Paris - Ile De France

Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages in Paris

This page was updated on: Saturday, December 21, 2019 at: 3:18 pm

Cluny Museum - Latin Quarter

The Cluny Museum (Musée National du Moyen-Age – Thermes de Cluny) was founded in the Hôtel de Cluny.

The mansion is located next to the Sorbonne University in the heart of the Latin Quarter.

A true masterpiece of Flamboyant architecture, it was erected on the vestiges of the Roman Baths.

Two thousand years ago, antic Paris was known as Lutetia and spread on the left bank, from the Seine to the level of the current Pantheon.

Forum, official buildings, baths, arenas, shops, workshops and private houses were built on the slopes of the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève and in the current Latin Quarter.

These buildings were hastily demolished during the barbarian invasions of 285AD.

Their stones were re-used to erect a rampart around the Ile de la Cité where the people of Lutetia found refuge.

All that is left of this Gallo-Roman city are the ruins of the Roman Baths of Cluny and the Arènes de Lutèce to the east.

Hôtel de Cluny home to the Cluny Museum

In 1334 King Philippe-Auguste sold the ruins of the Thermes de Cluny (Roman baths) to Pierre de Chalus.

The Bishop of Cluny (Burgundy) built a mansion on the plot in order to accommodate his abbots when they sojourned to Paris.

Bishop Jacques d'Amboise built the current Hôtel de Cluny in 1485.

The foundations of the Gallo-Roman baths were re-used.

The ruins that were still standing were incorporated to the building.

The Hôtel de Cluny is a superb illustration of late Gothic architecture or Flamboyant style.

It boasts splendid medieval architectural features!

These include among others the magnificent stair tower, mullion windows and woodwork of the main facade.

The roof is embellished with carved friezes and elaborate gargoyles and the dormer windows are carved with the emblem of the Abbots of Cluny.

The splendid chapel of the Cluny Museum, the former abbots' chapel, is a pure masterpiece of Flamboyant architecture.

The Hôtel de Cluny was enlarged and improved many times through the ages.

It was declared national property during the French Revolution.

Fortunately Alexandre du Sommerard, an amateur of antiques, rented the mansion in 1833 in order to move his personal collections.

The museum he opened soon became very popular with the Parisians.

The State bought the Hôtel de Cluny and Sommerard's collections when he died in 1842.

The Musée des Thermes et de l'Hôtel de Cluny was open to the public on March 16, 1844.

The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry

The Cluny Museum is entirely dedicated to the medieval art.

The impressive collections include exceptional items.

These include stained glass from the Sainte-Chapelle, paintings, statues, various documents and tapestries.

The two most remarkable tapestries are the Tapestry of Seigniorial Life.

It indeed depicts the daily activities of a noble man.

The second tapestry is The Lady and the Unicorn.

A room, the rotunda, was especially fitted with dim lights and sophisticated humidity control system in order to exhibit it.

The Cluny Museum exhibits also the heads of the statues that decorated the Gallery of Kings of Judea on the facade of Notre-Dame Cathedral.

At the Revolution, the Parisians mistook these statues for those of the kings of France and beheaded them!

Musée des Thermes de Cluny - Roman Baths

The Roman baths were built around 215AD.

However, they were in use only for 60 years.

They were partially demolished in 285AD and their stones re-used in order to build the rampart around the Ile de la Cité.

The remaining ruins were once again dismantled during the Norman invasions of the 9th century, when the Parisians consolidated the old rampart.

The Frigedarium, Tepidarium and Caldarium (cold baths, warm baths and hot baths) are all that is left of the original baths.

Another room, which use is unknown, has miraculously escaped demolition and retained its superb mosaics, alcoves and decorations.

Large carved boulders were also discovered in 1711 beneath the chancel of Notre-Dame Cathedral during the construction of a burial vault.

They came from an altar dedicated to the Emperor Tiberius.

A dedication, still legible on one of them, attests that the Guild of the Watermen of Paris or Nautes Parisiens erected it between 37AD and 14AD.

Pilier des Nautes

The most emblematic, a carved pillar known as the Pilier des Nautes (Watermen's Pillar), is now exhibited in the Frigedarium.

This pillar is dedicated to pagan gods and is carved with Celtic (i.e. Esus, the Gaulish god of War) and Roman gods (i.e. Vulcan).

These carved stones are the oldest in Paris.
All the discoveries made to date seem to confirm that the almighty Nautes Parisiens funded the construction of the baths.

Members of the guild played a major political and economic role in the development of Paris through the centuries, as they held the monopoly of river trade.

They controlled the exchanges and collected tolls for the transport of goods not only on the Seine, but also on the nearby rivers Marne, Oise, and Yonne.

Over the centuries, the boatmen became wealthy merchants.

In 1246 Louis IX (St-Louis) authorized Paris residents to elect their aldermen or Echevins among the members of the Guild of Watermen.

Their leader became the Provost of the Merchants of Paris.

This new official body was in charge of the administration of Paris.

Their emblem represents a silvery-white vessel sailing fiercely on the waves against a red background.

It has become the emblem of Paris.

"Fluctuat nec mergitur
She is battered by the waves but does not sink"

The Musée des Thermes de Cluny is part of the Cluny Museum.

Directions: 5th District - 6 Place Paul Painlevé
Metro: Cluny-La Sorbonne on Line 10 and RER B
Coordinates: Lat 48.850187 - Long 2.343312

Source Photos: "Lady and the Unicorn, Stained glass from the Sainte Chapelle, Abbots' Flamboyant chapel, lady and Unicorn special room" by Karin Bates Snyder aka karinlynn68 © All rights reserved Photo via Wikimedia Commons: "Pilier des Nautes de Jupiter" is in Domaine public

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