Last Updated on 10th September 2021 by Sophie Nadeau
Situated on Place de la Concorde (the largest public square in Paris), Hôtel de la Marine has seen plenty of history since its construction in the latter half of the 18th-century and now invites public inside its doors for the first time in over two centuries to discover some of the secrets hiding within this historic building.
In early April 2021, I was invited by Le Centre des monuments nationaux to discover behind the scenes of the renovations of Hôtel de la Marine prior to its opening to the public.
At this time, the entire building was one sprawling building site with artisans from all over the place who have been tasked with renovating and restoring the historic building to its former glory. Here’s a sneak peek of what I saw…
Where is Hôtel de la Marine?
Place de la Concorde is the meeting point of many famous Parisian monuments and landmarks. As well as being the site of Cleopatra’s Needle and a more than impressive fountain, the public square offers views onto the Eiffel Tower and provides direct access to both the Jardin des Tuileries and the Champs Élysées.
The building is the twin of that of Hôtel de Crillon, which was itself restored several years ago and now operates as a luxury five-star hotel (full details of the hotel can be found here). Hôtel de la Marine’s official address is 2 Place de la Concorde, 75008 Paris.
A history of Hôtel de la Marine
Located on the square which was once renamed ‘Place de la Révolution,’ Hôtel de la Marine, which is sometimes referred to as hôtel du Garde-Meuble, was constructed in the neo-classical style between 1757 and 1774. The head architect of the project was Ange-Jacques Gabriel who was the chief architect for King Louis XV.
Originally under the sole ownership of the French Royals, the first use for the building was that of a Garde-Meuble. Up until the French Revolution, the building was open for public viewing from 9 am to 1 pm on the first Tuesday of each month between Easter and All Saints’ Day.
Following the French Revolution, the building was seized from the French nobility and was transformed into the primary place of residence for the head of the French Navy, hence the name ‘Hôtel de la Marine’.
For over two centuries, the 18th-century jewel was closed to the public until the chief of the Navy left in 2015. During the Nazi occupation of France, the Kriegsmarine, the naval forces of Nazi Germany, set up their headquarters in Hôtel de la Marine, where they remained until August 1944.
The building was then occupied by French naval staff up until 2015 when the minister of defense constructed a new building to serve as naval base headquarters.
At this point, no one knew what to do with the building and several projects were proposed. It was decided that the building should once more be opened up to the public.
Hôtel de la Marine restoration project
The restoration and renovations of Hôtel de la Marine began in 2017, when the first port of call was to restore the exterior of the building in a process which took two years. In 2018, renovation work started on the interior of the site.
However, the first confinement in France halted construction work for a month and a half. 280 people worked on the site in some form or another. Luckily, the Town Hall had restored the 19th-century salons only a few years ago, and so it was just the 18th-century state rooms which needed more significant restorations.
The project comprised of several different aspects, all of which combine new and old technology which will enhance visitor experience. The Cour d’Honneur (Honour Court) is the largest of four interior courtyards in the building and is free for all to visit, making it the very heart and centre of restoration efforts.
On one side of the Cour d’Honneur, there is a restaurant, while the other side is home to a café for a more relaxed dining experience. Both eateries are planned to give the central hub of the building a dynamic and vibrant atmosphere.
The Cour d’Honneur of l’Hôtel de la Marine is open from 8 AM in the morning to 1 AM in the morning. Since Quartier de la Madeleine where the museum is housed is rather residential, the aim of the courtyard project is to give this district of Paris a more ‘lived in’ ambiance and vibe.
Another feature of the Cour d’Honneur is a doorway leading to a boutique store. The concept is that the shop is stocked with plenty of goods that you’ll actually want to purchase and gift to loved ones, as opposed to the ‘classic’ souvenir store experience. The store will include books, marine-themed goodies, and other selected gifts for sale.
Meanwhile, technology has been made use of at every turn, and so the central courtyard is paved with cobblestones, as well as lights so that Hôtel de la Marine can be illuminated by night. While the first floor apartments can be visited, upper floors of the building (2nd, 3rd and 4th floors) will be transformed into co-working office spaces with around 500 co-working seats.
How to visit Hôtel de la Marine
Due to the ongoing health situation in France, and the world originally no fixed date was set as to when the 8th arrondissement monument would officially be opened to the public. Originally, the Hôtel de la Marine was meant to have been opened to the public in July 2020.
Hôtel de la Marine has been open to the public since the 12th June 2021.
As well as the Cour d’Honneur, the first floor apartments will be open to the public to visit for a fee. State of the art technology has been used to create an in-the-moment audioguide experience to guide your visit.
A visit to the state rooms will commence by ascending a large and ornate staircase. 18th-century buildings were always constructed in the same manner. That is to say that the most public spaces were accessible first, followed by more ornate and private rooms.
The aim is to create an ambiance as if someone who lives at Hôtel de la Marine has just left the room, as opposed to your typical museum experience. All of the fireplaces are original, among other authentic details, including some of the original 18th-century paintwork.
When visiting the dining area, one of the more unusual features is that the dining table has been staged to look as if guests have just left. You see, historically in France, tables weren’t dressed ready for dining as each piece of cutlery, and plate would be brought out as it was accurate.
As such, it wouldn’t be at all historically accurate to have the table set up in an English style. As a result, the decision was taken to set the table as if people have just left.
Hotel de la Marine was lived in and its occupants enjoyed many modern conveniences. When you go to one of the historic bathroom areas, take care to note the slanting ceiling which would have allowed for hot water to be transported straight to the bath tub.
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