MARTIGNY, SWITZERLAND, October 29, 2016 – Imagine the surprise when Leonard Gianadda began clearing the land for a rental property in Martigny, Switzerland in 1976 and discovered the ruins of an ancient Gallo-Roman temple.
Soon after, another life altering event took place in the same year for the Swiss engineer when his younger brother, Pierre, died while seeking help for fellow survivors following a plane crash.
On November 19, 1978, the day Pierre would have celebrated his 40th birthday, brother Leonard inaugurated the Pierre Gianadda Foundation which is, today, an internationally renowned cultural musem featuring multiple exhibitions.
Martigny, Switzerland is situated at the foot of the primary pass over the Alps when the Rome ruled the world. The San Bernardino Pass connected Rome with Londinium, or London as we know it today. So it is not unusal that Roman ruins would be uncovered in the region, though Gianadda’s discovery was staggering in its own way.
One of the best kept secrets in Switzerland is the magnitude and multitude of its art.
Thanks to more than seven centuries of democracy combined with its well-known neutrality during two world wars, Switzerland has long had a national tradition that art should be made available to and shared by every Swiss citizen.
Consequently, many of Switzerland’s private art collections remained intact and each city, town and village, no matter how big or how small, has more than its share of outstanding artistic treasures.
Martigny is no different. Situated in the French speaking region of Switzerland in the canton of Valais, Martigny simply calls itself, “Art City.” The moniker is justifiable.
The Gianadda Foundation is unique in that it is actually five museums in one. Outside, in the rear of the contemporary building, are a Sculpture Park, the Chagall Court and the Szafran Pavillion. The landscape architecture nestles among babbling fountains set amid nooks and crannies of hedges that reveal large works by world renowned 20th century artists.
The Foundation Café rests in a quiet setting that allows visitors to sip a glass of wine or take afternoon tea as they observe the peaceful surroundings.
Leonard Gianadda, who is a regular visitor to his prized artistic sanctuary, thoroughly enjoys observing visitors as they stroll through the showcase of the personal memorial he designed for his beloved brother.
Inside the Gallo-Roman Museum is a two-level open expanse that incorporates the excavations of the oldest remnants of their kind in Switzerland with artifacts that were uncovered following Gianadda’s discovery.
Downstairs, visitors always delight in the Automobile Museum featuring no less than 50 classic cars built between 1897 and 1939.
To round out the presentations, the Gianadda Foundation always stages three temporary traveling exhibitions each year with works from private collections as well as the world’s major museums.
The traveling exhibits keep the museum fresh, up-to-date and always offer a reason to return.
The most recent display in 2016, paid tribute to the prolific works of Pablo Picasso through an homage to the artist’s second wife Jacqueline.
Devastated by Picasso’s death in 1973, Jacqueline committed suicide in 1986 at the age of 59.
Also displayed among Picasso’s own works were the stunning black and white photographs of David Douglas Duncan, a combat photographer, who chronicled the artist’s life in pictures from the moment they met.
The foundation building itself is situated in the course of an archaeological walk that leads visitors through the ancient ruins. Among the sites are a shrine to Mithras (a Roman god), thermal baths and a 5,000-seat amphitheater.
Six fragments of three awe-inspiring bronze statues that are displayed at the Gianadda Foundation are regarded as the most important discoveries in Martigny’s history.
The best known of the fragments is the head of the three horned bull which was a Gallic divinity. The Bull of Martigny is said to be the best example of the sacred animal.
For travelers with a Swiss Travel Pass who visit Martigny, admission to the Gianadda Foundation is free. Museum lovers will be happy to know that the Swiss Travel Pass also allows free admission to nearly 500 museums throughout the country.
Switzerland is best known for its cheese, chocolate, scenery and clock-work precision which may be one reason its art is relatively unknown. Take time to discover. Immerse yourself in the world of Swiss art and you will not be disappointed.
The Gianadda Foundation is five museums in one, and a great place to begin.
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About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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