The Musée 1900 at Arpaillargues is an amazing historical museum of the last couple of centuries. It has a huge exhibition space (1300 m2) layed out in a dozen themed areas, where the thousands of objects are displayed in life-sized diaramas, so you see them as if you were wandering through the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We've visited many little historical - agricultural museums in Provence, and they're often a couple of rooms of interesting ancient artifacts and dioramas in a dusty setting. So, entering the Arpaillargues Museum 1900 as already a pleasant surprise.
A period ticket kiosk in place of the usual reception desk, a believably realistic small-town street, and a woman hanging clothes on the terrace that you have to look twice at to determine that she's not real.
Our Provence-Beyond page will give you a brief tour of the Musée 1900, covering the main exhibit rooms and the main displays. But, there are literally thousands of items on display, all carefully renovated and artistically presented. Most of the main objects on display are nicely documented with information panels; the information is in French, but the names and dates presented are self-explanatory. Plus, the museum is primarily visual.
Automobile Garage 1900
The Garage display of the Musée 1900 is fitted out as a real, period era garage. The walls and workbenches have all the period tools, and scores (or hundreds) of other machines and specialty tools related to mechanical repair.
And, of course, the cars. The dark green 1925 Renault is presented with a mechanic beneath, just his legs protruding. The pale yellow 1922 Peugeot at the right is a model 163 Torpedo. The tall green-and-gold car is a 1907 Renault model XB Limousine.
Town Hall Wedding
A village street scene shows the town hall with the Mayor, and the married couple about to depart in an open carriage. Note the typical village water pump at the left and the street behind, with actual people (museum visitors) to show the scale and realism.
Cyles 1900 - Foot and Motor
The cycling section of the Musée 1900 has an amazing collection of bicycles and other foot-powered transportation, motorcycles and period mobilettes. All are, of course, impeccably restored.
The bicycle-built-for-four is mounted up high. Down on the floor is a graceful, tall-wheeled tricycle and a very-tall-wheeled "Penny-farthing" bicycle from the 1870s.
Toys Department 1900
Just past the Cycles section are a collection of "Toys". On the floor are a four-person two-toned car, with four steering wheels, and a bus of the same scale with seats for five, and two steering wheels. These child-sized vehicles are available for the kiddies to get in and try out (with adult supervision) — a refreshing alternate to the "don't-touch" rules of most museums.
Wall display cases in this area present dolls and other toys of the era.
Fire Department 1900
A complete room is dedicated to fire trucks and other ancient fire-fighting equipment. The large fire truck with ladder on top and pump-trailer is a 1937 Delahaye (our photo). The 1917 steam-powered fire pump vehicle is displayed with the driver in place, and the helmets for the fire fighters. The information panel has a photo of a unit in action.
Among the other finely-restored fire fighting equipment is an 1858 hand-pump wagon (Fire Fighting Beam Pump). It's explanation panel includes English, and a photo of the unit in action at a fire.
Photography and Radio-Television
The Musée 1900 camera and photography section has a large display of period cameras, but also some more unusual items, such as this huge photo enlarger. Behind this enlarger (in the photo) note the vertical photo enlarger in the corner, and some of the radios on the high shelves.
The photography equipment room also houses a large collection of radios, from the very early days of radio. The oldest we found there was the 1925 model without a manufacturer's brand. Most of the other radio sets, just slightly more recent and up to the 1950s, included some known brands.
A collection of early televisions included a television turned on and running a very early film (pre-televison era), with some theatre seats provided.
Cinéma and Café 1900
Past the photo and television area, the visit route takes you through a cinema section to the Café 1900. The scene (our photo) approaching the café actually looks a lot like the current cinéma of nearby Uzès.
The Café 1900 is very fine, but doesn't look much different from many good cafés from Provence to Paris. One difference here, though, is the collection of coffee implements on display. The museum is so big and so interesting we didn't take the time to examine the smaller items. We'll do that on our next visit.
Agriculture and Ancient Trades
This very large room is packed with ancient agricultural machines and tool, and items from a variety of trades. The large, wooden harvester machine and the black steam engine were in movement, with the steam engine belt driving the harvester, giving an added dynamic to the display. Information panels included a graphical drawing of how the machine works, reproduced from a teacher's document of the era.
Past the agricultural room is the interior of a 18th-century olive oil mill. The mill's griding wheel is powered by a vertical shaft driven from a horizontal subterranean wheel (visible through a round floor window). One of the larger items in the mill room is a 19th-century olive sorting machine.
Behind the agricultural room are spinning wheels, wool carding machines and related items. A couple of smaller rooms are a wood-working room, with workbench and tools, and a tack room, with horse collars, harnesses, and related tools. This last even has a large harness stretching machine.
Museum Railway Station
A "Railway Station" area is located outside of the museum building, at the back of the parking lot. The railway tracks and the station area are presented as they would have appeared just a few decades ago, with a couple of short switching engines, parked tractors and even an old Ford pickup truck.
The whole railway-station area was built expressly for the Musée 1990. There was a real railway line at Arpaillargues, running north-south just 300 m west (between the museum and the village).
- Location: Moulin de Chalier, ; Arpaillargues (eastern edge), 3 km west of Uzès
- Open: 1 June - 30 Sept: daily, 10h-29h
- 1 Oct - 31 May: Tue-Sun (closed Mon), 10h-12h, 14h-18h (but open on holiday Mondays)
- Closed: 15 Jan - 1 Feb, 25 Dec, 1 Jan
- Web: www.musee1900.com