Planes in a Church: Man’s Dream of Flight and Man’s Wish for Angels
You’ll find these two juxtaposed at the Musee des Arts et Metiers in Paris. This wonderful museum is not obviously listed in most guidebooks (including Rick Steves). If it is, it might be listed as ‘Musee National des Techniques’ or ‘Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers’. This omission is a shame as it’s a really great museum housed in a former Priory, so the setting itself is worth a visit.
The museum is in the former Priory of St.-Martin-des-Champs, originally
founded in 1060 by Henri 1, and given to the Abbey of Cluny in 1079. After the French Revolution it was assigned to the Conservatoire des Arts et Metiers and the collections of Vaucanson (1709-1782) and other scientists were gathered here. The first administrator of the Conservatoire was Joseph-Michel Montgolfier (1740-1810) who, with his brother Jacques-Etienne, was the inventor of the air-balloon in 1783. The museum was renovated in 2000 and now has 7 collections on 3 floors.
The day we visited, there were many groups of school kids, who obviously had projects and “treasure hunts” to complete, but it’s big enough to absorb large numbers of visitors mostly. This museum emphasizes industry, communication, transportation, and measurement, focusing on leading inventors and inventions in each area. There’s a fantastic collection of instruments—some originals and some models—and many interesting old planes and cars. After all, France was the leader in car manufacturing!
I didn’t study science much at school or university, but still it was a fascinating
place for me—because what it focuses on are all basically practical, everyday concepts and objects that anyone can relate to, such as clocks, other ways of measuring, construction, transport, communication methods etc.
A good pamphlet guides you around the different floors and sections. The display has around 3,000 scientific and technological discoveries and inventions through the centuries, including Pascal’s 1642 calculator, Foucault’s 1855 pendulum, and two models (1878) of Bartholdi’s Liberty Enlightening the World for the Statue of Liberty in New York City (one in the church, one in the entrance courtyard).
Each of the 7 collections is divided into 4 time periods, the earliest prior to 1750 and the newest after 1950, so the visitor can follow the development of each theme.
Start on the second floor with Scientific Instruments, and Materials. In Scientific Instruments the highlight is probably a reconstruction of the lab of Lavoisier (1743-1794), who laid the theoretical groundwork for modern chemistry and the chemical industry. On the First Floor are Energy (note Michael Faraday’s law of electromagnetic induction, which helped lead to electricity), Mechanics, Construction, and Communication—this was fascinating, covering printing, mass media, sound systems, telephones, cameras, and modern global communication.
On the Ground Floor is Transportation, with a
good collection of steam engines, early cars, and bicycles of all types, including the very modern Velib that is so popular as a short-term rental bike in the city.
(**remember that in France, Ground Floor = first floor in USA; First Floor= 2nd floor in USA and so on).
Suspended from the ceiling of one entrance hall with wide staircase, is a remarkable old plane, Clement Ader’s Avion 111. We nicknamed it the “batmobile” as it looks very bat-like. Even more amazing is that it was steam-powered!
At one end of the ground floor wing, a few steps go down to the former Abbey Church. For us, this was probably the most interesting part of the museum as it’s here that lofty dreams and spiritual ideals come together. Nowadays, the church houses a collection of early planes, suspended from the ceiling, and early cars, on a series of glass ramps and platforms. Among the highlights are Foucault’s pendulum; the plane of Esnault-Pelterie (1906) in which Bleriot made the first flight across the Channel in 1909; a Breguet plane of 1911; an early Panhard car (1896); and Peugeots of 1893 and 1909. This church section is like a small museum in itself!
The museum has a very pleasant café-restaurant called Des Techniques A Toutes Vapeurs (roughly “All kinds of techniques with steam”), with inside and outside seating, if the weather is good.
Address: 60 rue Reaumur (3rd arrondissement).
Metro: Arts et Metiers or Reaumur-Sebastopol (Note, it’s not far from Les Halles and Pompidou Center).
Open: Tues-Sun 10am-6pm, Thursday 10am-9:30pm
Entrance: euro 6.50/adult. No senior reduction. Student and group rates. No security check.
www.arts-et-metiers.net (click on the British flag for English)