The Musée de Cluny: from Roman baths to the Lady of the Unicorn

The week-end here in Paris was sunny and crisp. Perfect weather for a long walk, followed by a visit to a museum. I did not feel like the Louvre and decided for the far smaller and more intimate Musée de Cluny, often ignored by tourists. Its official name is Musée National du Moyen-Age-Thermes et Hôtel de Cluny, which I find very long and pompous. To me and other Parisians it is simply Cluny.

Lady of the Unicorn Sight

Lady of the Unicorn Sight

It houses beautiful collections of medieval art, in particular the series of six tapestries know as The Lady of the Unicorn. This unique set, a mysterious allegory of the five senses, was the inspiration for author Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel The Lady and the Unicorn and should also be familiar to J. K. Rowling fans. Copies of these tapestries were used to adorn the walls of the Gryffindor common room in the Harry Potter films.

The most astonishing thing about the Cluny Museum is that the entire back of the building used to be the Roman baths of Paris, called Lutetia in Latin. The huge walls remain and are visible from Boulevard Saint-Michel.

That, and the still gorgeous weather, gave me the idea of visiting on Sunday another vestige from Roman times in Paris: Les Arènes de Lutece, the city’s amphitheater. You can still see the grandstands where the spectators used to sit, and the underground cages where the gladiators, wild beasts and those sentenced to die awaited their fate before being pushed into the arena.

But yesterday no blood stained the sandy pit. All I could see were people sunning themselves on the benches, men playing ball and little kids making origami figures out of used metro tickets.

That’s what never ceases to amaze me in Paris: the blend of the old, even the very ancient, with modern life…

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19 Comments to “The Musée de Cluny: from Roman baths to the Lady of the Unicorn”

  1. Sam Hey says:

    I too loved the Musee de cluny. We stumbled upon it, and loved the blend of original old world ruins, the medieval artifacts, with relics from priests and knights, and the remnants of Roman times.

  2. Moss Wood says:

    I am looking for an agent to sell a
    Cluny Tapestry for me.

  3. An American in Paris: Benjamin Franklin at the Musee Carnavalet

    The Carnavalet, like the Cluny, is one of Paris’s lesser-known museums. It is dedicated to the history of the capital and contains a unique collection (some say a hodgepodge, I call it a treasure trove) of objects related to life in Paris since prehistoric times. You won’t find any masterpieces there, but every Paris lover, and anyone interested in the Revolutionary period in particular, has to cherish the Carnavalet.It doesn’t hurt either that the museum is located is two gorgeous mansions in the heart of the historic Marais district. One of them served as my inspiration for the home of …

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  13. An American in Paris: Benjamin Franklin at the Musee Carnavalet

    The Carnavalet, like the Cluny, is one of Paris’s lesser-known museums. It is dedicated to the history of the capital and contains a unique collection (some say a hodgepodge, I call it a treasure trove) of objects related to life in Paris since prehistoric times. You won’t find any masterpieces there, but every Paris lover, and anyone interested in the Revolutionary period in particular, has to cherish the Carnavalet.It doesn’t hurt either that the museum is located is two gorgeous mansions in the heart of the historic Marais district. One of them served as my inspiration for the home of …

  14. An American in Paris: Benjamin Franklin at the Musee Carnavalet

    The Carnavalet, like the Cluny, is one of Paris’s lesser-known museums. It is dedicated to the history of the capital and contains a unique collection (some say a hodgepodge, I call it a treasure trove) of objects related to life in Paris since prehistoric times. You won’t find any masterpieces there, but every Paris lover, and anyone interested in the Revolutionary period in particular, has to cherish the Carnavalet.It doesn’t hurt either that the museum is located is two gorgeous mansions in the heart of the historic Marais district. One of them served as my inspiration for the home of …

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  16. Sheramy aka Deanna says:

    Hi Catherine–Popped over here from Julianne’s blog when I saw your comment there–Great blog! I like your website as well (especially the bit about unpublished to published), and I’m looking forward to your book. I love that time period. My mostly-art history themed blog is over at vangoghschair.blogspot.com. Hope to chat more!

  17. Catherine Delors says:

    Indeed I am fortunate. The more you live in Paris, the more you fall in love with it.

  18. I love the Cluny. I visited once and the thing that impressed me the most were the medieval ivory carvings. I’d never seen any before and was amazed at the intricacy and delicacy of the scenes, given that many of the panels were no larger than a sheet of paper.

    You’re so fortunate to be able to visit museums like this at will.

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