Whether you’re looking for a spot to escape busy city life, or merely trying to find a quiet space to read, there are always tranquil escapes around the city just waiting to be found. One such place is located right in the heart of Le Marais, not far from La Seine. Hotel de Sens was once home to archbishopric of Sens but is now a specialist library. It also happens to be the oldest mansion house in Le Marais…
Hotel de Sens
The grand mansion here is not a hotel in the traditional sense and so is not somewhere you can stay. Instead, it is a former medieval Château and is one of just three remaining medieval residences in the heart of Paris. Looking as if it’s come straight out of the Loire Valley, the building is complete with winding staircases, turrets and grand windows.
Built at the end of the 15th-Century, this great building was commissioned by the Archbishop of Sens, Salazar. Building work began in 1475 and the medieval housing took 27 years to complete. During the middle ages, Le Marais was transformed from a swampy marsh to the chic area you see today. The city was rapidly expanding and the residents needed more space. The first people to relocate to the newly dredged area north of the river were the clergy. Hotel de Sens was one of the first residences built in the area.
Salazar and his successors continued to live in the building for the next few generations. However, the power of the clergy diminished and nobles moved into the area instead. As a result, Hôtel de Sens’ most notable, and perhaps most infamous, resident was Queen Margot. Shortly after her marriage to King Henry IV, he annulled the marriage in favour of marrying a Medici.
Unable to have children, Queen Margot was banished to Le Marais, an area of the city which was a former marshy swamp turned chic district. Once there, she turned Hotel de Sens into her own personal playground. She had countless lovers and held extravagant parties within the walls of this grand château.
Hôtel de Sens Cannonball
One of the most unique aspects of the medieval mansion turned library is that of a tiny metal ball lodged in the side of the front of the building. You see, one of the most hidden gems of Le Marais is this cannonball, which dates all the way back to the French Revolution. The ball allegedly hit the building on July the 28th, 1830 and today a small stone inscription commemorates it hitting the building.
Hotel de Sens Today
After being confiscated during the French Revolution, Hotel de Sens sadly fell into poor repair by the beginnings of the 20th Century. It was then purchased by the city of Paris in 1911 and restored to its former glory. Since 1961 the former mansion has housed the Forney Library (Bibliotheque Forney). The library specializes in the decorative arts and often houses small exhibitions which area open to the public.
Hôtel de Sens Garden
Lying adjacent to the grand medieval building, you’ll find a small garden. Wandering around Le Marais, it’s often hard to find spaces without people, especially in the summer. However, I’ve always found the Hotel de Sens garden to be fairly quiet, even in the height of high season.
With little-painted benches surrounded by small floral borders, the garden is the perfect place to watch the world go by for a couple of hours. It also happens to be a wonderful place to enjoy a small picnic. The gardens are free and open to the public.
The nearest metros are Sully-Morland, Saint-Paul on Lines 1, 7.