Musée des Confluences

Musée des Confluences
Musée des Confluences

There’s a museum located at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers in Lyon. It is named Musée des Confluences (“Confluence Museum” according to Google Translate). Gee. I wonder how they came up with that.

If you’re in Lyon, try to make the time to head over there.

It won’t make any difference to your visit or your enjoyment of it, but I feel the need to pad this post with a bit of historical trivia. I said that Musée des Confluences is located at the confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers. That’s true today, but it wouldn’t have been the case a few hundred years ago. Back then, the museum’s location would have been in the middle of the converged river. Since then, considerable landfill has been added to Presqu’île, the central district of Lyon between the two rivers, to push the confluence considerably downstream.

Confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers
Confluence of the Saône and Rhône rivers

If you don’t have time to go inside the museum, at least take a walk around it. The architecture is striking, with sharply jutting shapes punching the air.

But do go inside if you have a chance.  And for all of you unilingual anglophones (which includes me), don’t panic. Musée des Confluences obviously targets tourists. There are English translations beside the French for all of text in the permanent exhibits.

Big Questions at Musée des Confluences

The museum touches on the big questions of, to quote the late, great Douglas Adams,  life, the universe and everything. I say “touches” because, let’s be real here, how deeply can a mid-sized museum delve into the universal big questions?

Long lost relatives?
Long lost relatives?

For a start, the Musée des Confluences explores the origins of the universe and, particularly, the origins of species. Yes, by that I do mean evolution, not creation. Note to those few creationists left in the world: feel free to become utterly indignant if you so choose. To be fair, the museum does mention some creation myths—creation of species, as well as the world and universe—but it describes them as what they are: myths, not reality.

There are exhibits on the convergence of life forms that provide solid evidence of evolution. And, yes, just as you’d expect in a museum of this sort, there are dinosaur skeletons.

Further to its exploration of the diversity of species, the museum examines the web of life, both human and non-human species.  A part of this exploration shows the symbolism that some cultures have used and some still use to depict their connection to other species.

Another room examines the nature of societies, including, but far from limited to the development of technologies.

Few people like to contemplate death. But it, obviously, is something we will all face. There’s an hall in the museum dedicated to this often discomforting subject. The exhibits there look at how different cultures face the end, i.e. death, including beliefs about an afterlife. This room also houses funeral and burial artifacts.

Temporary Exhibits

Death staring us in the face
Death staring us in the face

The above are permanent exhibits at the Musée des Confluences, but there are also galleries of temporary exhibits. For example, when I was there one hall had an exhibit on Antarctica.

Remember that I said that all of the text in all of the permanent exhibits were in both French and English? Well, the temporary exhibitions—at least the ones running when I was there—weren’t faithful to that rule. I’m not blaming the museum for that. After all, I was in France so I can’t really complain. After all, unilingual francophones would  have a hard time in my hometown of Toronto, despite it being in an officially English/French bilingual country.

I mention the French-only nature of some of the temporary exhibits to let you know that if, like me, you struggle with French, you might not get as much out of them as a francophone would.

For example, the Antarctic exhibit that was on when I visited the Musée des Confluences sported unilingual French text. Nevertheless, it still wasn’t a total waste for me. There was a theater-in-the-round that used four curved screens to surrounding me with a continuous film showing  activity in the frozen Antarctic wasteland. For the most part, that activity was penguins massing and marching. The sound track was just primarily squawking sounds, which unsurprisingly, did not require translation.

In the other temporary galleries I couldn’t figure out the theme of the eclectic mix of stuff on display, despite the fact that some carried English translations. However, that might just be because I’m a cultural cretin. Or, at least, that’s what close friends and relations call me.

Sorry about ending this on a somewhat down note. That wasn’t intentional. On the contrary, I was glad I visited the Musée des Confluences. You should too if you’re in Lyon.

Been there? Done that? Do tell.