An Architectural Journey | Cité de l’architecture


Do you love architecture and want to see as many famous buildings in France as you can? The Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine can help you do this, all without leaving Paris! A space dedicated to the study and exhibition of architecture, it is located in the Palais de Chaillot, a building originally built for the Exposition Internationale of 1937, steps away from the Eiffel Tower. Before becoming a space for architecture, the building was the original headquarters of NATO and it was here that the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

At the heart of the Cité de l’architecture is the Musée des monuments français. It is one of Paris’ newer museum spaces, opening in 2007, but the concept of a museum of architecture dates back to the French Revolution. Archeologist Alexandre Lenoir tried to stay one step ahead of the mobs that were destroying buildings across France during the Terror, collecting sculptures and architectural fragments for his Musée des monuments français. Though the majority of the objects in its collection were returned to their proper buildings after the Revolution, the idea of having a museum dedicated to French sculpture and architecture remained.

After a suggestion by the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc in the late 19th century, the museum was reopened, this time containing plaster casts of parts of buildings from around France. There are full-scale representation of doors, columns, sculptures and more, all made in a way similar to how you might have made a plaster copy of your hand as a kid, creating a completely realistic version of the original.

One room of the museum (photo by dalbera)

Walking around the museum, you are transported all across France. Right next to the grand central doors of Notre-Dame in Paris there might be a statue from the cathedral in Bordeaux and a sculpted column from Limoges. Gothic portals are used as doorways into the different rooms of the museum, giving the illusion that you are actually walking through a church. At the same time, there is no attempt to create a realistic building out of all of these various pieces. The real fun of these casts is the opportunity to see a monument up close and personal.

An example of the contemporary exhibits often shown at the museum (photo by Lia Dykstra)

Although the plaster casts only cover buildings from the medieval era until the 18th century, the museum also includes a section featuring models of modern and contemporary architecture. The Cité also houses a school to train future curators and restorers of historic architecture as well as an auditorium with events open to the public. If you are a lover of architecture or historic buildings, the Cité de l’architecture should be on your list of must-visits!

Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine
1, place du Trocadéro et du 11 novembre
75116 Paris
Metro: Trocadéro (6, 9) or Champ de Mars Tour Eiffel (RER C)
Open: Every day except Tuesday, 11am-7pm (Thursdays until 9pm)

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