Displayed in the prehistory room are a large number of archaeological objects which come from sites in the region, from the oldest occupation of Yverdon in around 4,000 B.C. up to the end of the Bronze Age (850 B.C.). A number of panels representing scenes of daily life, painted by the artist Patrick Savary of Yverdon, provide a context for a selection of the finds. They show that from the Neolithic period onwards people lived mainly from agriculture and raising livestock and that they lived in groups of houses built on piles on the shores of Lake Neuchâtel. The Bronze Age (1800 to 850 B.C.) artefacts include dozens of objects, weapons, tools and ornaments made of that metal, as well as one of Switzerland’s biggest dug-out canoes, 11 m long, which was found in Corcelettes in 1880.
The second archaeology section, which was completely modernised in 2006, starts with an opening area where an audiovisual display introduces visitors to the basic elements of regional history and geography. In the next room, the visit continues around a large number of outstanding archaeological objects, panels, reconstructions and models illustrating the history of the region over the course of three major periods:
the Celtic period, which saw Yverdon develop as an international transport junction of major importance. The settlement was enclosed by a rampart in 80 B.C. and an oppidum was built a few decades later on the hill of Sermuz, 3 km further south;
then the Roman period, during which Yverdon/Eburodunum became a prosperous little town, while huge agricultural establishments – the villae – were built in the surrounding countryside;
and finally Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, with the construction by the Roman authorities of a castrum at Yverdon around A.D. 325 to defend against incursions by Germanic tribes. Over the course of the succeeding centuries, the Burgundians and the Franks were assimilated by the native Gallo-Romans, as is clearly shown by the material on display which was found in the 300 or so tombs of the cemetery of Pré de la Cure in Yverdon-les-Bains.
Finally, the last section in this room presents the wealthy villa of Yvonand-Mordagne, one of the most luxurious country estates in the Swiss plateau in terms of the quality of its Roman architecture and decorations.
The west wing of the castle, which is currently under restoration, is due to house an exhibition of the mediaeval and modern periods of Yverdon and its region.
The northern wing of the castle, renovated at the turn of the third millennium, contains exhibits illustrating the regional history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Objects, texts, pictures and audiovisual displays focus on various aspects of this period which forged the Yverdon of today: political and social life at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries, with its revolutions and the creation of the Canton of Vaud; the great engineering projects of the 19th century, such as the draining of the Orbe plain; the baths of Yverdon, which reached their high point around the year 1900; the three decades which followed the Second World War, a period during which Yverdon developed into an industrial and working class town; and finally the education system of the 1970s with its profound changes in teaching practices. This last subject has been covered in conjunction with Fondation vaudoise du patrimoine scolaire.
A room dedicated to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi serves as a reminder that the great educationist lived in Yverdon castle from 1805 to 1825 where he ran his institute for young people and future teachers. During these twenty years J. H. Pestalozzi continued his reflections on educational methods and strove to improve them. He was a pioneer of practical and active teaching methods, the aim of which is to enable each pupil to forge his or her own personality and to learn to think for themselves.
A number of items which once belonged to the educationist are displayed in this room, including his writing desk, his round table, his Bible and the banner of his institute.
One tower of the castle houses a collection of Egyptian antiquities which includes the most complete funerary ensemble held in Switzerland: the mummy of the priest Nes-Shou and his funerary equipment, dating from the Ptolemaic period (ca 200 B.C.). The museum owes most of these pieces to Edwin Simond bey, a citizen of Yverdon who moved to Egypt in the 19th century. A great enthusiast of Egyptology, he conducted a number of excavations in Egypt, donating his discoveries to the country’s official institutions. E. Simond was presented with Nes-Shou as a token of their gratitude, and he in turn gave the mummy to Yverdon, his home town, as a contribution to the town’s cultural development.