Upon stepping afoot in the Carnavalet museum, you are subconsciously driven into the wonderland of French life. This museum was once-upon-a-time not one, but two town houses. The first, Hotel Carnavalet and the second, annexed much later, the Hôtel Le Peletier De Saint Fargeau. FYI: “Hôtel” in French refers to a large palatial home and not hotel as is in English.
One of the more famous inhabitants of the house was the witty and wonderful Madame de Sévigné. Not only was she a prolific writer of letters but was also considered the most beautiful woman in Paris. The name of the museum, however, comes from an earlier owner – François de Kernevenoy. Which the French, as they always do, altered to a more poetic Carnavalet. Today the Musée Carnavalet (m-y-OO-z-EE, Karn-uh-VA-lay) is one of the oldest municipal museums in Paris.
Musée Carnavalet is located in the third arrondissement (or distict) of Paris in the trendy Marais area.
If you enter the museum from rue des Francs Bourgeois (google maps will take you this way), first to welcome you, is a small but pretty garden in the “Court of Flags”. After a small walk in the covered passageway, you then enter the “Court of Victory”. Here, is the beautiful sculpture of Victory with her laurels. This, I learnt later, is the original version of the statue mounted atop the Châtelet column.
Next up, in literally, the heart of the Carnavalet is a full-length, gawk-worthy, bronze statue of Louis XIV, by Antoine Coysevox. He has on a very dramatic belt- which to me seemed like masks of the Greek muses, denoting comedy and tragedy in theatre. But feel free to correct me.
The ground floor or rez-de-chaussée houses the “Sign Galleries”, which is the best part of the museum, or whatever little is left open, before they close for renovations in October 2016. This is a collection of daily life in sign-boards and billboards, that were put up outside shops and stores from the 16th to the 20th centuries.
You have to remember most of the customers back then were illiterate and had to be attracted with colourful pictures and signs. The use of animals and fauna clearly indicates the affinity the French have towards them.
The other section that was open was “Paris in the 17th and 18th century”. I was taken aback by the beautiful model of Île de la Cité.
The chair pictured above is one that Voltaire wrote in and used, in the last years of his life. It took me by surprise for its simplicity and ingenuity, especially, in an era of elaborate designs in furniture. The chair has a flexible reading and writing table, with an intricate set of drawers.
The staff is friendly, since I got lost a few times, and took their help more often than usual, thanks to all the closed sections. The exhibits are fantastic, however, I wish there was a little context provided to each of the items and rooms. I am not a student of history, so connecting the dots was a little hard. Also, most of the literature was in French. Though, now advanced in my French studies, I still take quite a while to comprehend most of what is written. I can imagine how lost one might feel without any prior exposure to the language.
Net-net, a lot of history (of Paris) in one place. Visit briefly for the gardens and the sign section, but you better save at least a day for this place, once it re-opens end of 2019.
Note: Check the Musée Carnavalet website for updates. before you go. As on 25th June 2016, Hôtel Le Peletier De Saint Fargeau building was closed and only a few sections of the main Carnavalet building were open.
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