Hôtel de Cluny in Messier's Days
Hôtel de Cluny, or Hôtel de Clugny as it was spelled in Messier's earlier years, as it appeared in Messier's time in the 18th century. Messier's observatory, the "Observatoire de Marine" (Observatory of the Navy), is well visible on the top of the tower. This wood and glass structure, consisting of a pyramidal framework with opening windows, built by Delisle, has been removed in the early 19th century.
Hôtel de Clugny was constructed in 1480, on the ruins of Roman thermes from the 4th century, as the temporary Paris residence for the abbots of the Clugny order and their guests. In the 18th century, it was rented to the administration of the Royal Navy. In Messier's time, its address was Rue de Mathurins.
The wooden Observatory of the Navy had been erected by Nicholas Delisle in 1748, and was used by Charles Messier throughout his professional life from the 1750s until shortly before his death in 1817. As can be seen below, it was no more present on the top of that tower in 1839.
In 1832, French archeologer Alexandre du Sommerard (1779-1842) established himself at Hôtel de Cluny, together with his collection of art. After his death, his estate was purchased by the French state, and in 1843, it was made a museum.
Hôtel de Cluny is still there in Paris; its address is now 24, rue de Sommerard, in the Latin Quarter of Paris (Arrondissement 5). It is now called "Musée National du Moyen Ages, des Thermes et de l'Hôtel de Cluny" [National Museum of the Middle Ages, of the Thermes and the Hôtel de Cluny], and contains a fine collection of medieval arts and crafts, and in particular fine tapestries, which includes "La Dame à la Licorne (The Lady and the Unicorn)." The museum is open to the public, and well worth a visit.
Hotel Cluny in 1839. Painting by British artist Thomas Shotter Boys.
The observatory had been removed already at that time.
The museum of Cluny devoting the Middle Ages is built on sites which sheltered the Thermal baths Romans of the Gallo-Roman time. Unfortunately the thermal baths were destroyed by the Barbarians in 3rd century. The Benedictines of Cluny bought the ground to build an abbey hotel into 1330 there. Jacques d' Amboise made build from 1485 to 1498 the building which we know today. The hotel was used as residence to the abbots and in 17th century to the nuncios of the Pope.
In 19th century, after having known some deteriorations during the Revolution,
the Hotel of Cluny is transformed into museum. The building is one of the rare
vestiges of the Middle Ages which remains in Paris. The museum contains a
significant number of objects and works of art of the Middle Ages.
The beautiful photos of Hotel Cluny as it appears today, as well as the short history and the historic painting, have been generously contributed by Jean-Bernard Emond.
Last Modification: September 23, 2007