The Roman Museum, the whole story

A long term coexistence

The beginning of the city of Nyon starts in the Roman period, so there are 2000 years of history beneath our feet. After the fall of the colony and the gradual abandonment of its monuments, the city was never completely deserted. The medieval town was built over the remains of the ancient city and after that the modern structures came over those. Which, by the way, were quite destructive. It is therefore frequent to find roman remains when excavations are held in the territory of the ancient colony.

A growing interest for Antiquity

The first mentions of Roman remains in Nyon appear in writings of 16th and 17th century scholars. With the various fortuitous discoveries in cellars and basements, the scholars’ interest grows. Nyon doesn’t have a Museum yet, so the newly discovered artefacts are sent to the History Museum of Bern, the Art and History Museum of Geneva and the Cantonal Museum for Archaeology and History of Lausanne.

First Museums

In 1860,Theodore Wellauer, a teacher from Nyon, takes an interest in all these archaeological discoveries and founds the Museum Society. Its purpose is to “collect and preserve the artefacts, inscriptions, historical documents, medals, coins, natural history artefacts, …” (statutes of the Museum Society, 23 September 1860). A Museum of local history is then created in the College of Nyon, with Theodore Wellauer as its curator. He will remain in this position from 1869 to 1907.

In 1888, the society gives its collections to the city and the Museum becomes a municipal establishment. With its new statutes, the Museum is moved to the Castle.

Discovery of the Roman Basilica and establishment of the new Museum

After years of excavating the city, building on the knowledge of the Colonia Iulia Equestris, an astounding discovery changes the course of events. In the beginning of July 1974, during excavations led by the Cantonal Archaeologist Denis Weidmann, the Roman Basilica is uncovered. It is one of the most important buildings of a Roman city, since it is in its midst that are held all administrative, political and legal affairs. The interest around this discovery is such, that the city decides to build a Roman Museum around the remains. Thus, on the 14th of September 1979, the new Museum is inaugurated, and named « Basilica and Roman Museum ».

A statue of Julius Caesar imperator is erected in 1980 at the edge of the Museum, in honour to the famous founder of the city. It’s a moulding of the original, a marble statue in Rome, at the Capitol, in the Council Chambers of the Senatorial Palace (Palazzo Senatorio), which is unfortunately closed to the public.

A renewed Museum 

Since 1979, the Museum underwent several transformations. The first one was in 1993, when the city of Nyon decided to uncover completely a part of the North-East ambulatory of the Basilica, under the Rue du Vieux-Marché in order to extend the Museum. Thanks to these changes, the plan of the Basilica is more visible.

Then, in 2009, the permanent exhibition is completely renovated, so that the recent discoveries might be added. The entrance’s walls are painted red, the colour of cinnabar, the famous Pompeian red. The furniture of the reception desk is painted yellow, giving a certain cheerfulness to the space.

The exhibition area also gets new colours: the floor and furniture become mauve, in order to highlight the light foundation walls of the Basilica. All the lighting is also renewed, the showcases are equipped with LED lights.

On this occasion, the entrance to the Museum is also remodelled. The access ramp is emptied, regaining its role as a raw concrete passageway. By descending along the archaeological stratigraphy, the visitor feels transported from the modern world to Antiquity.  

In 2019, the Museum celebrated its 40th birthday. The permanent exhibition was enhanced by two digital devices, in order to adapt to the current times. The first one explores the Basilica through a video giving a 3D reconstitution of the building and the second takes the visitors to the Roman baths.

The copy of Julius Caesar’s statue, having suffered damage through time, is replaced.

The Roman Museum, the history continues 

And it’s not over ! The Museum has the intention of adding five new digital devices before the end of 2021, giving the opportunity to its public to discover other sites and aspects of life in Roman times. One thing is certain, history is still to be written!

Auriane Mandelert

Guide et auxiliary at the Roman Museum of Nyon, Museology student

Something to read (in French) : 

Collectif, Musée romain de Nyon Colonia Iulia Esquestris, un site, un musée, Gollion, Infolio, 2019.


#MuseumFromHome more

The Roman Museum is 40 years old

The Roman Museum is 40 years old more

The Roman Museum celebrated its 40th Birthday. An ideal opportunity to celebrate, whilst putting forth a few monuments of the Roman past of Nyon, using digital technology!

Reserve your visit

Reserve your visit more

Reservation form for your visit

Program for schools

Program for schools more

The Roman Museum has a entire programm made espacially for schools!

Archaeological site

Archaeological site more