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The Musée Carnavalet

There is nothing more Parisian than the Musée Carnavalet. Tucked away in the historic Marais district, the Carnavalet maps out the legacy and history of the city of Paris. It's a museum you'd assume people would visit in droves. Yet it still remains underrated. It's understandable, of course, that the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, or the Pompidou Centre, receive most of the attention. The Carnavalet seems almost like an afterthought in a tourist's schedule. But when you do get the chance to visit it, believe me, it will turn out to be one of the highlights of your Paris trip.

And I should mention something important as well: entrance is free!

A Parisian Museum Like No Other

The Musée Carnavalet remains one of Paris's best-kept secrets: over one hundred rooms brimming with artefacts, documents, paintings, and objects covering everything from: Gallo-Roman Paris, Paris in medieval times, the Renaissance, the French Revolution, all the way up to the modern-day. The museum spans two hôtel particuliers: the Hôtel Carnavalet (where the famous aristocrat and letter-writer Madame de Sévigné lived from 1677 to 1696) and the late 17th-century Hôtel Le Peletier de St. Fargeau.

Let me warn you: this museum is huge. The two mansions become a maze of staircases and narrow corridors leading to doors, which lead to more corridors… you get the picture. At the entrance, you can ask for a map to help you find your way around. Personally, though, I love to wander through the rooms in random order, popping into different eras and periods.

The Top Must-See Exhibits

If you must visit the Carnavalet on a tight schedule, here are some highlights you shouldn't miss:

1. The archaeological collections in the Orangerie room: particularly the fragments of a Neolithic canoe dating back to 2700 BC.

2. The beautiful furniture and objects. It's not hard to miss the wonderful furniture scattered throughout the rooms of the Carnavalet. Most of them aren't exceptionally famous pieces, except for a few ones like French Revolution lawyer Georges Couthon's wheelchair, the chair where Voltaire passed away, or the ornate cradle that belonged to the imperial prince, donated by Empress Eugenie. Whether famous by association or not, their presence in the museum represents the craftsmanship of Parisian furniture makers at different periods of time.

3. Do not miss the lavish, 20th century Art-Deco ballroom, a replica from the Hôtel de Wendel. The walls and ceilings of the darkened ballroom are decorated with scenes representing the Queen of Sheba and red drapes painted by Catalan Spanish muralist José Maria Sert - truly one of the most dramatic rooms in the entire museum!

4. Visit Marcel Proust's bedroom. The room in which the French writer took refuge has been carefully reconstructed. It's guaranteed to evoke awe when you think that this is where the famous novel "In Search of Lost Time" (La Recherche du Temps Perdu) was written. The walls are cork-lined and the windows and doors used to be shut because of Proust's bronchial asthma and allergies, which he had suffered from since childhood.

5. Drop by George Fouquet's jewellery shop, designed by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha in 1901. The shop is decorated with peacocks, Art Nouveau showcase tables, and themes of flora. Painstakingly reassembled when Fouquet donated his entire Rue Royale shop to the museum, this room stands out as a perfectly preserved Belle Époque work of art.

6.The Museum gardens. The garden's centrepiece is the statue of The Court of Victory, created by artist Louis-Simon Boizot, and originally made to be housed at the Place du Chatelet's fountain. The garden is maintained all year round; weather permitting, you'll be able to enjoy a walk along the lush boxwood hedges and rose trees.

In any case, whatever room or period you happen to walk into in this place, you are bound to stumble upon a delightful treasure. And all bets are that, like myself, you'll be finding a lot of excuses for yet another trip to the Musée Carnavalet in the future.

Musée Carnavalet
23 rue de Sevigne 75003 Paris
Metro: St. Paul or Chemin Vert
Opening Hours: 10am-6pm, closed on Mondays
Entrance: Free

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