The creation of artificial life has fascinated humans for centuries. From the Promethean subtexts in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to today’s advances in AI and robotics, we’ve been on an endless quest to find ways to coax inanimate raw materials into recognizable life.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, engineers and clockmakers used clockwork gears, cogs, and cams to build intricate lifelike automatons. Some of the most extravagant creations had astonishing skills, including writing, drawing, acrobatics, and playing chess. While the exhibits in Limoux’s Musée des Automates are of similar intent, they are less complex in composition. But they are no less enthralling.
Presented in a series of tableaux in a garishly decorated, dimly lit room, you find machine-animated fairy tale scenes, chimerical creatures, evil queens, hypnotic conjurers, and all manner of nightmare homunculi. Hands move, heads nod, and animals gently kiss, and occasionally you hear reciprocating gears squeaking away in the background, giving clues about the mechanisms behind the magic.
Is it life authentically intimated? Maybe not, but you will witness something extraordinary in this phantasmagoric place discretely hidden in the back streets of Limoux.
Once you have completed the main exhibit, there’s a room showing TV documentaries about the history of automata (in French), giving more background on this singular branch of the arts.
Perhaps more interesting, you can visit the workshop where the proprietors exercise their engineering and creative talents. In this chaotic space, they carry on a business inherited from their parents and use the skills they’ve learned to make evermore bizarre mechanoids to delight and intrigue visitors.
Know Before You Go
The museum is in a hidden corner of the Limoux, but follow the many signs, and you'll get there eventually.
Limoux in the Aude is at the heart of "Grail Country." The area has legends, myths, bloody history, and iconic Cathar castles, so there's plenty to see on your visit to this part of the south of France.