Hotel de Sens: An Exquisite Medieval Jewel in the Marais

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Hotel de Sens: An Exquisite Medieval Jewel in the Marais
At 1 rue du Figuier in the fourth arrondissement stands one of the few remaining medieval structures in Paris: the Hotel de Sens. (Other vestiges from the Middle Ages include 3 rue Volta, Nicolas Flamel’s house on Rue Montmorency, and the precarious-looking half-timbered twins at 11 and 13 rue François Miron.) The gothic Hotel de Sens is a romantic reminder of what Paris looked like before Baron Haussmann and Napoleon III redesigned the city streets in the latter half of the 19th century. The Hotel de Sens is prominently located in the Marais, just a three-minute walk north of the Seine. The palace’s construction began in 1475 under the orders of Tristan de Salazar and completed in 1518; it was built in order to house influential archbishops from the important French cathedral town of Sens, who were desirous of swaying the royal court of Paris. Turrets and arches remain part of this little restored castle, as does a small tower once thought necessary to protect the bishops from anticipated attack. The Hotel de Sens is one of the last known fortified domestic buildings. In the main arch and in the staircase of the lower courtyard, access was provided for the pouring of boiling oil! There is a cannon ball lodged in the stone façade, dating however from the July Revolution of 1830. The prophet Nostradamus was housed at the Hotel de Sens to be at the beck and call of King Henri II and the ever-so influential Catherine de Medici. Although the fortress-like façade of the Hotel de Sens is a bit daunting on a dull day, its walls contain a beautifully restored garden laid out in a parterre of geometrical beds and clipped hedges. Today, however, the biggest draw of the Hotel de Sens is the intriguing Bibliothèque Forney, a public library dedicated to the decorative arts, the art and craft professions and their techniques. Among this collection are 230,000 books, as well as 50,000 exhibition and commercial art catalogues, 9,000 samples of wallpaper, and 18th century fabric swatches. Over 200,000 prints and advertising posters are also housed within the Hotel de Sens along with more than a million postcards. Its collections of iconographic ephemera are astounding, and not limited to advertising brands, tobacco wrappers, and 20,000 cheese labels. There are also more whimsical finds such as 80 game boards from the end of the 19th century, plus paper hats and masks, advertising fans, and the cardboard crowns of kings. Commercial catalogues of Bazar of the City Hall (1932). Photo © Bibliothèque Forney, Facebook

Lead photo credit : The Hôtel de Sens. Photo credit © Camlamb (CC BY 2.0)

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A freelance writer and amateur historian, Hazel knew she wanted to focus on the lives of French artists and femme fatales after an epiphany at the Musée d'Orsay. A life-long learner, she is a recent graduate of Art History from the University of Toronto. Now she is searching for a real-life art history mystery to solve.


    2021-01-07 07:34:34
    Thank you for this article! When I read the title in my email I was sure you'd be talking about the Hôtel de Sens! It's one of my favorite places....the architecture, the history, the cannonball, the beautiful garden, and the quiet courtyard!