The third weekend in September is a big deal in Europe. Fifty countries showcase their cultural and natural assets with 23,000 special activities and 17,000 sites open to the public, including government offices, museums, churches, parks, schools, and much more. Some are open only on these days; others are free of charge for the weekend. Many offer special tours, information stations, conferences, expositions, and other activities. I do not have statistics for all of France, but this year l’Île-de-France alone opened ±1400 sites, of which ±300 were in Paris.
I intended to register early for a few sites with limited enrollment, but suddenly les Journées du Patrimoine 2014 were upon us, so we missed out. Pas grave! There was still plenty of choice. Our Saturday itinerary included l’Hôtel de Ville, le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature, Musée Picasso, and Chapelle de l’Humanité, all close together on the right bank, plus le Château de la Reine Blanche, just a few steps from home.
L’Hôtel de Ville looks as if it has stood since the Renaissance, but the original was burnt to the ground (along with le Palais de la Légion d’Honneur, le Palais des Tuileries, and le Cour des Comptes) during la Commune in 1871. It was rebuilt with an almost identical facade between 1873 and 1882. We arrived half an hour before its 09h30 opening, thinking we would get in quickly, nip through, and be on our way by 10h30. We were in by 09h40, but we did not recken with its sheer size, the magnificence of the public rooms, or the excellence of the information stations set up by the teams of artisans and caretakers.
>> The ornate facade of l’Hôtel de Ville. Many richly coloured windows face the spacious inner courtyards. This is one of several representing various guilds, such as masons (inc. 1268), gilders (1565), clothiers (1188), pen makers (1599), mirror makers (1581), gold wire makers (1551), lace makers (1559), knife makers (1268), harness makers (1268), and several others I can’t quite figure out. Another series of windows depicts French and Parisian rulers and bureaucrats through the ages, with appropriate symbols, coats of arms, etc.
>> There is no need to go to any château for its decoration once you’ve seen l’Hôtel de Ville de Paris! The guilds had a lock on river transport, and their boat emblem (right) has been part of the city’s coat of arms since the XIV century.
The information stations were as interesting as the building itself, and the artisans and skilled workers engaged visitors in lively conversation. They are rightly proud of their work.
>> All those chandeliers are made up of multiples of dozens of different parts (left), and they all need regular maintenance and cleaning. About 30 different types and sizes of lightbulbs are used throughout the city hall; sample panels were available for seeing their shapes and testing their colours. Every door, cupboard, drawer, and shutter needs hardware and keys; a few are shown on the right.
>> I don’t think rollers are used very much (at all) by the painters and gilders, who maintain the elaborate walls and ceilings. It is not easy to paint within the lines! Upholsterers’ tools and equipment are shown on the right, and a chair mender demonstrated his art. Window draperies, many of silk damask held back by fancy ropes and tassels, also require constant attention and occasional replacement.
>> Many of the floors are parquet; this pattern uses five different woods. Five florists provide displays for more than 400 special events every year. The City has a horticultural school located in le Bois de Vincennes.
A large team (±70) is responsible for cleaning. Their display included hand and power tools and many liquids, waxes and powders. Each surface has its own needs. I do not know where plumbers fit in. Other teams include clockmakers (and maintainers) and stained glass artisans. We did not get a definitive answer, but it appears that ±375 people are needed to maintain l’Hôtel de Ville.
In addition, ±40 people work in the library, which is open to the public, though stacks are closed (one must request items) and may not be borrowed. Anyone perusing vulnerable (to damage or theft) materials is accompanied by a staff member at all times. The librarian we chatted with pointed out that many of the younger people who use the reading room (especially when universities are closed) are doing much of their research on-line, using their own devices, and they are missing vast numbers of resources. One of his jobs is to catalogue journal articles related in any way to the history (past and current) of Paris, which would be lost to anyone simply using the more popular search tools.
>> Council chamber: We could not discern any pattern to the seating, either by party or by arrondissement. The plaque at the back of the room lists the 10 council members who “died for France” in 1941-1942; eight were shot and two were deported to camps where they perished. On the right is a view of l’Hôtel de Ville seldom seen by residents or tourists: looking across an inner courtyard at the backsides of sentinels.
We would gladly have spent more time in l’Hôtel de Ville, but lunch and other sites called. We walked across rue de Rivoli to BHV for salads in its busy fifth floor cafeteria. From there Gordon chose to return home while I forged ahead…
… to be continued …