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The Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris

The name may be a helluva mouthful, but this newly reopened museum is absolutely amazing…

photos : jasonw

(If you want to skip straight to our photo report, click here)

We’ve been to a few wild museums in Paris (Baccarat was mad, the Museum of Decorative Arts was madder), but the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine (that we’ve quickly mentioned before) has to be seen to be believed. To start with, it’s in the left wing of the extraordinary (and huge) Palais de Chaillot building that’s on top of the hill overlooking the Eiffel Tower, dating from 1937. This means that the museum is on many different levels; not only can you go up pretty high, you can also go down… and down… and down again. It’s seemingly endless. Here’s the incredible view from the café in the entrance, and a shot of the bookshop…

The museum does not allow you to take photos… so we did anyway. I was quite a cat and mouse game, and I did get told off a couple of times, but hey! I really don’t understand what the problem is. This is what the entrance and ground floor of the museum has in store for you…

During the early 20th Century, moulds of many historical buildings were taken just in case they did not survive. It was also a way of showing architecture to people who could not travel around the country to experience it themselves. There are rooms and rooms filled with the most incredibly detailed sculptures, huge doorways that look real… For someone who does not have the time to explore the whole of France and see its architectural wonders (and frankly, it would take a lifetime) this is a wonderful way of seeing some incredible stuff.

After seeing the history of French architecture you move up a floor and see what had been done more recently (i.e. 20th Century). Again, it was difficult to take photos, but here’s one that gives an idea of what it looks like.

Bright white, in contrast to the vivid red on the ground floor, there are flatscreens explaining various housing projects, building concepts, and even a reconstructed fifties house that you can walk round. The end of the floor shows projects that are still in construction, such as some student quarters in Bordeaux that have been designed to be covered in scented, climbing roses. Ecological architecture seems to be very popular at the moment.

Up a couple of floors again, and you reach a whole labyrinth of rooms whose ceilings reproduce those of churches and other buildings. These have quite a spooky atmosphere, with some of the rooms being very large and darkish. I really got the feeling that this would be a great place for anyone wanting to see some of France’s wonders without even leaving Paris…

By some strange chance, we then took a lift up to a floor that was not marked private, but did not have anything else marked for it either. We arrived in a part of the museum that you are probably not supposed to be in; actually, it’s the entrance to the Elle Decoration Suite. This a private room that can be visited by appointment, as it has been filled with retro furniture and decorations by Christian Lacroix. However, when we stepped out of the lift there was nobody there, and we were free to walk around the entrance (not the suite itself), and look out over all of Paris. It was a very strange feeling, and the view over Paris – almost straight down the Seine – was very unusual. Also, couldn’t help noticing that someone there has a terrace to die for, with trees and everything!

Just in case you want to try it, use the lift in the corner of the entrance hall, just next to the bookshop, and go right to the top floor.

After having seen everything upstairs, we started exploring the lower floors. The temporary exhibition about Vauban who built a lot of France’s forts, is in a series of huge vaulted rooms on one of the basement levels. Again, between the low lighting and the guards, taking photos wasn’t easy…

We were then surprised to be able to go down again, not just one level but two, via a huge red staircase…

This led us to another temporary exhibition where 9 French female architects have each designed a room for Barbie! It was pretty kitsch…

We went round the museum fairly quickly, but it still took us nearly five hours! We never got bored, in fact quite the opposite; between the exhibits and the exhibition space itself we were continually amazed. I’m looking forward to going back there and looking at certain parts of the modern collection in more detail.

Don’t forget to check out the full photo gallery here!

Here’s all the essential information for the Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine in Paris

Where: Palais de Chaillot, place du Trocadéro, Paris 16th arrondissement. Métro Trocadéro (lines 6 & 9). Bus n°s 63, 32, 82, 22, 30
Opening hours: Every day except Tuesdays, 11am – 7pm (9pm Thursdays)
Admission: permanent exhibition 8 euros for adults, 5 euros for concessions (make that 10 or 7 euros if you want to check out the Vauban exhibition too). You can have a look at the Elle Decoration Suite for just 3 euros (not sure if this is on top of normal admission prices or not)
Official site: here (all in French, darn it!)

Bigger map here