Culture

Cluny Medieval Museum

Cluny – Musée National du Moyen Age
6, place Paul Painlevé, 5th
M° Cluny-La Sorbonne or Saint-Michel, RER Saint-Michel
Tel 01 53 73 78 00
www.musee-moyenage.fr

In the heart of the Latin Quarter, this national museum — reopened in 2022 after extensive renovations — holds a rich collection of art from the Middle Ages within a medieval mansion once belonging to the Cluny Abbey, itself built up against ruins of Gallo-Roman baths dating back to the 2nd century. Noteworthy works include the famous Unicorn Tapestries.

The new entrance hall connects the Medieval and the Gallo-Roman architecture

Despite its prime location, the Cluny Museum was often a quiet little museum that seemed to avoid the spotlight — and the crowds. But after several years of renovations, it’s now on everyone’s must-see list. It’s worth a visit if you’re interested in learning about the evolution of the (mostly religious) arts from the early through the late Middle Ages into the early Renaissance period, as well as the Gallo-Roman vestiges of Paris when it was known as Lutetia.

The setting is important here, because the museum itself is built within two historic monuments, worth a visit in their own right: the ruins of the Gallo-Roman bathhouses dating back to the 2nd century AD, and the 15th-century mansion built up against the ruins by the Abbots of the prestigious Cluny Monastery to use while in Paris (it was built in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne for this reason).

When the mansion originally became a museum in the mid-19th-century, it had been the private residence of a collector of Medieval art. Much of the museum’s decor was, apparently, more Medieval “themed” than authentically historic. If you recall visiting the museum before the renovations throughout the 2000s, you might remember it as a bit of a dark and dusty place, a bit like an old Gothic church with creaky wooden floors. What it has lost in atmosphere after the recent renovations, it has gained in comfort. It’s clean, climate-controlled, easy to get around (with elevators), and easy to read the descriptions (which are in English and Spanish as well as French now).

Here are a few photos from my visit last week (click to see full size and caption):