Musée des Arts et Métiers
Europe's oldest science museum was founded in 1794 and displays more than 2,400 examples of inventions and industrial design.
When my wife and I first visited the in the days of disco balls and bellbottom trousers, the museum could have appeared unchanged, like Brigadoon, from a hundred yesrs earlier: It had a late Victorian ambiance, feeling less like a museum than the warehouse of a millionnaire model collector with a taste for industrial history.
At one point during that visit in 1978, a curator silently beckoned us to follow him, whereupon he unlocked a door and led us into yet another room filled with exquisite 19th Century models of looms, steam engines, and other devices from the Industrial Revolution.
Jump ahead to the 21st Century, and the Musée des Arts et Métiers has an altogether different a vibe: Today, it's a museum of science and industry for adults, with labels that describe models and actual objects in an historical context. What's more, the labels are in both English and French, so you needn't be conversant in the local lingo to learn from the exhibits.
A museum of inventions and technology since 1794
The museum was founded by Henri Grégoire in 1794 as "a store of new and useful inventions." Its original name was the "Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers." Following a renovation in 2000, the nearly 2,500 exhibits were divided into seven collections: Scientific instruments, Materials, Energy, Mechanics, Construction, Communication, and Transport.
The museum's building is a former medieval abbey, the Priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs. Exhibit spaces include the priory's deconsecrated chapel, which dates back to the year 1135. When your expore the museum chronologically, you'll begin on the second floor (or third floor, in American numbering), where display cases filled with beautifully-preserved scientific instruments from past centuries are laid out amid the timbers of the ancient roof.
Planning your visit:
The Musée des Arts et Métiers is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (except for May 1 and December 25). On Thursdays, it remains open until 9;30 p.m.
Entrance fees are reasonable, with a discount for students and free entry for everyone on the first Sunday of the month and on Thursdays from 6 p.m. to closing. (Complimentary guided tours are offered on free days.)
You can rent an audioguide for a small fee, with a choice of eight languages.
The Musée des Arts et Métiers is located at 60 rue Réaumur in the 3rd arrondissement. The nearest Métro stops are Arts-et-Métiers (Lines 3, 11) and Réaumur-Sebastopol (Lines 3, 4). You can also reach the museum on city bus 20, 38, 39, or 47.
For up-to-date information, see the English-language "Visitor Information" page and the French-language "Tarifs" page at the museum's Web site. The French-language "Horaires et Acès" page has a map of the neighborhood and a Google Street View tour of the museum.
BELOW: The Musée des Arts et Métiers occupies a former monastery behind a courtyard that faces the street.
BELOW: Your self-guided tour begins on the top floor, under the medieval roof. Here, you'll find a collection of scientific instruments amid the roof's historic timbers.
BELOW: Exhibits in this section of the museum include calibrated weights, a Ramsden Sextant from the late 18th Century, and Blaise Pascal's calculating machine of 1642.
BELOW: This Buffon circular focusing mirror is from the late 1700s.
BELOW: The museum displays many early industrial devices (both original machinery and scale models), such as Vaucanson's loom for weaving silk from 1748.
BELOW: The Couvreux Excavator (shown here as a model) was in use around 1870.
BELOW: One could argue that the steam-driven Fardier by Nicolas Joseph Cugnot, built in 1770, was the world's first car.
BELOW: Avion 3, an early French attempt to build an airplane, was designed and built by Clément Adler between 1893 and 1897. It resembles a giant bat.
BELOW: This beautiful scale model shows the construction of a building on the Rue de Rivoli in 1878.
BELOW: Another model portrays sculptor Auguste Bartholdin with the Statue of Liberty, which France gave to the U.S.A. in the late 1800s. The statue's head was displayed at the Paris World's Fair in 1878.
BELOW: Not all of the museum's exhibits are old-timey. Here, from top to bottom, you can see a Telstar communications satellite from 1962, a Siemens transmission electron microscope from 1973, a Cray-2 supercomputer of 1985, and a Russian "LAMA" robotic rover that was designed for extraterrestrial missions.
BELOW: One of the museum's highlights is the chapel of the now-repurposed Prieuré Saint-Martin-des-Champs. It has been stripped of its luturgical trimmings but retains the original stonework and stained-glass windows.
BELOW: The object in the center of the chapel's floor,
surrounded by a railing, is a replica of
(The original pendulum, which was damaged in 2010 when its cable snapped, is in
a display case nearby.)
BELOW: Much of the chapel's interior is taken up by a multilevel steel structure that combines exhibits with views from above.
BELOW: The Statue of Liberty is a recurring theme at the Musée des Arts et Métiers. Here, you can see two views of a replica in the chapel.
BELOW: From the upper levels of the steel structure, you can enjoy views of the chapel's interior, exhibits above ground, and displays on the chapel floor.
is a professional travel writer, book author, and editor who focuses on European cities and transportation.
After 4-1/2 years of covering European travel topics for About.com, Durant and Cheryl Imboden co-founded Europe for Visitors (including Paris for Visitors) in 2001. The site has earned "Best of the Web" honors from Forbes and The Washington Post.