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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

A Brief History of the Musée Carnavalet in Paris

What is the Musée Carnavalet?

The Musée Carnavalet is a museum devoted to the history of Paris, all the way from its humble village beginnings to the grand metropolis it is today.

Musée Carnavalet figures

Musée Carnavalet History

The spot where the Musée Carnavalet stands was once nothing but a river, a few marshy banks and open ground. Such would have been the scene in the 3rd century BC, before a Celtic tribe called the Parisii stopped next to the river and decided to call it home.

A village was born, and the settlement became known as Lutetia during the Roman Empire, which soon grew and became a highly prosperous region. By the time Rome fell, the city had come to be known as Parisius, later shortened to the name we know it by today.

It’s at the Musée Carnavalet that you’ll find this tale of the city through the centuries. The museum explores the history of Paris with over 600,000 objects across more than a hundred rooms, spanning two buildings connected by a central passageway. It’s also one of the oldest museums in the city, dating back to the late 19th century.

The Hôtel Carnavalet, one of the two glorious buildings that houses the museum, was begun in 1548 under the order of Jacques de Ligneris, the President of the Parliament of Paris. 30 years later it was purchased by Madame de Kernevenoy, whose Breton name was rendered in French as Carnavalet.

For over a hundred years this was the home of the museum’s extensive collection, however in the latter part of the 20th century the collection began to exceed the capacity of the space, and so the museum expanded into the neighbouring building, the Hôtel Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, which it had acquired in the late 19th century.

The museum has a varied collection of cultural and historical artefacts that provide insight into how Paris has evolved from those early tribes camped by the river to the thriving European metropolis that we all know today.

Some of the highlights you can see include parts of ancient Neolithic canoes that have been excavated from the area and thought to be over 6,000 years old, a vast collection of artworks documenting the changing cityscape of Paris, and recreations of domestic spaces that show how Parisians have lived through the years.

One of these recreations is Marcel Proust’s bedroom, where he wrote his seven-volume masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time. Other highlights include Marie Antionette’s personal belongings, the famous but incomplete painting The Tennis Court Oath by Jacques-Louis David, and Paul-Louis Delance’s depiction of the Eiffel Tower, a rare record of the monument under construction.

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