Unusual Paris Museums and Galleries: Musée Carnavalet
The Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, the Seine are some of the iconic attractions that most visitors head for when they arrive in Paris. However, if you want to get an appreciation of the history of Paris, from the beginning to the present time, the Musée Carnavalet is the place to go to. This very interesting museum is totally dedicated to the history of Paris and through its remarkable collections of paintings, sculptures, objets d’art and furniture the history of the French capital is literally laid out before you.
The Musée Carnavalet is located (where else?) but in the Marais, once an aristocratic district, and which fortunately for us was where we were staying as well. The museum is housed in two adjoining townhouses: the Hôtel Carnavalet, a Renaissance mansion built in 1548 and the Hôtel Le Peletier, built in the 17th century. You need a full afternoon to see everything in this history museum which is believed to be the oldest of the municipal museums.
Signs of the Time
We started our visit at the Signs galleries with its collection of ornate signs and fine stained glass.
During medieval time when most people could not read or write, the signs told them the type of services the merchants offered and the stained glass panels told whatever story the creator needed to tell.
Recreated Rooms and Atmosphere
Upstairs, in the various sections, entire rooms have been recreated and furnished with original sculptures, furniture and works of art to show the evolution of Parisian interiors from the reign of Henri IV (beginning of the 17th century) to the 20th century.
My favourite is the beautifully recreated art nouveau Boutique Fouquet, designed by Mucha in 1901. Another interesting room setting is Proust’s cork-lined room in which he wrote “À la Recherche du Temps Perdus” (A Remembrance of Things Past). Imagine Marcel Proust in his bedroom, dividing his time between his brass bed and his little table covered in pens, ink and notebooks.
As we wandered through re-created rooms in styles ranging from the 17th to the 20th century, we also got a peek into the private lives of famous Parisians.
The Hôtel Carnavalet was home to the Marquise de Sévigné from 1677 to 1696. One of the greatest letter writers in history, her correspondence shed light on styles, fashions, opinions and much more about life in France at end of the 17th century, and this fascinating – and intimate – display gives you a real insight into her life and times, and should not be missed. Imagine her at her Chinese laquerwork desk penning her famous letters.
The Revolution section is one of the most interesting and includes models of guillotines and objects associated with the royal family’s final days. One room is devoted to Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette and their family’s last years of life as prisoners. You can see Louis’ shaving bowl, one of Marie’s son’s school exercise books, games her children played with, and final portraits painted of them in gaol. They even have Robespierre’s final letter (and Napoleon’s cradle!).
Room after room, there are precious artwork (some 2,600 pieces), pieces of furniture and recreated sections of mansions and hotels that retraces Parisian history from the Roman empire to essentially the end of the 17th century, with some later additions. There are some beautiful scale models of the city.
See our Musée Carnavalet photos Here.
We thoroughly enjoyed the Musée Carnavalet as centuries of Parisian history is brought to life through the clever curation of the museum’s most exquisite collections of objets d’art, paintings, sculptures, furniture and photography. Not all sections are open all the time, but what there is is enough to give you a good overview of the history of Paris.
Tip: If it’s sunny and you have some time to spare, spend some time sitting in the small public garden behind the Museum, between Rue Payenne and Rue de Sévigné. It’s green and peaceful, and there are lots of sculptures, columns and big blocks of stone strewn about that give it a certain quiet charm.
16, Rue des Francs-Bourgeois 75003
Tél. : 01 44 59 58 58
Fax : 01 44 59 58 10
Website: Musee_Carnavalet (in French, partial English translation)
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