Journées du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days: Not-to-Miss Sites in Paris

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Journées du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days: Not-to-Miss Sites in Paris
The Journées du Patrimoine occurs on the 3rd weekend of September each year and is a must for anyone that loves Paris history and architecture. Historic buildings that are usually closed to the public are open to visitors, free of charge. If you want to take a peek into the Palais de l’Élysée, home of the French president, or maybe even behind the velvet curtain of the Crazy Horse Paris cabaret, then this is the weekend for you. Organized by the Minister of Culture, each year has a specific theme. For the 36th anniversary this year, the theme is arts and entertainment. Specific themed cultural events will be held at various locations throughout France. However, the highlight of the entire weekend is getting past the façade of some of the most stunning buildings in Paris. Serious planning has to go into the weekend; the lines can be long and the opening hours variable. One year, on the top of my list to see was the Palais de l’Élysée. I was dying to see inside the palace that was bought by Louis XV and given to his mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour, and would later serve as the home for the French head of state. I was not the only one that had this idea. A few thousand other history-loving friends did as well. After arriving very early and standing in line for over 90 minutes, I reached a sign that said, “If you are here, it will be 4 hours until you arrive at the Élysée”. At that time, I jumped the fence and headed towards another location. As much as I would like to see the inside of the palace, wasting the whole day was not my idea of a good time. For Heritage Days weekend, that is the worst case scenario. Although, going in with a plan is essential. Prior to the weekend, the catalog created by the Minister of Cultural can be picked up at their office as well as lists and info on their website. All openings and events are free, but a select few require a reservation that must be obtained in advanced and very limited. Embassies, government buildings and hôtel particuliers that are only open for this weekend, should be at the top of your list. Churches and museums that are normally open year-round often have special tours and events this weekend. A visit to the crypt of Saint-Sulpice, a close up look at the organ of Notre-Dame-des-Blancs-Manteaux and even concerts in many of the beautiful stained glass churches. Here are a few of my top picks that you should not miss. Hôtel de Ville de Paris, at 31 rue Lobau in the 4th arrondissement: This is the main city hall for Paris and office of Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo. Aside from that, the building holds a story that stretches back through two incarnations of the same building. The original building was built by François I, added onto by Henri IV, and stood until 24 May 1871. During the Paris Commune, it would be set ablaze, burning for several days. The entire contents was destroyed including the paintings by Eugene Delacroix in the Salle de la Paix. On 10 August 1871, it was voted to rebuild the Hôtel de Ville, reviving the Renaissance façade just as it was. Eleven years later, the new and present Hôtel de Ville would be reopened and on this special weekend, you are in for a real treat. The self-guided tour winds you through ceremonial staircase, Salon des arcades, Salle des fêtes, Salon Georges Bertrand and even the mayor’s office. Each room is also dedicated to the many craftsman that make France so special. Locksmiths that can still work on 16th century locks, chandelier makers and stone cutters. It is in these rooms that you will appreciate that France still holds these crafts so dear and will continue to renovate and save so many of its historic structures. Arrive a bit early before the doors open, and make sure to look up at the façade and the statues of the great men of art, letters and history that wrap around the building. Many of the government buildings never started out that way. Take for instance l’Assemblée Nationale. Before it was the site of the French National Assembly it was the Palais Bourbon, home to Louise Françoise de Bourbon, daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. A simple little county house surrounded by gardens. Built in 1726, it was located on the edge of Paris and designed after the Grand Trianon of Versailles. Jules Mansart and three other architects that kept dying before the designs were finished would complete the plans of the palace. Her lover the Comte de Lassay would build a palace next to hers, the Hôtel de Lassay, and the Palais Bourbon are now connected and part of the Assemblée National today. This is another tour you will want to arrive early for; just grab a croissant for the wait and enjoy. The interiors are breathtaking. One of the first rooms you will enter is the Salon Delacroix. In 1833, the Minister of the Interior, Adolphe Thiers commissioned Eugène Delacroix to decorate the Salle du Roi. The young painter, only 25 at the start of the project, would beautifully add his Romanticism style to the walls of the room that was seen by every visitor that arrived. With allegories between the windows of Oceanus, Mediterranean Mare, industry, justice, agriculture…

Lead photo credit : Salon Delacroix at the Assemblée nationale. Photo: Claudine Hemingway

More in European Heritage Days, free activities in Paris, free stuff in Paris, Journées du Patrimoine, Paris sightseeing

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Claudine Hemingway had a deep love of Paris instilled in her at an early age from her beloved grandparents. Following in their footsteps, she is happiest strolling the historic cobblestones soaking in the architecture, art and history. Highly sought after to plan your Parisian adventure that ventures off the beaten path and digs deeper into the historic and secret Paris. Contact her at [email protected] to plan your trip. You can follow her adventure and daily Paris history lesson on Instagram @claudinebleublonderouge


  • Roni Beth Tower
    2019-09-20 01:35:11
    Roni Beth Tower
    Thank you for this curated list. The choices can be overwhelming!