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Napoleon figureheads to model warships: Inside Paris' newly reopened Maritime Museum

This picture taken on November 16, 2023 shows old material of underwater immersion displayed at the French National Navy museum in Paris.
This picture taken on November 16, 2023 shows old material of underwater immersion displayed at the French National Navy museum in Paris. Copyright Credit: AFP
Copyright Credit: AFP
By Theo FarrantAFP
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Renovated at a cost of €72.2 million, the museum aims to attract 300,000 visitors annually, tripling its previous attendance.

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Transformed after six years of renovations, the National Maritime Museum has reopened at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, newly designed to appeal to both marine enthusiasts to the younger generations.

Enhanced by a new streamlined architecture and a scenography inspired by the waves of the ocean, 1,000 models and objects are showcased through playful, sensory, and immersive exhibits. 

The museum even has its own fragrance, "seaside trail," diffused from the entrance, "made of algae, sea water, but also sand," as described by the institution's general director, Vincent Campredon.

"We changed the purpose of this museum, which since Louis XV has been recounting the history of the royal, imperial, and then national Navy," because "the Minister of Defense in 2015 (Jean-Yves Le Drian) wanted to open this museum to all audiences and to the current and future issues," explains Campredon. 

What is on display at the Navy Museum?

People look at models of vintage fishing boats displayed at the French National Navy museum is pictured in Paris, on 16 November 2023.
People look at models of vintage fishing boats displayed at the French National Navy museum is pictured in Paris, on 16 November 2023.Credit: AFP
French President Emmanuel Macron visits the National Maritime Museum (Musee national de la Marine), the day of its reopening after six years of renovation, in Paris.
French President Emmanuel Macron visits the National Maritime Museum (Musee national de la Marine), the day of its reopening after six years of renovation, in Paris.Credit: CHRISTOPHE ENA/AFP

Visitors can see a model of the Royal Louis, an 18th-century ship of five meters in length and featuring 124 cannons, the golden and nearly intact decor of Louis XIV's galley Réale, a massive figurehead of Napoleon as a Roman emperor and stunning paintings by Claude Joseph Vernet on the life of French ports.

"There are around 1,000 artworks, all of which have been renovated. So it's a new museum that still retains its Louis XV soul. It's a blend of past, present and future. And we hope our visitors will like it," says Campredon. 

Two-thirds of the museum's old objects have been retained, but new topics have been included, such as maritime economy or storms and shipwrecks. New objects include a Lego wind farm.

French President Emmanuel Macron attended the reopening of the museum and made a speech expressing that France is making significant investments in the sea through recent legislation related to military programming.

"Eric Tabarly (late French navy officer and racing yachtsman) can rest assured: the sea is indeed what the French people have in front of them when they look to their future. A strong country is one that embraces its maritime destiny," said Macron.

Video editor • Theo Farrant

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