Museum of Time in Besançon

Palais Granvelle is a sixteenth century Renaissance palace was built from 1534 and 1547 on the Grand Rue, the main street in the center of Besançon.

At that time the Franche-Comté and Burgundy did not belong to France, but were ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558). His local garde des sceaux (Keeper of the Seals, a function similar to the Minister of Justice today) was a man named Nicolas Perrenot de Granvelle (1486-1550), who became very wealthy by virtue of his close connection to the emperor.

Courtyard of Palais Granvelle

Granvelle’s palace was renovated in 2002 and now houses the Musée du temps (Museum of Time), a museum which deals with Time in two senses: Time as history and Time as the craft of clock- and watchmaking, which for many years was Besançon’s most important industry.

Siege of Besançon, 1674

This painting in the History section of the museum is by Jean-Baptiste Martin (1659-1735), a painter who specialized in depicting the battles and sieges of King Louis XIV. In the foreground is the King, surrounded by his counselors, watching his troops besiege the city of Besançon, which was occupied by Spanish forces at the time. The siege was directed, as usual, by Vauban, who had 36 artillery pieces carried up a nearby hill under cover of darkness, on the backs of men and mules. The city surrendered on May 15, nineteen days after Vauban’s arrival, and the citadel surrendered a week later.

280 years later the Viet Minh general Võ Nguyên Giáp used similar tactics — perhaps inspired by Vauban? — to defeat the French at Ðiện Biên Phủ.

Museum of Time: Clocks and watches

At the end of the 18th century some skilled watchmakers from nearby Switzerland came and settled in Besançon. Under their influence, Besançon became the major center of the French watchmaking industry in the 19th century, winning top prizes at the Universal Expositions.

Exhibit on watchmaking

Since watchmaking was a mainstay of the economy in Besançon for nearly two centuries (until industrially produced quartz watches became economically viable in the 1980s), the Museum of Time devotes an entire floor to the craft of clock- and watchmaking.

Foucault pendulum

At the Museum of Time there is also a Foucault pendulum, suspended from the inside of the tower and swinging back and forth as the Earth turns, so if you are in any doubt about the rotation of the Earth you can observe it here.

View from the tower of Palais Granvelle

From the tower you can not only observe the Foucault pendulum swinging back and forth, but also look out the window at this view of Besançon with its cathedral and citadel.

Location, aerial view and photos of Palais Granvelle on

My photos in this post are from 2014. I revised the text in 2019.

See also: Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris for another Foucault pendulum.

2 thoughts on “Museum of Time in Besançon”

  1. I was fascinated by the Foucault pendulum at the Science Museum in London as a child 🙂 Nice view of Besançon from that tower too!

  2. Was für ein interessantes Museum! Du machst mir immer mehr Lust, mal einen ausgedehnten Frankreich-Urlaub zu machen!
    Frohe Ostern!

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