Guide Tour of the Hôtel de la Marine, Paris, France

The hôtel de la Marine is an historic building located on place de la Concorde in Paris, to the east of rue Royale. The Hôtel de la Marine is an iconic monument on Place de la Concorde and a fine architectural ensemble that Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the king’s chief architect, made in the 18th century. Until 1798, it housed the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, before becoming the headquarters of France’s navy ministry for over 200 years.

An iconic French heritage site and a stunning view over Place de la Concorde. The unique monument in the heart of Paris and discover its refurbished 18th-century apartments, its stately reception rooms and its restaurant in a building that the Centre des monuments nationaux has fully restored. It constitutes the east building of a set of two twin buildings flanking the rue Royale. The loggia adjoining the VIP lounges of the hotel de la Marine offers a breathtaking view of the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens, the Musee d’Orsay, the Grand Palais and the Eiffel Tower.

The Hôtel de la Marine was originally the home of the royal Garde-Mobile, the office managing the furnishing of all royal properties. The Hôtel de la Marine dates back to 1755, when Ange-Jacques Gabriel, Louis XV’s chief architect, conceived the plan for the vast royal square now known as Place de la Concorde. Flanked on one side by monumental palaces, open to the Seine on the other, the city’s largest square would be an homage to the king after the end of the War of the Austrian Succession, his equestrian statue presiding over it all.

The Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, the depository for the royal furniture collections, crown jewels, tapestries, and precious objets d’art—was housed behind one of the imposing facades on the square. When it was open freely to visitors in 1772, the building became a museum even before the Louvre.

The Hôtel de la Marine bears witness to the changes that have marked the history of France, from the age of royalty to the modern day. Following the French Revolution it became the Ministry of the French Navy, which occupied it until 2015. It was entirely renovated between 2015 and 2021. After more than four years of restoration work, a new monument has just been unveiled in the center of Paris this month adding yet another marvel to its already rich cultural landscape.

From 2020 it opened its doors to the public 7 days a week with an exceptional cultural programme. Accompanied by their Confidant – a headset for 3D audio effects – visitors are taken on an immersive visit of the sumptuous apartments complete with furnishings and the state rooms that provided access to the loggia overlooking Place de la Concorde. Various visit options are available – including one specially designed for families – to create a tailored experience lasting 30 to 90 minutes.

It now displays the restored 18th century apartments of Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville-d’Avray, the King’s Intendant of the Garde-Meuble, as well the salons and chambers later used by the French Navy. A separate part displays the Al Thani Collection presenting international and inter-cultural works of art from the collection of Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani.

The decision to create the current Place de la Concorde was originally taken in 1748, as the site for an equestrian statue of Louis XV. The statue celebrated the recovery of the King from a serious illness. The site was on swampy land beside the river at the very edge of Paris, between the gates of the garden of the Tuileries Palace and the Champs Elysees. This construction took place well before the construction of the Rue de Rivoli, the rue Royale, or the bridge over the Seine at that location.

The King owned most of the land, and donated it to the city for the new square. A competition was held for the design, which attracted nineteen diffferent plans, but none of them were acceptable to. The King. assigned his royal architect, Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who had inherited the title of First Architect of the King from his father, Jacques V Gabriel, to make a fusion of the best ideas. Gabriel borrowed features of the proposals of Germain Boffrand, Pierre Contant d’Ivry and others.

The king’s statue was placed in the middle of a square made up of gardens in dry ditches edged with balustrades. The sculpture portraying the monarch represented him in a Roman style, on horseback without a saddle or stirrups. The south end of the square ran alongside the River Seine, while the north end was lined with two twin palaces standing either side of Rue Royale and featuring classic monumental facades. To the west, the square opened up to the Champs-Elysées and the Cours-la-Reine promenade.

The most distinctive feature, the facade of columns facing the square, was largely inspired by the Louvre Colonnade designed by Claude Perrault in 1667–1674. The new plan was approved by the King in December 1755, and construction began in 1758. At that time, the plans for the use of the specific buildings had not been finalised. In 1768 the King decided that the northwest building should be become the home of the Garde-Meuble of the Crown, the overseer of royal furnishings.

The new building was one of two structures with identical neoclassical facades on the north side of the square. To the west of the Rue Royale are four separate buildings behind a single facade, which originally were residences of the nobility. Number ten is now houses the Hotel Crillon, The Automobile Club of France occupies number six and number eight. The other building, to the east of Rue Royale,was designated the royal Garde-Meuble, or depot for the royal furniture, art, and other possessions of the crown.

The Hôtel du Garde-Meuble
The Garde-Meuble of the Crown had been created by Henry IV of France in the 17th century, and its head was given more specific duties by Louis XIV under his chief minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert. A forebear of today’s public body Mobilier national, this institution was in charge of supplying and maintaining the furniture of royal residences: Versailles, as well as Compiègne, Fontainebleau, Marly, Choisy, Trianon, Rambouillet, Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Montreuil. The institution was responsible for choosing, purchasing and maintaining the king’s furniture, from beds to everyday chairs. It was also in charge of conserving the royal collections of weapons, armour, fabrics, wall hangings, hardstone vases, bronze works and Crown diamonds.

The Intendant of the Garde-Mueuble was a high official who reported directly to the King. Under Colbert, he was assigned to oversee and maintain all the furniture and decorative items of royal residences, including tapestries, and to protect and maintain particularly fine pieces of furniture, labeled as “Furniture of the Crown”. These pieces were considered National, not personal property; in 1772, the Garde-Meuble became the first museum of decorative arts in Paris. Its galleries were open to the public on the first Tuesday of each month between Easter and All Saints’ Day.

The Garde-Meuble contained a chapel, a library, workshops, stables and apartments, including those of the intendant of the Garde-Meuble – at first Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu (1767–1784), then Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville-d’Avray (1784–1792) whose apartment has been restored and is on display. Marie-Antoinette also had an apartment there which she used when visiting Paris from the Palace of Versailles.

French Revolution
The French Revolution, which broke out in 1789, forever changed the history of this palace on Place Louis XV. In 1789 Hotel had a large collection of weapons, mostly ceremonial, including swords, medieval lances, and two ornate cannon, which Louis XIV had received as gifts from the King of Siam. On 13 July 1789, a large crowd angry at the King’s decision to dismiss his finance minister Jacques Necker marched to the building, encouraged by the radical orator Camille Desmoulins.

The intendant of the Garde-Meuble, Thierry de Ville-d’Array, happened to be absent that day. The acting intendant was frightened by the angry mob. He invited the crowd inside the building to take away the weapons and two cannon, but urged them spare the more valuable art, tapestries and furniture. The next morning, 14 July 1789, the two cannon from the Hotel de la Marine fired the first shots at the Bastille, launching the French Revolution.

Soon afterwards, in October 1789, as the Revolution grew, the King was forced to move with his family from Versailles to Paris, to the Tuileries Palace. Some of his valuable possessions were moved to the Conciergerie. It soon took on other duties. The Secretary of State of the Navy, César Henri de la Luzerne, moved his offices to the Garde-Meuble. and from 1789 onwards it housed the naval ministry. UnderAdmiral Decrès, the Navy gradually expanded its offices, and by 1798 the navy occupied the whole building.

In 1792, a remarkable crime took place in the building. A set of The diamonds used in the coronation crowns of Louis XV and XVI, including the famous Regent Diamond, had been moved for safe storage to the building. On the night of 16–17 September 1792, the diamonds disappeared, around forty people got inside the reception room where the jewels were displayed and thieved goods worth around 30 million French francs. The thieves, Cambon and Douligny, were later caught and guillotined in front of the building (The first executions by the guillotine on the Place de la Concorde), and the diamonds recovered.

In 1793, during the Reign of Terror, the portion of the modern Place de la Concorde in front of the neighbouring building, the Palais de Gabriel (now the Hotel Crillon, was the site the guillotine, and the place of execution of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and then in 1794, of the revolution leaders Danton and Robespierre.

The navy ministry’s headquarters
The navy ministry, with Count de la Luzerne and Jean-Baptiste Berthier at its helm, got permission from the Intendant of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d’Avray, to settle in the palace housing the Garde-Meuble in 1789. This marked the start of two centuries of France’s navy ministry being based in this palace, which henceforth bore the name Hôtel de la Marine. It was not until 2015 that the navy ministry left the building.

To begin with, the navy ministry occupied the rooms on the second floor and in the western part of the first floor. Less than ten years later, it occupied the entire building. Throughout the 19th century the building was modified for the various needs of the Navy. New wings were constructed behind the original building, and a neighbouring building at 5 rue Sain-Florentin was purchased in 1855 and added to the Hôtel. The interiors were also transformed; the salons facing the Place de la Concorde remained in place, but the large hall for the display of large royal furniture pieces was replaced in 1843 by two new salons honouring great moments in French naval history. Much or the original decoration of the rooms was removed, or covered by new works.

The interior decor by Jacques Gondouin, inspired by Piranesi, was an important step forward in 18th-century taste, but it was profoundly distorted by changes under the Second French Empire, although the grands salons d’apparat and the Galerie Dorée still maintain some of the original elements. The building was the scene of several historic events, from a ball honouring the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804, the celebration of the dedication of the Obelisque on the Place de la Concorde by King Louis Philippe in 1836, and the drafting of the decree of the French President abolishing slavery in April 1848.

After the fall of France in June 1940, the Kriegsmarine, the naval forces of Nazi Germany set up their headquarters here. They remained in place up until the Kriegsmarine had to evacuate its presence due to the approach of American and Free French forces in August 1944. In 1989 President Francois Mitterand invited foreign leaders to the loggia of the hotel to view the parade celebrating the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution.

National monument
In 2015, the French government decided to consolidate all of the French military headquarters at a single site, the Hexagon at Ballard in the 15th arrondissement. When France’s navy ministry left the building in 2015, responsibility for the Hôtel de la Marine was given to the Centre des monuments nationaux. The CMN was in charge of promoting this outstanding piece of cultural heritage, so it oversaw large-scale restoration of the entire monument from 2017 to 2020.

Since 2017, restoration campaigns have brought true marvels to light, with the rediscovery of the original decor of the Intendant’s apartments as they were at the end of the 18th century. Its architecture, painted decor, furniture and artworks from the 18th and 19th centuries present to the public the close relationship between decorative arts, the art of hosting, craftsmanship, French excellence and the expression of power.

The building has a total surface area of 12,000 m2, including 4,000 m2 of built-up area, and has no less than 553 rooms including the famous “Salon des Admirals”. The hotel itself was built to plans by Gabriel under the direction of Jacques-Germain Soufflot. The interior decorations, of great magnificence, are the work of the architect Jacques Gondouin, inspired by Piranesi, and constitute an important step in the evolution of taste in the 18th century.

The facade was designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, first architect to the King, author of the plans for Place Louis-XV (which became Place de la Concorde). Its two pediments are decorated with reliefs representing allegories of public Magnificence and Felicity, works of Guillaume II Coustou and Michelangelo Slodtz.

In 1976, the tympanum by Michel-Ange Slodtz was removed and replaced by a copy by the sculptor André Lavaysse; as a result of poor coordination by state services, Slodtz’s work, which was in poor condition, was broken up and sent to the public dump.

The hotel has four interior courtyards: the Cour des Ateliers, the lower courtyard, the Cour d’Honneur and the Cour de l’Intendant, the latter covered by a spectacular 300 m2 glass roof, designed by the British architect Hugh Duton. Although remodeled during the Second Empire, the large ceremonial salons and especially the Golden Gallery still retain certain elements of the original decor”.

The loggia adjoining the Salon des Admirals, nicknamed the “Balcony of the State”, offers a breathtaking view of the Place de la Concorde. It is from this loggia that King Louis-Philippe I attended the erection of the obelisk of Luxor on the square, in 1836, or, more recently, that the guests of the President of the Republic François Mitterrand can follow the parade, the memorial designed by Jean-Paul Goude in July 1989.

In the 18th century, European architecture tended towards the Baroque style above all. This was characterised by opulence, multiple forms, play of light and shadow, and colour. In contrast, the monument’s facade stands out largely for its striking symmetry in line with the classical standards defined by the Académie royale d’architecture.

The front facing the square was inspired by the grand classical style of Louis XIV, particularly by the east front of the Louvre Palace, begun in 1667 by Louis Le Vau, architect of Louis XIV, Charles Le Brun, and Charles Perrault. The front is decorated with sculpted medallions and guerlands, another feature borrowed from the Louvre. The long front is balanced at either by two sections with triangular frontons and Corinthian columnns.

The distinctive feature of the façade, different from the Louvre, is the loggia, or passageway. The central front, slightly recessed, has a narrow walkway lined with twelve Corinthian columns. The setback of the loggia and the columns create patterns of light and shadow, an essential element of the design.

At street level, a base of archways for Parisians to get around in easily. On each side: two corner wings designed with symbolic dimensions, perfect examples of academic architecture in reference to antiquity. Both are capped with sculpted pediments representing magnificence and public felicity. These were made by Guillaume Coustou and Michel-Ange Slodtz.

The ceiling of the loggia is decorated with sculpted octagonal medallions, representing the benefits the King was said to bring to the nation; there are allegorical symbols of music, the arts, industry, agriculture, defense and commerce. They originally also displayed the King’s monogram, but the monograms were smashed during the Revolution.

The Hôtel de la Marine and its twin on its western side, which today houses the Hôtel de Crillon, the Automobile Club de France and the Hôtel de Coislin, both underline the French trend in rigour and geometric lines, and the 18th-century taste for antiquity.

Courtyard of the Intendant
One of the most original elements of the renovation of the building is the new glass skylight over the Courtyard of the Intendant, the entrance point for visitors. It which was created by the architect Hugh Dutton, and is supported by a framework of steel weighing thirty-five tons. Its V-shaped ribs, of polished stainless steel, act as mirrors, which capture and redirect the light in the optimal direction. Though the entire opening is covered with ribs, they cast a minimum of shadows, due to their mirrored covering, and give the very heavy roof an appearance of lightness. The effect is enhanced by the use of glass made with purified iron oxide, which does not change color in the light. The diffusion of light is similar to that created by the facets of the pieces of crystal in the chandeliers of the 18th century.

Apartments of the Intendant
The Intendant’s apartments are located on the eastern side of the first floor, the ‘noble floor’, today with a view over Place de la Concorde and Rue Saint-Florentin. At the helm of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne was an Intendant. As an officer of the king’s court, he was provided with accommodation on site in lavish apartments that reflected the prestige of his job.

Developed in 1765 by Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu, the Intendant’s apartments were redesigned from 1786 by Marc-Antoine Thierry de Ville d’Avray. They exemplify what was perceived as the ideal apartment at the end of the century of Enlightenment, including at least an antechamber, a bedroom and a small private room. The restoration work removed eighteen layers of paint from two centuries before coming to the original decor.

After a simple anteroom, the first room of the apartments is the ceremonial office of the Intendant, lavishly furnished and decorated with paintings and a floor of multicoloured marquetry. His real working office, much simpler, is next to it. Near his bedroom he also had a small study equipped with devices for working with gemstones and making jewellery, a hobby of the Ville-d’Avray.

While the Intendant Thierry De Ville d’Avray was very religious, as reflected in the sober architecture of his bed chamber, his predecessor, Pierre-Élisabeth de Fontanieu, serving between 1770 and 74, had very different taste. He was a libertine, and entertained a wide variety of women in his residence. His taste is illustrated by the decoration of his own bed chamber, and in the Cabinet of Mirrors, with its images of Cherubs painted on the mirrors. De Ville d’Avray had some of the Cherubs repainted to give them a more uplifting tone.

During the restoration of the building that began in 2015, the original office of the Intendant Fontanieu was discovered hidden behind the walls of the more recent naval offices. It still has its original two fireplaces, and two notable pieces of its original furniture, a table and drop-front secretary made by the celebrated furniture craftsman Jean-Henri Riesener (1771), which had previously been on loan to the Louvre Museum and the Palace of Versailles, were returned to their original home in the office.

One other curiosity remains from the office of Intendant Fontanieu; his Cabinet of Physics, where he practiced his hobby of geology. He created false precious stones, using crystal artificially colored, and employed the piece of equipment displayed in the room to trace lines, curves and designs on the jewellery pieces that he made.

The apartments also include the bath of the Intendant Fontanieu, in the classical Louis XVI style, with floral motifs on the furniture made popular by Marie-Antoinette. The bathtub had running hot water, supplied by a large overhead tank hidden above ceiling overhead.

The reception rooms
18th-century life in aristocratic society was largely based on receptions held daily in all reputable houses. The house mistress would host the gathering, welcoming leading Parisian figures and intellectuals. The grand gallery was divided into two parts and hosted many lavish receptions throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Balls for the coronations of Napoleon and King Charles X were held here.

A vertical line formed the basis for getting around the different apartments of an 18th-century town mansion. This gave a central role to the monumental staircase serving the entire building. Hosting was an art form. This can be seen in the way the apartment rooms were arranged and in the splendour of the reception rooms.

In addition to the apartments, the staircase also provided a route to the exhibition galleries on the first floor of the facade overlooking the Place de la Concorde: the arms room, the gallery of large items of furniture (fabrics and wall hangings), the jewels room and the bronze works gallery.

These rooms were originally used to present the royal collections to French and foreign visitors. They were intended for displaying the excellence of French decorative arts and the monarchy’s power. In the 19th century, the navy converted these areas into stately reception rooms.

Salons of the Navy
In 1793, During the Revolution, the royal Garde-Meuble was abolished and the French navy took complete occupancy of the building. Beginning in 1843 and particularly during the July Monarchy. some of the rooms that had been used to display the royal furniture were turned into offices, while the rooms along the front of the building, facing the Place de la Concorde, were transformed into salons for naval functions. The Salon of Diplomats was used for more intimate diplomatic meetings until 2015.

The two principal rooms were the Salon d’Honneur and the Salon des Amiraux, or Salon of the Admirals. The walls, ceilings, and doorways were lavishly gilded and decorated with sculpture and mirrors and carvings with nautical themes, including prows of ships, anchors, fish, and sirens. During the reign of King Louis-Phillipe a series of large medallions were added, depicting illustrious figures in French naval history, including Pierre André de Suffren, Jean Bart and Louis-Antoine de Bougainville. These rooms were also sometimes used in the 19th century for non-naval events. Napoleon Bonaparte held a ball there in 1804 to celebrate his coronation as Emperor, and in 1836 Louis-Philippe celebrated the dedication of the Luxor column in the Place de la Concorde.

The original function of the building was a depot of decorative objects, and the Hôtel reflects that heritage, and retains to a very rich collection of paintings, sculptures, tapestries, chandeliers, furniture and other decorative art, mostly from the 18th and 19th century. By good fortune, the rooms of the building suffered less looting and destruction during the Revolution than many other Paris landmarks. The curators were able to find many of the original pieces of furniture and decoration at other locations, including the Palace of Versailles and the Elysees Palace.

After more than 200 years of France’s navy ministry occupying the Hôtel de la Marine, the building’s internal organisation and decor had changed greatly. The Centre des monuments nationaux, which was put in charge of managing the monument and its opening to the public, chose to restore the original decor: that of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne in the 18th century, an outstanding token of excellence in French architecture and decor. The restoration of the building in the end cost a total of 135 million Euros. These rooms, formerly apartments and storerooms in the old building, were restored to their original appearance.

The restoration returning the monument to its original state, that of the time when the edifices were built in the 18th century. The CMN and teams of conservators and restorers were pleasantly surprised to discover original wall decor, ceilings and floors beneath the successive additions from the 19th and 20th centuries. This has also offered a tremendous opportunity for visitors, who can now admire the unique, outstanding atmosphere of an apartment from the century of Enlightenment. The stately reception rooms that run along the loggia have been kept in the decor that the navy ministry sought in the middle of the 19th century.

Thanks to the furniture inventories of the Garde-Meuble de la Couronne, it was possible to identify most items of furniture and fabrics in the Hôtel de la Marine in the 18th century. The decor restoration sought by the Centre des monuments nationaux and its experts also highlights the curtains, furnishing fabrics and wallpaper to bring back the original atmosphere of the Intendant’s apartments and the reception rooms.

The goal of the restoration is to bringing to light the original decor through work from restorers of cultural heritage. To achieve this, fabrics from the time were purchased from dealers or public sales: crimson damasks, brocades and more. These fabrics helped restore the furniture, especially the chairs. The restorers also found enough crimson damask to entirely refit the golden room of Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu.

The Centre des monuments nationaux recently acquired two unique items of furniture from the cabinetmaker Jean-Henri Riesener: a chest of drawers and a wardrobe writing desk. The former is representative of the style characteristic of the king’s cabinetmaker, while the latter, listed as a national treasure, came from an order placed by the Intendant Pierre-Elisabeth de Fontanieu to furnish his private apartments.

The Al Thani Collection
Since the end of 2021 the Hôtel de la Marine has been the venue for the Al Thani Collection, a group of art objects from around the world brought together by Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of the royal family of Qatar. Under an agreement with the French Ministry of Culture, the gallery will show a rotation of items from the enormous collection of the Al Thani Family for a period of twenty years. The exhibit contains one hundred-twenty works at one time, out of a total in the collection of more than five thousand works. It presents precious objects from ancient civilisations in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas and the Middle East, related by use or theme. One notable object is a marble bust of the Roman Emperor Hadrian, made for Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor in about 1240, and then moved centuries later to Venice, where it was set upon shoulders in armor made of gilded enamel, precious stones and pearls.