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Free Arts Expositions in a 15th-Century Parisian Mansion

Hotel de Sens

The 15th-century Hôtel de Sens is one of the few remaining examples of medieval civil architecture in Paris. It was originally built by a bishop, but its most illustrious resident was the first wife of Henri IV, Reine Margot de Valois. After the 1789 Revolution it was sold off and used to house different businesses over the years, which slowly degraded it until it was finally declared a historic monument in 1862 and became home to a library, the Bibliothèque Forney. It was purchased by the City of Paris in 1911 and slowly restored to its former glory.

Hotel de Sens
Hôtel de Sens – Bibliothèque Forney

Today the Bibliothèque Forney houses the city’s special collection of decorative arts, crafts, and applied arts (fashion, design, graphics). It’s known for having the largest collection of historic posters in France, as well as wallpapers, postcards, and textile samples. To peruse and check out the collections (you can regularly see interesting glimpses of them displayed on their FB page), you’ll need a municipal library card for Paris’ specialized libraries, however to get this you’ll need to be a Parisian resident (proof such as a resident Visa if you’re not French). 

Courtyard of the Hôtel du Sens
Courtyard of the Hôtel de Sens

Visitors without a library card can enjoy the free exhibits in the Gallery, open Tuesday-Saturday 1-7pm. The current exhibition through July 13th features the colorful and whimsical work of the French illustrator who studied under Matisse, Jacqueline Duhême. There are free tours of the exposition (in French) every Saturday at 3pm. Note that it’s closed for municipal holidays May 30th and June 8th.

Expositions entrance
Entrance to the exposition space

If you don’t have time (or interest) for an art exposition, it’s still worth stopping into the courtyard if you’re in the St-Paul district of the Marais to admire the architecture (there’s also a restroom directly off the courtyard, and a little coffee machine just inside the lobby of the library).

The lobby (left) and courtyard restroom entrance

Around the back is one of the lovely little municipal gardens, a modern take on the formal French gardens that would have been in vogue during the 17th century. 

Hôtel de Sens garden
Hôtel de Sens gardens

Bibliothèque Forney
Hôtel de Sens
1, rue du Figuier, 4th
Pont Marie or Saint-Paul

– Read more about its history here (English)

– Details about the library and its collections (French)

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  • Thanks for posting this reminder of one of Paris' most interesting and quiet places to see so many treasures, Heather. I have stayed in the district for a month every year since I retired, and this is one of my favorite museums. There is a lovely viewpoint with benches on the other side of the building that is so pretty in the spring when the garden is in flower.