The museum presents the history of the island, from the Neolithic to the present day. Topics are chronologically and thematically organized.
The history of the island
The Neolithic period with the Béraudes’ polisher and the shell ornaments workshop discovered on the sites of la Perroche and Ponthezières ; the Gallo-Roman period, with the burial site of Mirouelles, Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Rolls of Oléron, the wars of religion, the defense of the island.
Headdresses and costumes
The diversity of caps and headdresses on Oléron is amazing, since there are no less than nine different types of traditional caps on the island. The museum also displays traditional costumes: a couple of shellfish gatherers, a bride in her wedding dress, a mourning elderly woman, etc. Swimsuits date back from the late 19th century and illustrate the development of tourism.
Lifestyles in the 19th century
The housing of the 19th century is very small and consists of one large room called the “thieuzine” in the local dialect. The museum displays objects and cooking ware that were used in the kitchen and the fireplace, as well as items of furniture, such as a “courriou” (an early version of modern baby walkers) which helped toddlers to learn to walk.
For centuries, viticulture was one of the first economic wealth of the island. Wine and brandy production, that was then intended for the Cognac production, was a significant activity for Oleron. The exhibition presents the tools that were used – from the vine planting to the grapes distillation – like a wine press dating from1732, used in Saint-Denis d’Oléron, the most voluminous item of the museum.
On the island, harvesting pine resin was an activity that lasted more than fifty years, from the early 20th century until 1971. The tapping was practiced in the forest of the Saumonards and the forest of Saint-Trojan-les-Bains.
Salt production represented a very important activity in the island and it has widely shaped its landscape. Salt is a vital product, it allowed food preservation, and it led to intensive operations and marketing, which lasted until the 19th century. A tactile model of a salt marsh helps to understand the process of salinization. It is associated with various tools used for salt harvesting, transport and maintenance of the marsh.
The activities of shellfish gathering and fishing in rock-ramp fishways are presented through various tools and costumes. Oyster is illustrated by the movie “Oyster fishing on Ile d’Oléron”, shot at the Chateau d’Oléron in 1907 and showing the work accomplished by oyster farmers. This space also shows the birth of the harbor of La Cotinière, the fish trade (a cart used by fishmongers) and the harvesting of “sart” (seaweed).
The modern era: the rise of tourism and the construction of the viaduct
To ensure the economic development of the island, several projects in the 19th and 20th centuries were carried out to create a permanent link between Oléron and the mainland. On the island, tourism appeared in the last quarter of the 19th century, around 1880. The bridge, which opened on the 21st of June, 1966, transformed the economy of the island, particularly by encouraging the development of mass tourism.