Hôtel de la Marine sits on the corner of Place de la Concorde, the biggest square in Paris. Visitors have often passed by and admired the stunning architecture, it’s an iconic site. But now you can go inside too: the Hôtel de la Marine opened to the public in June 2021. Here’s what to see at the Hotel de la Marine, Paris:
A brief history of Hôtel de la Marine
Place de la Concorde was originally known as Place Louis XV. It was designed by the King’s chief architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel. He also designed two palaces on the edge of the square – what are now the Hôtel Crillon and Hôtel de la Marine.
The palace on the eastern side of the square became the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. Basically it was the King’s furniture store. Beds, chairs and tables, linen, arms and armour and also the crown jewels were stored here.
During the French Revolution the building was transformed into the primary place of residence for the head of the French Navy, hence Hôtel de la Marine. Place Louis XV became Place de la Revolution and then Place de la Concorde (1795).
During the German occupation of France, German naval forces set up their headquarters in Hôtel de la Marine until August 1944. The building was then occupied by French naval staff up until 2016 until they moved into a new building. There followed a major restoration project to return the building to its former glory, furnish it and open it up.
What to see at the Hôtel de la Marine
I was there the day it opened to the public. Three French sailors played in the huge courtyard. The haunting sound of bagpipes, pipe and drum filled the huge courtyard – a nod to the building’s marine past. The swish new restaurant Café Lapérouse, was still being prepared, a finishing touch of paint to the doors, flower pots being filled. I sneaked a peek inside and though unfinished the chandeliers, mirrors and elegant tables and chairs gave an indication of how lovely it’s going to be. Even if you don’t go inside the Hôtel de la Marine, it will be a wonderful place to look out over Place de la Concorde on one side and the fabulous courtyard on the other.
You’ll be given a set of headphones to wear when you visit the monument. And you do need them because otherwise you’ll miss out on the incredible history of this building.
The rooms are sumptuously furnished. You’ll be taken through them with the voices of “previous inhabitants” who talk about their day to day life to give you a flavour of the 18th century in Paris. It’s very well done.
The Cabinet des Glaces
The astonishing Cabinet des Glaces is memorable. Built by the first intendant (manager) of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, a bachelor and libertine. He commissioned a mirrored cabinet adjoining his bedroom, painted with figures in lascivious positions! The wife of the next intendant, Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d’Avray, had the figures transformed into cherubs and women in flowing dresses!
The restoration of the Hôtel de la Marine
The rooms are sumptuously furnished and decorated and it is incredible to see everything so closely. In one room the headphone voices informed me I was walking on a carpet commissioned for the Louvre. Sure enough looking down, there was the famous image of the Sun King, the jewel like colours are incredible. Elsewhere the wooden flooring is stunning and immaculately preserved.
In each room you’ll be told about the furniture, the use of the room. Exquisite pieces are on display, gorgeous lanterns made to fit on a fire guard, games tables complete with games.
In one room you’ll learn the story of the theft of the crown jewels, the thieves so sure of their victory that they held a party on site to toast their success. It was in the Arms room that on 13 July 1789 revolutionaries broke in and seized the weapons on display. The next day they went to the Bastille to seize ammunition heralding the start of the French Revolution. It’s thought that the first shots against Bastille prison were fired by canons fitted on gun carriages with silver inlays that the King of Siam gave as gifts to Louis XIV in 1684, taken the previous day from the royal collections.
There are bedrooms, a stunning dining room, bathroom (complete with a bed as it was thought that bathing was an exhausting pastime), a library, study, reception rooms and salons. Silk wall paper, rich tapestries, Sèvres china… it’s a glorious reconstruction.
The destiny of France was shaped from this building
From one of the rooms, Gaspard Monge, former navy minister, signed the execution warrant for Louis XVI. Later he watched the event take place from the window of that same room.
The history of this building is entwined with that of France. And, it’s astonishing to walk in the footsteps of some of the most famous people who shaped France’s destiny from here.
Don’t miss the views from the balcony overlooking the Place de la Concorde looking out towards the Eiffel Tower. It was here where in 1836, then King Louis Philippe stood to watch the 3000 year old obelisk being erected in the square.
The grand gallery was divided into two parts and lavish receptions were hosted here including the first official ball held after the Reign of Terror. It was held on the orders of then First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, a grand party to which European nobles were invited. French aristocrats, back from exile were not announced with their previous titles though.
In a second courtyard, a stunning canopy has been erected. It’s just beyond the gift shop which, be warned, is pretty irresistible.
The restoration is without a doubt an absolute triumph. It feels as if time has stood still here in this beautiful palace. An absolute must-see for your Paris bucket list…
Find out more and book tickets: www.hotel-de-la-marine.paris