henri Stuve, the director of the mines of Bex Jean Charpentier and the general director of the forests of the canton of Vaud Charles Lardy, attended the courses of this academy. The miners from Meissen, a town famous for its porcelain, located about 30 km north of Freiberg, were called the Meissners or Meisser ...


The creation of the Cantonal Museum encouraged science enthusiasts to donate their collections, and in geology, illustrious Waldensians such as Jean de Charpentier, director of the Bex mines, and Frédéric-César de la Harpe, former tutor to the Tsar and a patriot of the Canton of Vaud, donated their beautiful mineral collections to the Museum. In the middle of the 19th century, Philippe de la Harpe, Eugène Renevier and later Maurice Lugeon began to assemble the first collections of paleontology and especially the large collection of regional geology. In full expansion following the works of Cuvier, Lamarck and Darwin, this science is passionate: one starts to actively search for fossils in order to discover their secrets.

Thanks to the donation of a nobleman of Russian origin, Gabriel de Rumine (1841-1871), the Palais de Rumine was built from 1898 to 1905. This building allowed the Museums, University Institutes, Library and Learned Societies to be housed under one roof. Some of the Museum's curators were also professors at the University, such as Eugène Renevier (1831-1906), Maurice Lugeon (1870-1953) and Arnold Bersier (1906-1978).


The construction of the Palais de Rumine at the beginning of the century allowed the installation of the Museum, the university laboratories of geology and mineralogy and their specialized libraries. It was here that a true symbiosis was established and contributed to the considerable development of the cantonal collections and to the influence of teaching and research, teaching which saw the greatest scientists of the time flock to Lausanne.



Confirmed in 1983 by the State Council and the Grand Council, the symbiosis between the Museum and the Earth Sciences Section of the University of Lausanne took concrete form with the joint move in 1987 and 1988 of the two institutions to the Bâtiment des Sciences humaines 2 in Dorigny, and the pooling of their library. In a few years, the Institute of Mineralogy acquired powerful analytical equipment, which the Museum benefits from through joint research work and the analysis of samples from the collections. Within this symbiosis of scientific research and museum, the Museum of Geology, turned towards the public, appears more than ever as a bridge between researchers and the general public.


The Museum's administration, workshops, laboratories, collections and archives are located in the Faculty of Humanities Building 2 (BFSH-2) on the Dorigny University campus, near the Lausanne.


The surfaces of the Arlaud Museum have been, since 1997, periodically made available to the Geology Museum for the presentation of temporary exhibitions.In order to support the activities of the Museum and to promote the earth sciences in French-speaking Switzerland, the Association of the Friends of the Geological Museum of Lausanne (AMGL) was created in 1996.


By Nicolas Meisser, curator