One of the memorable visits I had made when we were in Paris in 2009 was to the musee Carnavalet Histoire de Paris (Carnavalet Museum and the historical legacy of Paris). Tucked in a quiet side street, in 23, rue de Sevigne, and a stone’s throw from our rented apartment, at 11, rue Malher is this history museum and art gallery that is the French capital‘s oldest municipal museum. Showcasing Paris’ historical past through archaeological finds as well as furniture and personal effects of famous Parisians (think Marcel Proust, Marquise de Sevigne, etc.), scale models of ancient monuments, and unique collections devoted to the revolutionary era, the museum is an architectural wonder set in two townhouses in the Marais district.
Originally a hotel, the building that was to become the musee Carnavalet was constructed in 1548, altered by a Francois Mansart in the seventeenth century, and in 1866, when idea for a museum devoted solely to the history of Paris was made, was bought by the city council to give their idea shape. The museum was finally opened in 1880, and was extended in 1989 when the adjoining hotel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, itself an old structure that was built in 1688, had also been occupied to house the extensive collection.
An interesting facet to the museum is its “period rooms,” a hundred or so rooms re-created to reflect Parisian interior design from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century.
Like many museums in France, entrance to this one is free and is easily reached via the Saint-Paul metro; and visitors can appreciate the permanent and temporary exhibitions that seem to be features of French museums. (The temporary exhibition in 2009, when we were there has the theme, “Building for the King, Jules Hardouin-Mansart,” the architect responsible for the opulent Chateau de Versailles.)