Have you already been to the Place de la Concorde in the middle of Paris to see that strange tall monument called the obelisk? Have you ever noticed the two twin palaces at the end of the square on the other side from the River Seine? The one on the right is the Hôtel de la Marine. It tells a tale covering 200 years. Follow us to discover its exciting story.
The Hôtel de la Marine was built at the same time as the Place de la Concorde at the end of the reign of King Louis XV in the 1770s.
When you look straight at its facade, you can see that it is perfectly symmetrical! It is a perfect example of classic 18th-century architecture. But if you look carefully, you can nevertheless spot a few differences. Can you find them?
The facade of the Hôtel de la Marine on Place de la Concorde is perfectly symmetrical
In 1772, Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, settled in a brand new palace on Place de la Concorde. Today, it is the Hôtel de la Marine, but back then it was called the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne.
What was Fontanieu’s job? He looked after the king’s furniture: armchairs, sofas and chairs, as well as the tapestries that decorated the king’s châteaux. In this work, he would order the production of top quality items of furniture from highly skilled cabinetmakers and carpenters who would make true masterpieces for the king! You can see them in the Hôtel de la Marine, as well as in the Palace of Versailles and the Louvre Museum.
The purpose of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was also to repair and store the king’s furniture. So, in the Hôtel de la Marine, there were many woodwork craftsmen in the workshops – cabinetmakers who would repair the furniture – and upholsterers who would look after the precious fabrics covering the armchairs.
On the first floor of the Hôtel de la Marine are the apartments of the Intendant and his family.
The job of Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was a very prestigious role. The person in this job was housed on site in lavish apartments. In the 18th century, apartments of the aristocracy were always made up as follows:
Visitors to the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne can reach the first-floor apartments via the Intendant’s staircase
At the Hôtel de la Marine, the Intendant and their family also had a dining room. This was new in the 18th century. Before then, families would eat in the reception rooms on tables with trestle supports that servants would assemble and disassemble for meals. Surprising, isn’t it?
On the first floor there are also very beautiful reception rooms. In the 18th century, these rooms were used to display to the public the most beautiful items in the collections of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne. There you could see magnificent tapestries, high-quality items of furniture, bronze statues, rare weapons and the Crown Jewels!
Indeed, in one of the reception rooms, cupboards would display crowns, necklaces and enormous diamonds.
These reception rooms were like our museums today. They would present the king’s collections to Parisians and foreign visitors each first Tuesday of the month, from Easter to All Saints’ Day. Above all, they would help display the power and wealth of the king and France, as well as the expertise of its craftsmen.
In the French Revolution, France became a republic. Without a king, the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne became less and less useful. However, this institution still exists. Today, it is called the Mobilier national. It still includes very beautiful collections of furniture that decorate ministries, embassies and the Elysée Palace.
From 1789, France’s navy ministry occupied the palace. And the French word for navy is marine. So perhaps you now understand why the monument is called the Hôtel de la Marine! For 226 years, it was the French navy’s headquarters. This is where the most important naval decisions were made.
When you visit the reception rooms, look closely at the wall decor: you will notice anchors, fish, portraits of famous sailors and the names of France’s large ports.
One of the marine decors in the reception rooms
Over the course of the 19th century, many balls were held in these grand reception rooms. We can easily imagine these lavish events with men in top hats and tailcoats and ladies in pretty crinoline dresses!
Did you like this article? Then come to the Hôtel de la Marine to discover how aristocrats lived in the 18th and 19th centuries!