Ever wonder just what lies behind the closed doors of some of Paris' historic buildings? During one weekend each year the European Heritage Days, or Les Journées du Patrimoine, gives you the chance to find out. This year the dates are September 19th and 20th, and it's a fine time to explore Paris and enjoy an in-depth look at some of the famed landmarks and buildings that are rarely open to the public. From luxurious state palaces to internationally renowned universities, there are dozens of sites on the list that demand attention during this celebration of Parisian history and culture.
With so many secretive sites opening their doors, as well as free entry at many museums, it can be tricky determining where exactly to start. To help out, we’ve compiled a list of 10 of our top places in Paris that are featured during 2015’s Les Journées du Patrimoine.
1. Palais du Luxembourg
Built in the early 1600s and refashioned in the late 1700s and 1800s after the French Revolution, this regal palace was originally the royal home of the mother of Louis XIII, Regent Marie de Médicis. Since 1958, the palace has been the home of the French Senate. Take a peek behind the scenes of of this iconic palace that is the focal point of the famous Luxembourg Gardens.
2. La Sorbonne
Located in the Latin Quarter, La Sorbonne is affiliated with the historic and former University of Paris. Now home to a collection of research institutions and higher education facilities (following the May 1968 cultural revolution), the building is a stunning site that honors centuries of Parisian collegiate life.
3. Hôtel de Matignon
Built in the early to mid-1700s, and home to some of Paris’ most influential leaders and royal figures, the Hôtel de Matignon has always been a grand showpiece to welcome and impress world-famous guests. Today, the site in the 7th arrondissement serves as the official office and home of the French Prime Minister.
4. Tour Jean Sans Peur
The Tour Jean Sans Peur was once one of the tallest building in the city during medieval times. Built 1409-1410, the still-imposing structure features a network of narrow staircases, ancient walls and claustrophobic rooms, and some of the most uniquely adorned vaults and ceilings in the city.
5. Institut de France
The Institut de France is home to five academies and manages roughly 1,000 foundations, museums and other public sites that are worthy of visiting. Established in 1795, the Institut is famed for its grand dome-topped architecture.
6. Assemblée Nationale
The Palais Bourbon is home to the Assemblée Nationale, which is the lower legislative chamber of the French government. Built in the 1720s and originally the property of assorted royals, the site became the home to the meetings of the Council of the Five Hundred during the French Revolution.
7. Réservoir de Montsouris
Located adjacent to the Parc Montsouris, a sprawling park in the 14th arrondissement, the Réservoir de Montsouris holds a third of all of Paris’ drinking water supply. A ghostly collection of underground passageways, the reservoir is only open to the public during Les Journées du Patrimoine.
8. Ecole Nationale d’Administration
Created by Charles de Gaulle in 1945, the Ecole Nationale is one of the most elite and prestigious schools in Paris. The school is renowned as the training grounds for the majority of French leaders, and the building itself, constructed in the late 1800s, is considered one of the last Moorish revival style structures in the city.
9. Collège des Bernardins
This former home of Cistercian students and monks has had a unique lifespan that has seen the 13th century structure re-purposed as a French Revolution prison, a warehouse, a fire station and an art exhibition hall. During the Les Journées du Patrimoine, visitors can tour the iconic site and marvel at the longstanding architecture – with some structural pieces that are still intact since the College was built in 1248.
10. Grande Loge de France
The Grande Loge de France is a Freemason Temple for the third largest Masonic obedience in France. Founded in 1894 after a rift with the Grand Orient, this 17th arrondissement chapel is both beautiful and eye-catchingly unique.
Regardless of whether you explore the lesser-known gems that can only be admired during these two days of the year, or take the opportunity to visit some of Paris’ top museums for free, you’ll want to come prepared. Lines can be long at some of the most enticing sites, and while many of the landmarks are within central Paris, a bit of walking will be involved. Start early, wear comfortable shoes and get ready for an inside look into the city that even the locals don’t get to regularly enjoy. Find out more about the 2015 European Heritage Days here.