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What Is the Carnavalet Museum?

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  • Written By: C. K. Lanz
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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The Carnavalet Museum is a Parisian institution dedicated to preserving the city’s history. The collection of approximately 580,000 objects is housed in the Hotel Carnavalet and the Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau, adjacent mansions built in the mid-16th and mid-17th centuries, respectively. The collections span the history of Paris from pre-Roman times through the French Revolution to the 21st century city. Visitors can peruse drawings and paintings as well as furniture, coins, and sculpture. Ceramics, photography, and signs are also on display.

The focus of this museum is on the historical, showing how the pre-Roman town of Lutetia evolved into present-day Paris. Located in the Marais district, the two houses make up the city’s oldest municipal museum. The Hotel Carnavalet was built in 1548 and purchased by the city council in 1866 for the purpose of creating the museum that eventually opened to the public in 1880. The Carnavalet Museum has expanded gradually over the years, eventually spilling into the neighboring Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau in 1989.

Hotel Le Peletier de Saint Fargeau was built in 1688 and boasts one of the last orangeries in Marais. This building houses the museum’s prehistoric and Gallo-Roman artifacts. Many of these artifacts were found during 19th-century excavations around Paris. Highlights include neolithic dugout canoes, a third-century BC surgeon’s instrument case, and a mammoth’s tooth. Artifacts from the pre-Roman and Roman town of Lutetia, a forerunner of Paris, are also on display.

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The Hotel Carnavalet was originally built in 1548 as the manse of the president of the Parisian Parliament. The name was taken from the 1578 purchaser. Visitors are greeted by a statute of Louis XIV and lush gardens, but the exhibits covering the city’s history from 1500 to 1789 are the Carnavalet Museum’s forte.

A 1900 model of the city in 1520 gives a general overview of Medieval Paris as crowded with narrow streets. Portraits and busts of some of France’s great monarchs complement the historical architecture and decor. The exhibits dedicated to the French Revolution feature the Bastille, portraits of Marie-Antoinette, King Louis XVI and the dauphin, and important revolutionary figures. There are also exhibits dedicated to Napoleon, 19th-century Paris, and charming signs that once advertised business locations throughout the city.

Paris in the 20th and 21st centuries is chronicled primarily through photographs and paintings. Visitors can also experience a reconstruction of the room where Marcel Proust wrote, made with the author’s original furniture. The Carnavalet Museum also boasts a collection of 475,000 works of graphic art, including posters, maps, and architectural drawings.

Like many museums, the Carnavalet Museum embraces education as part of its mission. As a result, it offers many courses and activities for adults as well as children and families. Students and researchers are also welcome to make appointments with the head curator to examine specific objects and collections, and admission is free.

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