Citéco in the Hôtel Gaillard
1 Place du Général-Catroux, 17th
M° Monceau or Villiers
Open Tues-Sun 2-6pm (Saturdays until 7pm).
Entry €6-€12 (free for kids under 6)
Leave it to the French bankers to try to make economics not only accessible to anyone, but also sexy. If you’re going to try and lure the masses to your economics museum, it doesn’t hurt to house it in a striking 19th-century mansion just a block from the posh Parc Monceau.
Opened in the summer of 2019, the Citéco — short for the more formal Cité de l’Économie et de la Monnaie – is the first European museum dedicated to economics. But it’s hard to know how many people are initially tempted to visit just to see the inside of the Hôtel Gaillard, a neo-Renaissance hôtel particulier built by the rich banker Émile Gaillard between 1878 and 1884 to house his extensive Medieval and Renaissance art collections. He hired the renowned architect of the time, Jules Fevrier, to create the mansion in the same architectural spirit of the famous Loire Valley royal residence, the Château Blois (and basically thumbed his nose at the Haussmann style of architecture that dominated the Parisian skyline for the previous two decades).
Gaillard threw massive parties to show off his mansion and artworks, but when he passed away in 1902 the property languished unsold until the Banque de France purchased it in 1919 and transformed it into one of their three Paris branch locations in 1923. Amazingly, they decided to keep the “château” style, preserving the brick and stone façade, the grand staircase, and much of the carved wood panels and fireplaces, with some Art Nouveau and Art Deco touches tastefully added as a nod to the times. Of course, they did have to add a vault, which was dug out of the courtyard and surrounded by a narrow water-filled moat accessible by a retractable bridge (they were never robbed in the 83 years they were in business).
When changes in modern banking and a reduction in staff led to the closure of the branch in 2006, the Banque de France had to figure out what to do with the building, which was finally added to the historic monuments registry in 1999. According to an article in Phys.org, a Bank of France executive was inspired by a visit to the newly-opened MIDE (Interactive Museum of Economics) in Mexico City in 2006. After over a decade of renovations to integrate an interactive educational experience into the existing historic architecture, the Citéco opened in June 2019.
Whether you go for the architecture or the economics, it will be hard not to be impressed by the way both are put on display to their best advantage. Historic photos show how each room looked as a private mansion at the turn of the 20th century as well as how it looked as a banking branch, and explain how it was used. Clever interactive screens, infographics and games help educate visitors about the basics of how the economy works.
The goal is to make visitors want to learn more about economics. Particularly the locals. According to the Banque de France’s own Scientific Council Chairman, Marc-Olivier Strauss-Kahn, “In France, economic debates give rise to different reactions. On the one hand, they are often considered complex or abstract, and they may inspire mistrust or even be rejected outright. On the other, regular surveys confirm both a desire to find out more about economics and the perception that the average level of knowledge in this field is insufficient. French citizens actually score lower than their European neighbors on standard questions on interest rates or inflation.”
The Permanent Collection: Everything You Never Wanted to Know About the Economy
The permanent collection is divided into six main themes:
- Trade (Exchange of goods and services, from barter to the introduction of currency)
- Actors (Economic players including States, companies, banks, and…you!)
- Markets (How supply and demand affect all markets, including labor and real estate)
- Instability (Turmoil in the economy, from the domino effect to banking crises)
- Regulations (How States try to prevent or address instabilities, such as climate change)
- Treasuries (Money! The design, creation and storage of coins, bank notes and their presses)
Each theme is shown in relation to practicalities most of us can understand, especially through the interactive exercises, like seeing how your saving and spending habits can affect your retirement. Citéco does claim to be “apolitical and neutral”, but this is a French bank’s point of view on the economy, so take it all in the same way you would as if you were getting advice from your friendly neighborhood banker.
You can even hop into a photo booth and print out your own bills. 🙂
One thing I did feel was striking in its absence was any mention of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the whole world of Blockchain, a topic that many of us would like a bit more help understanding!
On the plus side, every French sign and exhibit is fully translated into English and Spanish, and videos are subtitled. There are a total of 58 videos, 20 individual multimedia games, six group multimedia games, 15 interactive events, 390 objects on display (including a real gold bar) and 60 photos. Expect to spend about two hours if you really want to get your money’s worth, because it’s not cheap!
Guided Tours & Activities
If you can understand French there are guided tours that focus on the permanent collection (for anyone 6 years old and up), temporary exhibit tours for anyone 8 years old and up, and architectural history tours of the museum for all ages. These guided tours are €14, including museum entrance fee). Kids under six are free, otherwise €8 for 6–17-year-olds and €11 for 18-25-year-olds. No indication for the moment of whether they’ll be doing tours in other languages.
There are also activities for kids, nocturnal visits on Thursday nights that often include beverages, and lots of special events like author signings or digital art conferences.
1 Place du Général-Catroux, 17th
Metro Monceau or Villiers
Open Tuesday-Sunday 2pm-6pm (Sat until 7pm, one Thursday per month until 10pm). Open on “Zone C” school holidays from 10am.
Tickets €12 (€8 for 18–25-year-olds, €6 for 6-17-year-olds, €29 for a family of 4). Half-priced on weekdays if purchased 4:30pm-5pm for the permanent collection, except during school holidays.
There are free lockers, a café (closed at the moment because of Covid), and a small boutique.
Check out the online virtual tour of what the Hôtel Gaillard looked like after the bank closed but before the museum opened: https://www.citeco.fr/visite-virtuelle/index.html