Music, theatre, food and parlour games were in evidence over the weekend at the Chateau de Prangins, as the Swiss National Museum held its second annual open day. The theme was pleasure through the ages.
The French-style castle, built in the 1730s, lies between the towns of Nyon and Gland and overlooks Lake Geneva. There, the visitor can learn about Swiss life and history in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The museum came up with the idea of the open days as a way of attracting more local people to discover what it has to offer, and to cast a new light on its permanent collection. Last year, its theme was crafts and professions through the ages. This year, it hoped the promise of pleasure and entertainment would draw the crowds.
"Having a festival like this is a great way of raising the castle's profile and attracting people who wouldn't normally come to a museum," says spokesman Luc Giacobino.
"We want to show the collection in a more lively way," he adds. One feature that helped bring the museum alive was the use of actors to depict key characters in the chateau's history: the Baron of Prangins, Voltaire, and Napoleon's brother, Joseph, to name just a few.
"They are almost literally coming out of the paintings and explaining the story behind them," Giacobino told swissinfo. "It's a great way of getting the public to participate. For them, it's like a journey in time."
For the people who work at the castle, it is also rewarding to see their museum pieces actually being used. A sizeable crowd gathered round a distinctive "square piano", made in 1780, played, of course, by a musician in costume.
"Even for us, it's a new way of experiencing the museum," Giacobino says.
The way people have entertained themselves down the ages tells us a great deal about economic and social history, according to the museum's curator, François de Capitani.
"Before the 18th Century, there was little time for leisure," he explains. But many of the activities we enjoy today, such as theatre and sport, really took off at that time.
"Today, when everything is virtual, real things, the objects you can touch and play with, attain a new importance," de Capitani says. That was in evidence in a games room, where scores of children were playing with toys dating back more than 200 years: the Ball-and-cup game, diabolo, ancient playing cards and spinning tops.
"We're trying to combine fun with knowledge," Giacobino says.
The Chateau de Prangins is famous for its kitchen garden, and so the pleasure of eating could not be ignored. Visitors were able to sample long-forgotten recipes, such as the "Poor Man's Soup", made from a recipe dating from 1771.
Although it has not yet been decided, de Capitani believes that the theme of next year's open day will be gastronomy through the ages.
by Roy Probert