Musée Carnavalet (Carnavalet Museum) showcases Paris’ history and, fittingly, is located in one of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, the Marais. What’s more, it is the oldest city-owned museum in Paris and showcases not only the city’s history, but also some of its most incredible artwork. Visitors follow Paris’ evolution as they explore the museum’s one hundred rooms. Memorabilia from Parisian stores, scale models, paintings, and manicured French gardens help evoke the Paris of a bygone era and makes for a fascinating journey into the city’s past.
Learn about Paris’ navigation system
The Musée Carnavalet features a large collection of outdoor signs. Most of these signs were used to mark businesses. Usually these signs were very large and contained an image (rather than words) to designate what kind of products or services were available.
These image-focused signs were incredibly important during the 17th and 18th centuries when the literacy rate was low. Even though not all Parisians could read, they could still complete their errands. My favorite is a sign that hung outside of the famous Chat Noir (The Black Cat) cabaret in Montmartre during the 19th century.
Other signs were used to designate streets. Rather than having names and numbers, as is done in the modern system, Parisian architects utilized images to differentiate between streets.
View Paris of the past with the help of scale models
The museum has an impressive collection of scale models. There are models of everything from churches to the city as a whole. Due to the fact that Paris has changed so much architecturally over the past 300 years, the models are especially helpful for visualizing what the city used to look like. It’s especially helpful to use longstanding monuments, like Notre Dame Cathedral, as reference points when comparing Paris of the past versus modern Paris.
Peek into the homes of famous Parisians
Musée Carnavalet also features scale-model rooms of some of its most famous inhabitants, such as King Louis XVI. These rooms feature period furniture, ornate chandeliers, and carefully selected decorations. An additional feature that is helpful when visiting is that every object is named, dated, and described. The decor is in many respects as magnificent as can be seen at former royal estates in France, such as the Chateau de Versailles (Versailles Castle).
Through peering into the various bedrooms and salons, it’s possible to study the changing styles and designs between the 17th and 20th centuries. For example, the model bedroom of writer Marcel Proust is incredibly simple and utilitarian when compared to King Louis XVI’s salon.
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Peruse the art gallery
While primarily a history museum, Musée Carnavalet features enough artwork to be considered an art museum in its own respect. Most of the collection is made up of paintings and Paris is always the main theme. Within this theme, a variety of subjects is covered; from realist depictions of city construction to impressionist renderings of Parisian parks. While the rest of the museum describes Paris in a factual manner, the paintings allow visitors to view Paris from an imaginative perspective. They also allow visitors to see facets of Parisian life that no longer exist.
Take a stroll through the gardens
Just outside of the museum there are manicured French gardens adorned with sculptures. This is a great spot to a seat or a breath of fresh air during the visit. During the break, marvel at the carefully trimmed shrubs in the form of the fleur de lys (lily flower), the symbol of the French nobility, or examine the highly detailed statues. Gardens in this style are very popular in France and are often seen outside chateaus and grand estates. This further enhances the feeling of stepping back into French history.
Make a stop at one of Paris’ most comprehensive museums
Musee carnavalet has more than 600,000 exhibits hosted in 100 rooms. Here, visitors can learn about Paris’ history and culture starting from its prehistoric creation, up to the 20th century. There are a variety of presentation styles and themes, making it an educational and interesting visit for all visitors. Musée Carnavalet is located at 16 Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Paris’ 3rd district. It is best reached from metro line 1, stop St. Paul. It is open all days except Mondays from 10.00 AM to 6.00 PM. The museum is free for all visitors, although a 5 EUR (5.5 USD) donation is suggested.
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