Musee Carnavalet: A History of Paris

Occupying two mansions, Hotel Carnavalet and Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau, the Musee Carnavalet is a great free museum to visit during a stay in Paris. It was purchased by the Municipal Council of Paris in 1866 and opened to the public in 1880. The focal point of this historic and beautiful museum is to educate on the history of Paris.

Upon entering the courtyard leading into the museum, you are greeted by a statue of Louis XIV:

Once inside, the amount of historical items housed in the Carnavalet is astounding:

  • 2,600 paintings
  • 20,000 drawings
  • 300,000 engravings
  • 150,000 photographs
  • 2,000 modern sculptures
  • 800 pieces of furniture
  • Ceramics counted in the thousands
  • And much more, including decor, models, reliefs, signs, coins, souvenirs, etc.

You can really get a feel for the great Parisian history in this museum. However, since there is so much to take in, which can often be overwhelming, here are some noteworthy items you’ll want to catch:

  • An entire reconstruction of the room in which Marcel Proust wrote In Search of Lost Time
  • Napoleon’s favorite case of toiletries
  • A painting of the contruction of the Statue of Liberty while it was being built for the US
  • The Cradle of the Imperial Prince, Louis Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Marie Antoinette’s personal items
  • The Tennis Court Oath, A famous incomplete painting portraying an important even in French history when members of the National Assembly swore a very emotional oath that they would not disband until they had passed a “solid and equitable Constitution”, painted by Jacques-Louis David
  • Long and narrow canoes made from a single tree trunk. These date back to the first written description of the village Lutetia in A.D. 52
  • 4th century bottle used to hold perfume
  • Paintings of the women beheld as the most beautiful woman in Paris at one time, Madame de Sevigne

The mansions themselves, before conversion, also have a unique and interesting history. The Hotel de Carnavalet was ordered into contruction in 1548 by Jacques de Ligneris, who was the president of the Parliament of Paris. It was completed in 1560. It was purchased then in 1578 by the widow of Francois de Kernevenoy. Then in 1654 it was purchased by a well-known architect, Francois Mansart, who commissioned extensive renovations. Interestingly, Madam de Sivigne also resided in the hotel from 1677 until 1696.

The second building, Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau was also built in the mid-16th century. Originally known as the Hotel d’Orgeval, it was first purchased by Michel Le Peletier and then passed on to his grandson, Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau. De Saint Fargeau was a representative of the nobility in the Estates General of 1789 and voted for the execution of Louis XVI, then was murdered in revenge of his vote on the same day Louis XVI was executed.

If you’re interested in finding out more information on visiting the hotel, please visit their website: http://carnavalet.paris.fr/en