Paris has an elegant and cultured façade, but scratch the surface and you’ll find a weird, curious, and downright criminal side to this city.
The historical detectives at The Paris Pass have uncovered some of the strangest objects you are likely to encounter in Paris. Join us as we venture into some of the darker corners of the City of Light.
Here's eight of the weirdest things to see in Paris
Anatomical malformations in jars
One of the city’s most carefully hidden ‘treasures’ – unsurprisingly so – is the Musée Dupuytren, a vast collection of anatomical specimens illustrating diseases and malformations. Originally established in 1835, it now includes some 6,000 objects ranging from wax castings, bones and body parts in jars to photographs, artworks and anatomical instruments. These literal skeletons in the Parisian cupboard reveal the horrors of conditions such as syphilis and tuberculosis that once twisted the bones and eroded the flesh of this city. As for your own anatomy, a strong stomach is definitely required.
A rooster with horns
(Photo: Medieval Karl/Flickr)
For a more bestial take on ‘nature morte’, track down the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) in the Rue des Archives. This sumptuous 18th-century setting hosts a taxidermal menagerie as well as objets d’art, trophies and weapons. Some rooms are dedicated to a particular animal while others are given over, entertainingly so, to the eccentric muse of the curator. One of the most intriguing rooms is the Cabinet de la Licorne (Cabinet of the Unicorn) whose dark interior holds a number of fascinating creatures – some real, some mythical – including a rooster with a delightful set of horns.
Dior counterfeit perfumes
Sometimes the dark in the City of Light is not so easy to distinguish. Test your powers of discernment at the Musée de la Contrefaçon (Museum of Counterfeiting) founded in 1951 by the French Union of Manufacturers. There are hundreds of objects ranging from luxury branded items to everyday products – all cunningly copied with criminal intent.
Dead and stuffed rats
Having genned up on the genuine, you’ll be ready to go retail in what is one of the finest shopping cities in the world. Paris has everything from haute couture to haute cuisine and, wait… dead rats hanging on a rail? But then if pest control is your forte – as it is for Julien Aurouze and Co in the Rue des Halles – what better way to get noticed amid the glamour of central Paris than with some artistically arranged ex-rodents. Indeed the shop has added some glamour of its own, having made a cameo appearance in the animated movie, Ratatouille.
When you’ve tired of the streets of Paris, and even its dead vermin, why not scuttle underground in search of live ones? At the Musée des Égouts de Paris – yes, Paris has a museum of its own sewers – you can follow, cautiously, in the fictional footsteps of Les Miserables’ Jean Valjean. Lurking beneath the stately and elegant 7th arrondissement, you’ll get a scent of the city’s network of over 2,400 km (1,491 miles) of tunnels and galleries. Among the highlights underground are the giant balls once used to flush out the tunnels like some steampunk version of Indiana Jones.
Giant steam-powered bat
For more of that 19th century proto-industrial vibe, head to the Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts) where you’ll find a giant steam-powered bat. Suspended from the ceiling – and probably more airborne than it ever was – is Clément Ader’s optimistically dubbed Avion III. This mechanical flight of fancy was built in the 1890s and financed by the French War Office. Sadly for Ader, and much like his prototype, the project never got off the ground. Today, it soars aloft in chiropteran contrast to the elegant neoclassical interior.
The painting of a girl pinching her sister’s nipple
Over at the Louvre you’ll find some of the most celebrated images in the history of art – alongside one of the most bizarre. With her nipple pinched delicately by her equally topless sister, one wonders what Gabrielle d’Estrées would make of her current popularity in selfies and internet memes. Painted by an unknown artist in 1594, this allegory of maternity depicts the mistress of Henri de Navarre who converted him to Catholicism to claim the French throne. In Gabrielle’s left hand she holds his coronation ring. We should probably be grateful for that small mercy…
(Photo: Allison Meier/Atlas Obscura)
Across the river, opposite the Notre Dame lies the Museum Carnavalet. It's one of Paris' most important museums, telling the story of the city from its founding. Set over two stunning 16th century mansions, this museum is decorated with the four seasons; has a verdant courtyard and a wealth of collections, from paintings, to sculptures on show. But what's arguably most interesting are the smaller, more obscure collections, such as Napoleons toiletries, the personal effects of Marie Antoinette and a lock of hair from key French revolution figure Maximilien Robespierre. Should these collectibles interest you, there is much much more on show.
All facts courtesy of the folks over at Paris Pass. Check out their website here to find out more about their museum passes.