Open house for the Ministries of Paris
Each year in Europe there is a weekend in September when many public buildings are open and free to the public. Some of these buildings are museums and others are government buildings not normally open to the public. I decided to visit some of the ones not normally open on Sunday September 16th. I went to the 7th arrondissement in Paris, where the residence and offices of the Prime minister are located as well as many other government ministry buildings.
I arrived at the Hôtel Matignon, the prime minister's residence and offices about 11:00 am and saw a long line. I was told the wait would be about 2 hours. I wasn't at all sure I wanted to wait that long in line, but got in line, thinking I could always leave. I got talking to a couple behind me and tried to find out what they knew about the house. They seemed to think it would be worth the wait and this was the first time this place had been open to the public, so I waited in line with all the other people there. It was interesting to talk with these total strangers. I asked them what a prime minister does. They were surprised to hear that we don't have a prime minister in the U.S. They seemed to think a democratic country would need both a president and a prime minister.
After 1 hour 45 minutes we got to the security check point and were allowed into the house. We saw the room where the cabinet meets and some of the formal meeting spaces, and a really spectacular painted marble stairway. No pictures were allowed inside and outside we were only allowed to take pictures from one spot in the garden and then only if we took them toward the house. I was not allowed to take close-up pictures of the flower beds, which were very nice.
Remember this is right in the middle of Paris. This is about half of the garden. The other half behind me was off limits to photos.
So moving on.
The next place I came to that was open was the Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, also called the Hôtel de Villeroy. In French the word hôtel has two meaning--the one we are familiar with and another that means a city dwelling of a wealthy citizen. These buildings were built as homes for Dukes, Duchesses and other aristocrats. They have been acquired by the French government and are currently used to house the offices and reception spaces of the various ministries.
The fronts of these buildings open onto paved courtyards. The backs tended to be more interesting, so I am showing you pictures of the backs instead of the fronts. This is the garden side of the Hôtel de Villeroy built in 1724. They had a rugby field marked off here. I think it must be smaller than normal, but apparently the French rugby team used it this week. The statue is holding a rugby ball (if that's what they call it.)
This one contained some fabulous tapestries, but the most impressive room was the Salle Sully. Here you see one of the huge murals with agricultural themes and the beautiful paneling below.
And this is the carved wooden ceiling.
Next I visited the Hôtel de Ville or town hall of the 7th arrondissement. Each of Paris's 20 arrondissements has it's own mayor and town hall. This one is also called the Hôtel de Villars. It was acquired by le Duc de Villars in 1710. It has been expanded and renovated many times in the years since. The city of Paris bought it in 1862 and renovated it to accommodate the mayor of the arrondissement.
This is the front of this building. Mairie is another word for town hall.
Most people get married in the town hall, so a town hall always has a "Salle des mariages." See the mural with a wedding theme?
And at the back of the room, two more murals, one of the engagement and the other of a young family.
A detail of the ceiling.
The mayor's office.
And the garden.
Next I visited the Ministry of Education or the Hôtel de Rochechouart.
The office of the Minister.
From the other direction.
Detail above the doorway.
At 5;00 I was running out of time, but this place had a short line, and I decided to visit one more. I was glad I did. It was the most spectacular. This is the Ministry of foreign affairs or the quai d'Orsay. It faces the river Seine. It was built between 1844 and 1855 for the ministry of foreign affairs.
The tour started upstairs in the rooms that had been used to house foreign dignitaries. Today they are more meeting and reception rooms.
The furniture is mostly second Empire or Napoleon III. All the walls were covered in fabric as was true of most of the other houses as well.
The second of many rooms like this on this floor.
Fireplace in the same room.
Dining room set with the minister's special china.
Place setting. They put the silverware upside down here.
A corner of the ceiling. All the ceilings were painted, but ceilings are hard to photograph so I didn't get many photos.
This is called the "Salle de bains de la reine" and was remodeled in 1938 for queen Elizabeth of England--the wife of King George VI--the queen mum who died a few years ago at the age of about 101.
This room had a huge conference table in it. It was formerly the guest bedroom for the visiting queen.
"La salle de bains du roi" The king's bath also done in 1938 for George VI of England. I don't know what the walls were. They were brown and shone like highly polished lacquer.
If you read a bit of French try to read the last paragraph. It says this room was used as an office until 1999, the fixtures being covered by wooden cases, which protected them until the room was restored in 2003.
Then we went downstairs, where the rooms were even more opulent. I got so overwhelmed I quit taking pictures. It was like Versailles, only less crowded.
A view of the garden.
The back of the building.
By now it was 6:00 and they were closing. I started home with a head full of images, some of which, fortunately were also in my camera, because I've lost most of the ones that were in my head.
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