Last Updated on 31st January 2018 by Sophie Nadeau
A little plaque here, a small sign there. There are few directions on how to reach the interior of Bibliotheque Forney. But look hard enough, and you’ll find a little entryway along the building’s imposing façade. Gothic meets French Renaissance in the oldest mansion of Le Marais, Hôtel de Sens. And that’s not all! If you’re looking for a quiet place to study or work, then you can visit the interior of the medieval building.
Wander in during any given opening time (the bibliothèque is closed on Sundays and Monday) and you’ll find Bibliothèque Forney, a public library specialising in the decorative arts. Peruse the shelves, admire the intricate architecture and lose yourself for hours in this beautiful building in the heart of the city. Just remember to be quiet! After all, this is a library…
Bibliothèque Forney: Studying and working in a Medieval Library in the Middle of Le Marais
Few things fascinate me more than libraries and the worlds they contain. Entire universes are stacked on shelves, row upon row of them, side by side. And the infinite information housed within the Gothic architecture of the 4e arrondissement is no exception. Hundreds of thousands of works are now housed in what was once home to a series of Archbishops in the 1600s.
Library Forney was first founded in 1886. Named after Samuel-Aimé Forney, an industrialist who loved the arts and wanted to create a ‘popular library’ for the people, the Bibliothèque first opened in the 11e and 12e arrondissements of Paris. However, the initial library soon became a victim of its own success as more and more ventured inside to peruse the books and manuscripts to be read. And so, in 1929, the collections were transferred into the newly renovated Hotel de Sens.
Studying and working in a centuries-old space
It’s not every day that you get to work in a building that has withstood the test of time and has witnessed six centuries worth of history. But here, in this little-known library in the heart of Paris, you can do just that. Only if you don’t get distracted by the beautiful collections or architectural features of the building itself, that is!
In total, the library houses 50,000 exhibition catalogues, 23,000 volumes, and over 4000 Newspapers. The majority of these works cover titles relating to the decorative arts; design, fine art, graphics, advertising, and fashion among the many topics explored within the library’s shelves. Over 200,000 prints and 9000 samples of wallpaper are also housed within the Hotel de Sens walls.
Visiting and signing up to the Paris Public Library, Bibliotheque Forney
The nearest metro station to the library is Pont Marie. Any member of the public can join the library of Paris and get a shiny orange library card. All you need is a passport style photo, some Identification (passport or ID card) and some personal information to fill in the library application.
Nearby libraries include Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal or the Bibliothèque Historique. For a few times a year, Bibliothèque Forney hosts public exhibitions on a variety of subjects. Previous topics have included Lovers in the image, 2000 years of decorative painting, from Pompeii to the Grande Arche, and From knots to knots … macrame.
Hôtel des Archevêques de Sens: A medieval masterpiece in Le Marais
Hotel de Sens was first constructed at the end of the middle ages, in the 15th Century, and was originally intended to be called ‘home’ by wealthy Archbishops. First built for Salazar, the archbishop of Sens (hence the name of the mansion), it was then lived in by generations of his successors. A few centuries later, the Hôtel came into the possession of the French Royals, before being confiscated during the French Revolution. After a brief period of neglect, it was used as a Saint James Jam Factory.
Today, Hôtel de Sens holds a library on the inside and hosts a beautiful public garden on the out. Nearby, you’ll find beautiful secret spots in the city such as Le Village Saint Paul, a truly incredible antique market behind one of the city’s most famous churches. Wander away from the Seine and deeper into Le Marais, and you’ll likely see what was once thought to be the Oldest House in Paris, as well as the oldest public planned square in the city, Place des Vosges.
Public Garden of Jardin de l’Hôtel de Sens
If it’s a sunny day and you don’t feel like venturing into the library for all too long, then the pretty garden outside the exterior of the mansion is filled with benches and flowering blooms. It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of Paris, sit, stop and watch the world go by for a while.
But, alas, history is never far away in Paris and even the spiralling exterior of Hôtel de Sens holds more than a few secrets from the French Revolution. For, if you look up the left-hand side of the building when you’re in the park, you’ll spot a cannonball lodged into the Gothic Exterior. So when you go to Paris, do this: keep your head in your book but remember to admire the façades every once in a while, you never know what you might spot next…