Château de Compiègne, France: Three Museums in One

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the Compi̬gne Forest and the Armistice monuments there. Besides this wonderful forest, there is also a Ch̢teau de Compi̬gne Рwhich was the royal residence for French monarchs, and also for Napoleon and Napoleon III. Since the mid 1300s a royal ch̢teau was cited in the forest because the French kings used it for their hunting activities. But the castle we see today was renovated and remodelled in a neoclassical style during the second half of the eighteenth century for Louis XV, who particularly liked hunting and spent much of his time here. Together with the castles at Versailles and Fontainebleau, Compi̬gne was one of three seats of royal government.

Château de Compiègne.

During the revolution the castle was all but gutted, the furniture was sold off and the art was taken to Paris and the nations central museum. In 1807 Napoleon ordered renovations, and then in the 1850s Napoleon III and his wife used it as an autumn residence. Consequently the castle has both First French Empire (1808-1810) and Second French Empire styles of decoration, although there are traces of earlier monarchist decoration.

Just one of many royal apartments.

Today the château incorporates not one but three museums – well these places are palatial! First there are ‘Les Appartements Historiques‘, in which you can tour examples of royal apartments from the eighteenth century, as well as the First and Second Empires. Then there is the Musée du Second Empire, which is the rule of Napoleon III from 1852 to 1870. This ‘museum’ displays the national collection of paintings, sculptures and other objects from this period in France’s history. And finally, the Musée de la Voiture et du Tourisme. Founded in 1927 this ‘museum’ has well over a hundred bicycles, animal drawn carriages and early cars that tell the history of the car and tourism.

An old fire cart – you can see the hose.

Together with the various attractions in the forest, the Château de Compiègne with its three museums make a wonderful day-trip from Paris. It’s only a 50 minute journey by train from Gard du Nord. Or you may prefer to have a more leisurely visit by staying overnight in a hotel in Compiègne.

For practical information about the castle, see the museums’ website.

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About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.