Believe it or not, many of Paris most popular landmarks and tourist spots were built long before France became a republic. In fact, the Louvre was once a fortress, and later, one of the many homes of the deposed king, Louis XVI before it became what it is today: the world’s most visited museum. Some restaurants in Paris were built in the 15th century, others in the 17th and are still operating today. Le Procope, for example, is known as the city’s oldest restaurant and it first opened its doors to the public in 1686!
If you have always wanted to see how the French (or the Parisien, in particular) lived during the 16th to the early 20th century, nothing beats the idea of visiting historical mansions located across Paris.
Marthe de Florian and Her Apartment Lost in Time
Not too long ago, news came out about a stunning apartment in Paris that was left by its owner during the onset of World War II and has been untouched and undisturbed by time. In 2010, the apartment that was seemingly lost in time was re-discovered by an auditing company and was reintroduced to the world.
Among the treasures in the apartment once owned by Madame Marthe de Florian is an unknown and uncharted painting by Giovanni Boldini. Thought to be a portrait of Marthe de Florian herself, this painting was never officially listed in the list of paintings prepared by Boldini’s wife sometime in the 1890’s. It may be assumed that Mrs. Boldini herself might have never known about the painting’s existence nor of Mme de Florian’s.
The interior of Mme de Florian’s home accurately shows the interior of most 19th century apartments. Seen here are more paintings, vases, and even, plastic flowers!
Taxidermy pieces were commonly found throughout Mme de Florian’s apartment. It was common to have taxidermy in one’s home back in the day; in fact, having a few as home decor was a sign of affluence. Was Mme de Florian affluent? Absolutely! She was a socialite and an actress.
Unfortunately, Marthe de Florian’s home is not open to the public and it is owned entirely by her estate (others say it was sold). Although the exact location of her apartment is unknown, it is believed to be located in the 9th district, near Quartier Pigalle. This is a common site for luxury apartments in Paris so you can always rent one nearby!
Apparently, well-preserved 19th century apartments are quite common in Paris; if you have always wanted to visit Marthe de Florian’s apartment but can’t, there are still a few alternatives within the vicinity.
The Elegant Home of Nissim de Camondo
Not to far off from the de Florian apartment is an elegant home once owned by a French banker and his family, the affluent Camondo’s. The story behind Musée Nissim de Camondo and how it came to be can be a bit heartbreaking: the museum which you can see today was once the private home of Moise de Camondo, a French-Jewish banker who bequeathed this stunning mansion patterned after the Petit Trianon, a chateau in Versailles to his only son, Nissim de Camondo.
During the Great War, instead of leaving Paris, Lt. de Camondo joined the French army and was killed on duty, on 1917. To honor his son, Moise de Camondo turned the mansion into a museum and ordered that everything in it would be preserved in their original, pristine condition.
You can visit Musee Nissim de Camonodo at 63, rue de Monceau, 75008. It is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM. The admission fee for adults is €7.50 and €5.50 for children. For more information: www.lesartsdecoratifs.fr
Studio of Antoine Bourdelle
Preserved homes turned into museums are a common theme here in Paris. For many deceased sculptors and masters of art, their homes or rented studios in Paris are often transformed by the local government and turned into public landmarks: the studio of Antoine Bourdelle is one perfect example of this practice.
Musée Bourdelle is now an art museum but from 1885 to 1929 (44 years!), it served as Bourdelle’s own workshop. After his death, the Bourdelle estate bequeathed the workshop to the government, rebuilt the building where the studio is now located, and was expanded by several architects in the 1960s. A great portion of the museum is not vintage or historical, but if you join the educational tour that occurs here regularly, you will be given a chance to see Bourdelle’s studio.
In fact, Bourdeller’s workshop has not changed. Here is Bourdelle in his workshop in an undated picture…
And here is the workshop today, complete with the parquet floors and all of Bourdelle’s unfinished work:
But of course, not all sculptors and painters have the honor of having their former homes turned into shrines (of sorts) and a memorial that houses their work; and most definitely, not all homes of renowned individuals in Paris were turned into public attractions.
The memory of the singer and actress Edith Piaf, for example, lives on in the letters and pictures which are stored in an apartment owned by an author and biographer in the 11th arrondissement.
Despite being a private museum run by the Friends of Édith Piaf Association, tourists flock the pied-a-terre-turned museum to see fan letters, decor, vinyl souvenirs, and pictures which were given to and owned by Edith Piaf. If you are a fan of the ‘La vie en Rose’ songstress, you may need to reserve before visiting the museum.
Not all historical homes today are used to host French masterpieces. If you want to see how Asians in Paris lived in the early 20th century, this unusual building in the 8th district should be the perfect example.
Mr. Loo’s Almost-Forgotten Pagoda in Champs-Elysees
It’s hard to miss this red building with oriental external features as you walk the entire stretch of Champs-Elysees. The Pagoda Paris, as it is known today, was once the home of Mr. Ching Tsai Loo who emigrated from China in the 1900’s. The building served as Mr. Loo’s workplace, office, and residence, but when he died in 1957, the Pagoda closed down only to reopen 50 years later!
An unknown private investigator now owns Pagoda Paris, but instead of demolishing the structure or using it for other purposes, Pagoda Paris is now one of many Chinese museums in France.
There are plenty of historical mansions in Paris which you can visit; some for free, others with a fee. Many of these historical mansions have been preserved in their original condition with the intention to teach the later centuries about life in the past.
While we are in the topic of time capsules, there is one mansion outside Paris, in particular, which was built for this very purpose.
Mantin Mansion in Moulins, Central France
Also known as the Mantin Mansion, this kingly home was once owned by the Mantin family. Its last known owner, Louis Mantin, bequeathed the property to the local government and explicitly stated in his will that his home was to become a museum 100 years after his death. Louis Mantin had no children or a wife when he died; perhaps leaving the home to the government seemed like a very smart decision.
The mansion is not without its quirks and odd features. Like most affluent families, Mantin had a wide collection of taxidermy. Seen here is a piece unofficially named as “Dueling Frogs” and it is one of the most popular and unusual pieces found in Mantin’s collection.
Although Louis Mantin lived in the 18th century, he did own plenty of 15th century pieces, as well as a painting of a French noble who is believed to have lived in the 15th or 16th centuries.
Looking to stay in mansions and apartments in Paris that look as good as these? Our Champs Elysees – Faubourg Saint Honore II apartment located in the 8th district has all the makings of an elegant French home. A well-preserved spiral staircase, a common attribute of 17th century buildings, leads you straight to the front door of this pied-a-terre. Book today!