PARIS — The French capital has a new addition to its list of monuments for visitors to see. Steeped in history — it’s been there since the 18th century — the Hôtel de la Marine, which sits on the Place de la Concorde overlooking the famed obelisk and facing the Seine River, is just emerging from a four-year restoration project.
Serving for two centuries as the headquarters for the French navy, the sprawling, column-lined complex will house the Foundation for the Memory of Slavery, the Al Thani collection, a gift shop, restaurants and offices, in addition to its freshly restored gilded 19th-reception rooms and the more intimate, 18th-century apartments.
In its earliest days, the site served as a storage place for the king’s furniture — with sumptuous quarters for its attendants.
“It’s a bit by chance that the king’s furniture depository was set up here,” explained Delphine Christophe, head of conservation at France’s Center for National Monuments, speaking to a small group of journalists.
The intricate restoration job in the apartments included removing layers of paint — between six and 10 — in order to reach the original layers from the 18th century, while objects housed in the building were fetched from museums including the Louvre.
The succession of historic rooms includes the office of Victor Schoelcher, who signed the abolition of slavery. The Foundation for the Memory of Slavery will be housed in the building and there are plans to set up a memorial to victims of slavery in the Tuileries Gardens nearby.
The building is also the site of the theft of the crown jewels, which took place in 1792 — recovered in the 19th century before being auctioned off, with a few remaining pieces housed in the Louvre.
Textiles were a particular focus, and the majority of curtains and upholstery were historic fabrics sourced from dealers and galleries. When original fabrics weren’t available, restoration teams dyed the fabrics to give them an aged look.
The list of French craftsmen working on the project included chandelier specialist Mathieu Lustrerie; Alexandre Phelippeau for tapestries; Declerc for the trimmings, and decorators Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière.
One bedroom features custom-made brocade in a particular shade of green, while tassels were produced by hand, reflecting the painstaking handiwork of the era.
Financing of the 132 million euro project included 10 million euros from the French government and a 14-year lease to the coworking company Morning, aimed at repaying an 80 million euro loan. The financing was “atypical,” noted Christophe, citing the advertising fixed on the building during the works.
“This made it possible for the establishment to bring in 24 million euros — which is a colossal sum, extremely important for in the development of this project,” she said.
The museum will be open all year.
In the fall, the Al Thani collection, featuring artworks from ancient times, will be set up in the storerooms that housed the royal tapestries, as part of a 20-year agreement.
Restaurants will include the Café Lapérouse.