Visitors shouldn’t let the somewhat enigmatic name fool them into thinking this is a peculiar museum; the Carnavalet Museum is indeed one of Paris’ finest. Initially an idea of Baron Haussmann, who carried out extensive renovation works all around Paris in the late 1800s, the museum retraces Paris’ history all the way from the Lutèce Roman village it once was to the vibrant metropolis it has now become. Located in two 16th-century lavish townhouses – formerly known as Hôtel de Carnavalet (where an icon of French literature, the famous marquise de Sévigné, lived) and Hôtel d’Orgeval – in Le Marais, the architectural setting of the museum is just as captivating at the collection it houses.
Speaking of which, the museum’s collection totalizes 580,000 artefacts and comprises a magnificent sculpture of Louis XIV, as well as about 2,600 paintings, 20,000 drawings, 300,000 engravings and 150,000 photographs, 2,000 modern sculptures and 800 pieces of furniture, thousands of ceramics and several thousand other objects, including some of Marie-Antoinette’s personal effects. In fact, the Musée Carnavalet is just as much a history museum as it is an art museum, since the 100+ rooms retrace the history of Parisian interior design and artistic trends, as well as the significant moments of the city’s long, agitated history and its artistic innovations.
The compact but lavish gardens located between the two townhouses are also well worth a detour; they are home to 1,000 plant species and are decorated in the utmost French tradition of symmetry, geometry and order.
Musée Carnavalet is located on rue de Sévigné in the 3rd arrondissement in central Paris, near Place de la Bastille, Pompidou and Ile Saint-Louis. It is reachable by metro at stops Chemin Vert and Saint-Paul. The permanent collection is free to visit, but temporary exhibition and conferences cost €6.