Hidden in the southern French hinterland, the former train station of charming Hérépian hosts a small but interesting museum. The Musée de la Cloche et de la Sonnaille explains the history of making bells (« cloches ») and sheep-bells (« sonnailles »). It is a great museum for kids as well, as you can actually touch some of the exposed bells and make them ring as loud as you want. How cool is that?!
The history of bell-making in Hérépian goes back a long way. Already in 1600, the Granier family produced bells in their foundry. And the same family remained doing so for almost 400 years! It wasn’t until 1990 that the forge was taken over by a non-Granier. The Hérépian foundry was the oldest in France until its closure in 2011. The reason this foundry was so unique in Europe was because they had the knowledge and expertise to create pretty much any type of bells. And the Musée de la Cloche et de la Sonnaille explains this history in three parts, each representing a type of bell.
After this small lesson in history, the kids and I entered the first part to find all kinds of copper-clad sheep and cowbells displayed. I particularly liked the wall with bells from various regions of France. Signs clearly show the different shapes of bells that signify each region. And as the museum allows visitors to touch the bells, I told the kids they could ring them. They looked at me with big eyes full of disbelief and hesitatingly started with a few little tingles. Soon enough, they got the hang of it! And it was a fun game to hear all the different sounds.
The second part of the museum explains all about spherical and small bells made out of melted metal. I’m a sucker for old workshops and tools, and I thought the moulds used to shape the bells were highly photogenic. Our brood was a bit less enthusiastic about this part, and they continued their pace a bit faster to look for bells they could chime.
The kids did stop at the last part of the museum, where we learned how the big church bells are made by casting metal. We walked under a gigantic church bell (“Come on mum, stop taking pictures!”) and the children found the carillon which they could play by pushing a button. I can only support museums like this, who preserve the history of what once was a fairly big industry in such a sleepy village. The Musée de la Cloche et de la Sonnaille has succeeded very well with this interactive and beautiful museum.