Cluny – Musée National du Moyen Age
6, place Paul Painlevé, 5th
M° Cluny-La Sorbonne or Saint-Michel, RER Saint-Michel
Tel 01 53 73 78 00
In the heart of the Latin Quarter, this national museum — reopened in 2022 after extensive renovations — holds a rich collection of art from the Middle Ages within a medieval mansion once belonging to the Cluny Abbey, itself built up against ruins of Gallo-Roman baths dating back to the 2nd century. Noteworthy works include the famous Unicorn Tapestries.
Despite its prime location, the Cluny Museum was often a quiet little museum that seemed to avoid the spotlight — and the crowds. But after several years of renovations, it’s now on everyone’s must-see list. It’s worth a visit if you’re interested in learning about the evolution of the (mostly religious) arts from the early through the late Middle Ages into the early Renaissance period, as well as the Gallo-Roman vestiges of Paris when it was known as Lutetia.
The setting is important here, because the museum itself is built within two historic monuments, worth a visit in their own right: the ruins of the Gallo-Roman bathhouses dating back to the 2nd century AD, and the 15th-century mansion built up against the ruins by the Abbots of the prestigious Cluny Monastery to use while in Paris (it was built in the Latin Quarter near the Sorbonne for this reason).
When the mansion originally became a museum in the mid-19th-century, it had been the private residence of a collector of Medieval art. Much of the museum’s decor was, apparently, more Medieval “themed” than authentically historic. If you recall visiting the museum before the renovations throughout the 2000s, you might remember it as a bit of a dark and dusty place, a bit like an old Gothic church with creaky wooden floors. What it has lost in atmosphere after the recent renovations, it has gained in comfort. It’s clean, climate-controlled, easy to get around (with elevators), and easy to read the descriptions (which are in English and Spanish as well as French now).
Here are a few photos from my visit last week (click to see full size and caption):
The new entrance is spacious, with free lockers to store your coat and extra bags. You can use the printed map or just follow the signs to each room, starting downstairs, then the ground floor, and finishing on the 1st floor (which Americans call the 2nd floor). The entire collection can be visited in two hours easily, with a pause at the newly-opened café (which has extra seating in the courtyard, now only open to museum visitors).
The suggested route through the museum is mostly chronological. You can breeze through and just stop to enjoy the artwork or pieces that catch your eye, but it’s worth taking your time and looking at the artworks close up, as you may find one of the many hidden details that can be quite fun and naughty (even in supposedly religious artworks). There are audio guides available (€4) and smartphone apps that can give you extra detail, but if you can take a guided tour you’ll get a better idea of the context for the artworks in Medieval Paris. If your French is good (or you have a good translator app), there are themed “parcours” of the artworks on the French version of the website, including “Medieval Women, Modern Desires”.
More photos (click for the captions):
Opening Hours: Daily except Monday, 9:30am-6:15pm (last admission 5:30pm). Open Thursday nights 6:15-9pm, last entey 8:30pm. Closed January 1, May 1 and December 25. Closing at 4pm on December 24th and December 31st.
Tickets: Entry to the museum is €12 (€13 if you purchase in advance online); €10 for students, and everyone on Thursdays after 6pm. Museum passes accepted.
Free Entrance : Kids under 18, teachers, EU country students and disabled visitors; everyone on the first Sunday of the month.
Info and Services: There’s a bookstore with some gift items accessible to the public until 6pm, and an informal café within the museum (only open to ticket holders) with seating in the courtyard. Surrounding gardens are open daily to the public for free (closed in 2022 for renovations).
Don’t miss it: There are often live musical concerts (Renaissance and Medieval classical music) and sketching tours available at the museum, be sure to check the program!