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Formal French Gardens

Sunday afternoon during, as part of the “Fête des Jardins,” the gardens of the Musée Carnavalet were open to the public, not from the usual entrance, but from the massive gates directly on rue des Francs Bourgeois. Streams of pedestrians pass there regularly as they shop their way through the boutiques on this well-heeled narrow street that borders the 3rd and 4th arrondissements in Le Marais, but only ogle it in passing from the sidewalk.

The museum is dedicated to the history of Paris and is formed of two 16th and 17th-century mansions offering more than 140 rooms displaying archeological remains from prehistory to modern times. Although it was built in 1548 for Jacques de Ligneris, who was President of the Parliament, it was extensively remodeled in I660 by the architect François Mansart, who incorporated the earlier 16th-century work of the sculptor Jean Goujon in his facade, still visible today.

The name Carnavalet comes from the Breton name of one of its 16th-century owners, Kernevenoy. One of Goujon’s sculptures, originally an allegorical figure of Abundance, has been reworked as a carnival mask to provide a punning reference to the mansion’s name.

The museum linked Carnavalet to the neighboring mansion, the Hôtel le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau. The Marquise de Sevigné, a notable wit and distinguished member of the aristocracy was made famous for the letters she wrote to her daughter and resided in this house for some 20 years.

From Place des Vosges (then called “Place Royale”), where Madame de Sevigné was born in 1626, to the Hôtel Carnavalet where she died in 1694, she resided in ten residences, all in the Marais. She settled in the mansion in 1677 and lived on the “noble” second floor, between the courtyard and garden, which are today consecrated to the city administration under the Ancien Regime.

The Marais of the 17th-century was a very spacious suburb, where the gardens belonging to the “hôtel particuliers” (private homes) and convents were prized by high society, who had made them areas of elegance “par excellence.”

For more information about the museum and gardens, visit the Paris Tourist Office site

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]

P.S. Most of the “hôtel particuliers” of Le Marais dating from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries have been renovated over the years to become lovely apartments (like mine which was once the servants’ quarters!) and is one of the most desirable parts of Paris to live today. For more information about how you can own your own pied-à-terre in the Marais (or elsewhere in Paris!), email us

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* Further resources:

* Internationally acclaimed author Thirza Vallois, will be taking you or a Grand Tour of Paris, winding in and out of the all 20 arrondissements…a once in a lifetime tour of Paris.

* Need to know just a few basics in French to get by while you’re here in Paris? This 9-hour intensive workshop is open to everyone…

* Paris Confidential lovingly reveals Paris by long time Expat residents who lead you through her secrets — arrondissement by arrondissement — so you get to know The City of Light and enjoy it like a sophisticated local.

* Take Adrian’s advice and discover more than 200 good-value restaurants in Paris!


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