A Unique Paris Museum, Safeguarding the Statues of Notre Dame Cathedral...
The world watched, united in horror, as our beloved Notre Dame Cathedral was engulfed in flames. Through a miracle and the efforts of the amazing Parisian Pompiers (firefighters), thankfully, all was not lost. Even more thankfully, you can visit the statues that typically rest atop her rooftop at The Musée de la Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine. (That's the Museum of the City's Architecture and Heritage to you and me). It is worth nothing that it is the largest museum of its kind.
It's easy to overlook this gem of a museum, you know, seeing as how it overlooks the Place du Trocadero and the Eiffel Tower.
Pssst, in an upcoming post, we'll take a look at the adjacent Musée de l'Homme (just on the other side of the Place du Trocadero), so do subscribe to visit us again in the Parisian Niche.
Given its breathtaking view and proximity to the Eiffel Tower, P'Niche would not fault you for thinking that this particular museum would be unbearably crowded. However, be assured that the galleries are sparsely filled with guests. This makes it quite easy to manage and cover the scope of French architecture from the 1100s to modern time, with hosts of interesting exhibitions on rotation.
It is quite fitting that the statues of Notre Dame are seeking their temporary refuge in this museum, given that it was established (in 1879) by one Monsieur Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a famous French architect. It was he who was placed in charge of the massive renovations of Notre Dame Cathedral in the 1840s, after the soaring popularity of Victor Hugo's publication of "Notre Dame de Paris," (that's "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" to you and me).
Keep this talented man's visage in your mind, for it will make sense a little lower in this post.
For now, let's take a look at how his 9,000 square meter museum, and the galleries within, are neatly arranged after her 2007 renovations.
In addition to its temporary exhibitions, the museum is broken down into three main parts:
· Gallery of Moldings
· Gallery of Wall Paintings and Window Panels
· Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Architecture
These galleries are arranged artfully and very carefully in order to give visitors a deeper understanding and broad scope of the fantastically long and complex history of French architecture and aesthetics.
That said, this is not only a museum, but a fully functioning architectural safeguard, maintaining:
· The French Institute of Architecture, dedicated to the promotion of French architecture, in addition to contemporary architects
· The School of Chaillot, which was founded in 1887, focusing on the training of architects specialized in the critical restoration of historical monuments
· An expansive library of architecture
The gallery and exhibition spaces are definitely worth a visit on any day, but right now, the museum exceptionally hosts the statues of Notre Dame Cathedral.
This visit / viewing is unlike any other that I have yet experienced. Iconic statues and architecture that were visible only at a great distance are now at eye level. Even entering the gallery through a portico of sorts was quite other worldly.
The gatekeeper to the gates of heaven as well as this once in a lifetime exhibit, Saint Peter was the first statue to greet us, key in hand.
He reminded us that while these statues of the 12 Apostles of Christ typically reside atop the Cathedral of Notre Dame, they are safely tucked away in this museum until their triumphant return (with the anticipated renovations of Notre Dame in 2024, hopefully in concurrence with the Parisian hosting of that year's Olympic Games).
P'Niche is as curious as you are to see if Notre Dame Cathedral will indeed be ready for her unveiling at that time...
You were able to be taken quite out of yourself while walking beside and under relics and imaginations of Viollet-le Duc's architectural visions.
In fact did you know that it was largely Viollet-le-Duc who dreamed up and installed the many grotesques and gargoyles that embellish the easily recognizable silhouette of Notre Dame Cathedral? The more you know!
What is the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque you ask? And is it really grotesque? We'll be discovering the difference of these petits monsters very soon, so we hope to see you back before the bells of Notre Dame sing out again...
For those who might be concerned about the lack of English language in this exhibit, fear not. Our English speaking P'Nichers will feel very comfortable, as most signs are available in both French (on top) and English (just below). All plaques and descriptions are clearly and accurately marked for ease.
Some of the works we stumbled across truly blew our minds...
What we imagined was simply an elaborate fireplace (that one might find in a specific television series that highlights dragons, fire, and thrones) took our breath away, as we got close enough to see an entire other world within its walls.
When we finally realized we were gazing upon an imagining of the tomb of Christ, we were flabbergasted. It took us more than a few moments to be able to move on to another piece of artwork, so enthralled were we in this masterpiece. Thankfully, again, the gallery was quite empty, so we were able to linger...
Other works of similar style and subject caught our attention as well.
All we could do was admire the work and wonder what kind of creative genius and craftsmen were able to bring mere stone to life. We truly felt as though we could walk into the vignette and overhear whispers and conversation.
Other gorgeous items were found aplenty. As we were able to slowly stroll from gallery to gallery, taking in as much as the mind would allow, we had to remind ourselves to look up.
Folks, we were not disappointed when we did. Such details were truly alive looking, making it seem as though the hardest of stone was mere clay to be molded.
As we rounded another corner, we stumbled upon the rooster that graced the top of Notre Dame's spire. Inside resided a small piece from the Crown of Thorns, a relic of the martyred Saint Denis, and another relic of Saint Geneviève, the Patron Saint of Paris.
Did the spire's collapse and rooster's fiery plummet spark some kind of miracle, ultimately saving the cathedral?
P'Niche likes to think so...
In a wild and playful juxtaposition, we saw a medieval portico peeking out of the window at her much younger sister in architecture, the Eiffel Tower.
This moment helps us to reflect on how we did get from one age of construction to modern day building. The museum is quite strategically laid out to help you contemplate this mystery.
One extremely cool moment came when we came upon the statue of Saint Thomas.
Of course, we know that Saint Thomas is the patron saint of architecture.
He is the only statue on top of Notre Dame that does not overlook the city of Paris. Instead, our Saint Thomas looks back up toward the cathedral's spire, as if to examine (dare we say admire) his own work.
These statues have been immaculately cleaned, so we were able to clearly see that in fact, Viollet-le-Duc had added his own facial features to this statue! See the resemblance to his image, above?!
Cheeky architect! So very well played...
But was this the only time he added his image to the cathedral? Nope! More on that soon...
If you wish to visit The Musée de la Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine, it is easily found - located at the Trocadéro métro stop on both the 6 and 9 lines..
Remember to check hours, as they may fluctuate due to public holidays, special events, etc. As this may be likely the only chance to see these items so closely in out lifetime, it is definitely worth a visit!
What do you think P'Nichers? Have you been able to see this museum or have you now added it to your Paris planning itinerary? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!