Once Upon A Time

photo: entry carnavalet & louis xvi
The entry to Paris' historical museum, with
Louis XVI looking on.

The Revolution!

Paris:- Wednesday, 8. July 1998:- Most people probably know Paris has a lot of museums - both city, private and national French museums.

These include collections of art, sculpture, books, costumes, famous dead people, decoration, architecture, anthropology, archeology, ships, airplanes, cars, science, photography and some others I can't think of at the moment.

Since Paris has had a lot of history, there are several museums devoted to this as well. While riding the train and looking at the gloomy sky over Paris, it occurs to me that Bastille Day is coming up next week and this makes me think a bit.

As hard as I can, I cannot recall ever hearing of a 'Museum of the Revolution.'

What? This France had an absolute monarchy for a long time and then there was a revolution and today France is a republic. Every year on 14. July this is celebrated with a big parade on the Champs-Elysées and hundreds of thousands turn out for it and the President of the Republic is always either the guest ofphoto: cannon at invalides honor, or the host of it; I'm not sure which. On top of this, on the eve of the 14th, the whole country has a party to celebrate the event.

On 14. July 1789, Parisians borrowed 28,000 guns from the Invalides.

The change from one form of government to another was a momentous event - one of the most important in the country's history! - so where is the museum for it?

Is there one? If there is, where is it? Okay, I'm in Paris, charging east on the métro line one - I am not going to turn around and go all the way out to Versailles and ask for directions to the 'Museum of the Revolution' there.

On the other side of the 'time' of the Revolution, there is Napoléon, and he is somewhere in the Invalides, so I jump lines at Clemenceau to the line 13, and ride to its métro stop.

Coming out here, on the Esplanade of the Invalides, it is about half way between the Seine and its ornate pont Alexandre III and the massive Hôtel des Invalides. The esplanade is a big area of grass, copiously posted with 'no ball playing' signs and lots of big and little kids playing football.

I looked at the métro map too quickly, because the stations of Latour-Maubourg and Varenne are closer to the building - but its a good to get an idea of the size of the Esplanade, even if only to wonder what it is for.

After passing the guards, admiring the old cannons parked to overlook the dry moat, and ambling across the entry garden on its road of big cobbles, I arrive at the museum's reception hall.

My request for directions to the 'Museum of the Revolution' engages the receptionist and several other employees, but without producing anything definite other than quizzical looks and some head-scratching.

The Hôtel des Invalides is a story in itself, as it includes the military history of France - with a curious blank between Louis XIV and Napoléon - but its original purpose was as a home for military veterans. Louis XIV had it built, starting in 1671.

One reason why the Invalides does not contain much or any history of the Revolution, it that it was part of it. On Tuesday, 14. July 1789, Parisians paid it a visit in order to get arms and there was a big fight, which Louis' men lost. The citizens liberated 28,000 rifles and left to pay a visit to the Bastille.

My very old Michelin Green Guide uses the word 'rebels' instead of 'Parisians' and 'mob' instead of 'citizens.' Michelin may make pretty good guides but their history is sloppy - you don't call the winners, 'rebels.'

This contradiction is enhanced by the fact that the Invalides houses the national museum for the Second World War, on the second floor of the Army museum. This contains a lot ofphoto: church at invalides material about the Resistance and Charles de Gaulle, two subjects closely allied to the words 'rebels' and 'traitors' - words officially used by the Vichy regime.

The Church of the Dome at Invalides.

Elsewhere in the same building, are the national offices of French WWII veterans and resistance members. I make a note of the contact numbers of these for a later date, when I will return to visit this part of the museum.

Nobody can give me better advice, so I decide to visit the Musée de la Homme at Trocadéro. The big flat space here, between it and the Musée des Monument Français, is generally called the Parvis these days.

Its surface has an inscription which reads, "Les Hommes Naissent et Demeurent Libres et Egaux en Droits. Art. 1 de la Déclaration de 1789. Le 30. Mai 1985 François Mitterrand a donné le nom de Parvis des Libertés et des Droits de l'Homme à l'Esplanade du Palais de Chaillot."

However, the Musée de la Homme next to this, features prehistory, anthropology and ethnology - and has nothing to do with modern philosophy, as a guard tells me.

We get into a good discussion about the Revolution all the same. At the end of it he thinks I should try the Musée Carnavalet in the Marais, which is part of the Paris Musées system and is not a national museum.

It is nearly closing time and we both want to see tonight's game between Croatia and France. Nearly whole world wants to see this game. The Revolution will have to wait until Friday.


The Musée Carnavalet - Revolutionary!

Paris:- Friday, 10. July 1998:- Under skies pretty much the same as Wednesday's, I am riding métro line one under pretty much the same earth as then - except I go all the way the métro Saint-Paul.

I am feeling a bit dismal. The posters in the métro stations do not look like they've changed from last week. Thursday's big party after France's win over Croatia on Wednesday evening is not in evidence in the faces of the other passengers, and I have this feeling my search for the Revolution is going to be a bust.

There are no decent posters around Saint-Paul either, and Le Parisien is sold out. I take the usual rue Pavée towards the rue des Francs-Bourgeois, past the Paris' city bookshop and the Bibliothéque Historique de la Ville de Paris, next door.

On the Francs-Bourgeois, the museum takes up the whole block and the entrance is around the corner in the rue de Sévigné. The hôtel was built in 1545 and made to look likephoto: exterior carnavalent it does now in 1654. Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné, lived here from 1677 until 1696, when she died at Grignan.

At the entry a guard checks my bag and I try the shops on either side before I find the entrance to the right, in the courtyard.

The entry to the Carnavalet museum is in the rue de Sévigné.

Once I learn there is, in fact, a section in the museum devoted to the Revolution, I decide to buy a ticket to get in rather than go through the rigmarole of asking for a freebie from the press service. By not doing this I probably avoid all sorts of delays and refusals, and I am not in the mood to put up with these today.

The Ville de Paris opened its first historical museum in Carnavalet in 1867. After the Paris Commune of 1871 resulted in the destruction of the Hôtel de Ville, the city's bibliothéque was moved here.

In 1880 the city's historical museum was annexed and it included the collection about the Revolution, donated by Alfred de Liesville. After the bibliothéque moved out in 1897, it was the only museum here. It was inaugurated by Félix Faure on 23. June 1898.

Altogether Carnavalet has 148 museum rooms - all of them all about Paris. This museum is apparently not well-known, or it is considered only to be worthy of a visit if the Louvre or Orsay is closed. Carnavalet should not be anybody's second choice.

Its astounding collection starts out with the Middle Ages and goes up to the 20th century. The dozen rooms monopolized by the Revolution might not seem like a lot out of the total, but they are a lot more than any other museum has on the subject.

The floor-plan has the Revolutionary section off by itself, alone on the second floor. To get to it, you pass royalty, and on leaving, you walk through the emperor's rooms. It's a bit like the Revolution is a total embarrassment as far as France is concerned, and is only tolerated by Paris, because a few of its citizens were involved.

The Revolution's dozen rooms are decorated in the bourgeois style of the time. Some interior rooms are a bit dim, but they do contain some old objects and paintings, which will not stand a lot of light. There are exterior rooms, overlooking a garden, and these are bright.

There is no full-sized guillotine and there are no bloody pikes. There are busts of Louis XVI, some paintings and drawings, some furniture, and a lot of fancy plates.

There is either a copy or an original print of the 1789 'Déclaration des Droits de l'Homme,' which is also presented in some successive versions.

This first version, probably originally a poster, is simple and concise, with only a preamble and 17 articles. A version withphoto: citizen bonaparte more elaborate graphics, added later, of this can be purchased as a postcard or a poster in the museum's boutique.

To get out of the Revolution part, I have to pass a fatter Napoléon, an Empire, a Restoration, all these back and forths, down to the elegant entrance of the museum. For the purpose of this visit, I skip the pre- and post-revolutionary periods, and head straight for the card shop.

Napoléon Bonaparte, while he was still a citizen-soldier.

The French Revolution costs six francs as a postcard. This is the one without all the amendments. These, if you want them, can be found at the bookshops of the Senat or the Assembly National.

But the main thing, my original question - where is the Revolution in Paris? - is answered. It is in a dozen rooms in Paris' Musée Carnavalet in the Marais.

Musée Carnavalet
29. rue de Sévigné, Paris 3. Métro: Saint-Paul or Chemin-Vert. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 15:40. Info. Tel.: 01 42 72 21 13. Guided visits on Tuesdays at 14:30, Thursdays at 15:00 and Saturdays at 14:30. Closed on Mondays, Bastille Day and Saturday, 15. August.

L'Hôtel National des Invalides
Métro: Invalides, Latour-Maubourg, Varenne, and Saint-François-Xavier. Open from 10:00 to 18:00, from April to the end of September. Winter closing one hour earlier. Open daily except 1. January, 1. May, 1. November and 25. December. Info. Tel.: 01 44 42 37 72.

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