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Behind closed doors in Paris for 33rd Journées du Patrimoine

People wait for half an hour to visit the French Ministry of Culture in the Palais Royal in Paris on European Heritage Open Days 2016.
People wait for half an hour to visit the French Ministry of Culture in the Palais Royal in Paris on European Heritage Open Days 2016. RFI/Rosslyn Hyams

Since 1984, on the third weekend in September, state-run institutions, political or cultural, as well as some historical private sites, are open to the public, here in France. In 1991 the joy spread and it became a European event. RFI’s Rosslyn Hyams took a look at Saturday’s events.


In metropolitan and overseas France alone, some 17,000 places of interest are open to curious visitors for free.

The French Culture Ministry, in 2016 held the event under the theme of citizenship. This notion has reached far, extending to some French embassies such as in Pnom Penh or Beirut.

In the centre of Paris meanwhile, at HQ as it were, at the former Royal, former Cardinal Palace, almost opposite the Louvre, the Journées du Patrimoine, Heritage Open Days combine history and current affairs, and have thrown in a contemporary art event.

It was going to take Parisian students Floriane and her friend, also called Floriane, about half an hour of queueing time on Saturday morning to get inside the Ministry of Culture and visit the 18th century-furnished offices of the ministry and other state-institutions (Constitutional Council and State Council) in the Palais Royal.

Law and history students, they were excited about their first Heritage Open Days experience and had a hand-written list of about ten places to visit on a piece of paper, preciously guarded from the breeze.

“It’s an opportunity to see inside places that are usually closed to the public, or to visit places for free when you’d normally have to pay to go in.”

While they waited for their second and third security checks, they could admire the gardens and the courtyard where the artist Daniel Buren's contemporary work of various height, black and white striped stone columns have stood since 1986.

Among their tour, they’d includedthe Cour des Comptes, the Auditors' Court, and the Hotel Sully, a 17th century mansion and erstwhile photo exhibition space in the Marais.

The Conseil d’Etat, the State Council, is a civil service body created by the 1st French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799.

In a cosy reading room next to the bigger library whose walls are covered with shelves of law books, visitors learned that a hidden door in the room covered with convincing yet fake tomes, led to the General Assembly hall where meetings are presided by the head of state or government a couple of times a year.

Also that the former chapel is no longer used for any religious purposes, and therefore the State Council in no way contravenes the secular pillar of the French constitution, the principle of the separation of the state and the church or religion.

This was the kind of information Marie, from Toulon in the South of France was seeking. For her it was important to discover more about life inside the buildings which on 363 days of non-Leap Years, only show their exterior to the general public.

The three-in-one visit of the Palais Royal, is in fact four-in-one, as the Culture Ministry, Ministry of Higher Education and the Institut Français, the French overseas culture body, were show-casing the work of young artists who have recently completed their residences in the Villa Medicis in Rome, founded in the 17th century under Louis 14th.

Some of the high-ceilinged rooms and corridors in the culture ministry are decorated with recent works of painters like those of Belgian Pierre Alechinsky

Most, like those in the Constitutional Council and State Council, are furnished with centuries-old tapestries or embroideries on the walls, and pieces from the 18th or 19th centuries.

"The Away from Home exhibition", said Anne Tallineau, executive director of the Institut Français, which administers the Villa Kujoyama, "is on during the Heritage Open Days because it’s a chance to show the general public what these young artists have created. It’s a practice-run for a festival of the works produced in the Villas which should begin in earnest next year, called Viva Villa.”

While some may have longer waiting times, other places of interest have shorter queues because, smaller or less easily accessible in some cases, they have to be pre-booked. The wings, backstage and dressing rooms of the Comédie-Française, also in the Palais Royal is a case in point.

The two Heritage Open Days provide a chance to admire the luxurious decor, absorb history, and wander down the corridors of power, including the highest levels as the Elysée Palace where the French president stays and works, and Matignon, the prime minister's office, are also open to the public this weekend.

For those who prefer engineering to art-history or government, several thousand industrial or mechanical sites are in the programme, among them the EDF electricity company’s nuclear plant in Bugey in the east of France. Also powerful stuff.








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