The old Parisian Cluny Museum, which today houses the National Museum of the Middle Ages, stands out from most of the city's museums. It seems to be aloof from the main trends of our time, preserving the original appearance of the museum until the 19th century. There are no traditional cafes here, which have become a must-have for modern museums as part of the entertainment industry.
Also, the Cluny Museum does not have the orderliness that is inherent in almost all educational museums. This is just a collection of oddities, designed for ordinary human curiosity. Both the building of the museum, built on the site of ancient termas (baths), and its collection are largely unique, and deserve to be visited during a visit to Paris.
Once upon a time, Roman baths were located on the site of the Cluny mansion, some of which have survived to this day. In the 14th century, the city house of the Abbey of Cluny was built in their place. At the end of the 15th - beginning of the 16th century, the building was rebuilt by the abbot of the order, Jacques of Amboise. The building has been rebuilt more than once, so elements of the Renaissance and Gothic were reflected in its architecture. In addition, during the reconstruction, some elements turned out to be unnecessary, so today you can find passages leading nowhere, bricked up arches and other incomprehensible elements here.
The house was confiscated by the state in the year 1793. For 30 years, the building was used in different ways, there was a time when one doctor even used a chapel as an autopsy room.
The history of the Cluny Museum dates back to 1933, when Alexander du Sommer posted his private collection of exhibits from the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. After the death of du Sommer, the collection was bought by the state from his relatives. This happened in the 1842 year, and since then the museum has been state owned.
What to see
Fans of antiquity should start their tour of the museum with a visit to the Gallo-Roman baths dating back to the 3rd century. The baths are open to the public independently of the museum. Strictly speaking, the building of the frigidarium, which housed a pool and cold baths, and the building of the Cluny mansion can be considered as two separate museums embodying the unity of eras. Medieval architecture seems to grow out of antiquity, which served as the basis for it. The unity and continuous connection of epochs is emphasized by the modern reinforced concrete structures encountered in places.
But most tourists visit the Cluny Museum not for the sake of the term, but for the sake of the exposition housed in the abbey’s house. There are many exhibits in the museum’s collection for which it’s worth a visit.
The museum’s assets are statues of biblical kings discovered in the foundation of one of the houses that used to adorn the western facade of Notre Dame Cathedral. During the French Revolution, these sculptures were equated with aristocracy. In the life of new France there was no place even for sculptural kings. Therefore, the statues were dismantled and beheaded.
One of the townspeople allegedly bought them for the foundation, but actually buried them with honor. Later, instead of the destroyed statues, new ones were installed, so the discovered sculptures were handed over to the museum. The kings' bodies first appeared on display, and their heads were discovered much later. Today they are exhibited separately.
Other sculptures that are presented in the museum are no less interesting. The earliest of them date back to the beginning of the 11th century. In addition to stone sculptures, the museum collection has an excellent collection of wooden sculptures.
The museum’s collection is famous for its collection of medieval tapestries, which include the famous painting “The Lady with the Unicorn”, which is part of a cycle of six beautiful tapestries. Interestingly, the tapestry theme served as the basis for the design of the garden around the museum. The collection of tapestries is complemented by well-preserved samples of medieval fabrics and trellises depicting moralizing and biblical subjects.
It is also worth paying attention to the collection of stained glass, a collection of jewelry, numerous household items and other exhibits.
Off-season prices at 1 Euros are cheaper.
Address: 6 Place Paul Painlevé, Paris 75005
Phone: + 33 1 53 73 78 00
Metro: Cluny - La Sorbonne
Hours: 9: 15-17: 45
- Adult: 9 €
- Reduced: 7 €