The Cluny for Roman and medieval history in Paris

The Cluny Gardens

The view from the gardens. It's hard to see from Blvd St. Germain because of the fence and trees, but beautiful inside.

If you do a bit of reading about Paris, you’ll know that it was originally a Roman town. For example, Rue St Jacques is built over an original Roman road (lead to Rome one supposes). And right nearby, on Blvd St Germain at Blvd Saint-Michel you’ll find a site most people refer to simply as Cluny.

Roman Baths

Some of the remains of the Roman baths. Not too much to see, but hey, it's 3rd century.

Cluny detail

A very ornate building with details like this everywhere.

It is in fact two buildings: the remains of the 3rd century Roman-Gallo baths known as the Thermes de Cluny and the Hôtel de Cluny which was originally built in 1334 as a home for the abbots of Cluny, rebuilt at the end of the 1400’s and turned into a museum of the middle ages in 1843.


Amazing they survived at hall. Beautiful pieces....

Many of the items on exhibit came from one man, Alexandre du Sommerand who lived in the building from 1833 to 1842 (how do you just move into a building like this?). Upon his death, the state bought his collection, and voila, we have a museum.

His and hers

Gone but not forgotten thanks to skilled stone carvers.

Like many of the museums in Paris, Cluny can be overwhelming with so many pieces, many of which could prompt years of study on their own. Among the most famous are the tapestries featuring The Lady and the Unicorn.

Lady and the Unicorn

I am always in awe standing in front of something like this thinking of all the time and talent that went into it.

Lady & the Unicorn

Two more in the Lady and the Unicorn tapestry series.

Also, here you’ll see the heads and bodies of kings, once resplendent on the front of the Notre Dame, ingloriously lopped off by the revolutionaries some time between 1789 and 1799. (Funny aside about these kings – the revolutionaries thought they represented French kings. They were actually the Kings of Judah. A school teacher who lived nearby collected the heads and buried them in his backyard where they remained until 1977. A little clean-up and here they are in the Cluny. That’s a story worth knowing more about.)

King's Bodies

The hall of the headless ones....

King's Heads

You'd think it would be as easy as matching the head to the body.... but so far they've resisted the temptation.


A battle reinactment in the courtyard. No one lost their head here.

Aside from the inside of the buildings, the courtyard features themed gardens that are worth a visit. Interesting to note that back then (coming back into style) some gardens were planted specifically for their medicinal value.

Medicinal Simples

Reading the "cures" offered by some plants is a bit comical at times. Because a plant looked like a lung, it was used to treat lungs. Hmmm. I think blood letting was still popular at this time too. Click on the pictures of the signs to read the text.

The Heavenly Garden

Not surprising that some gardens had religious connotations.

Lady & the Unicorn Garden

And obviously, there must be a Lady & the Unicorn garden / forest here.

It’s easy to think of the history of Paris as it relates to the last 300 years or so, especially history from the mid-1850’s when Haussmann re-arranged Paris. It’s just so obvious and all around you.

Virgin Mary and St. John

The Virgin Mary and St. John from sometime between 1220 to 1230. A unique interpretation of what they might have looked like.

Close up of Virgin Mary

Interesting face. After this, go to the Louvre and see about 100 more interpretations of Mary.

St. John

A very young looking St John. Isn't he usually an old guy with a beard, or am I confusing the portrayal of the saints?

But if you want to go back further in time, a visit to the Cluny is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. For us, it was really simple as it was about a 10 minute walk from our apartment. We missed it last time, but happy to have seen it now.

Roman well

Every Roman site of significance had a sacred well (no water, no life right?). Here, a less than sacred view of the well in the courtyard.

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