The Cluny for Roman and medieval history in Paris
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.