…. at the Musée de L’Homme!
In the children’s novel by Carlo Collodi, a wooden puppet is magically transformed into a living boy. The Adventures of Pinocchio, written in 1881, is the most widely read book in the world after the Bible. The 1940 Disney adaptation is the most often watched film in our house. Echoing Pinocchio, our son would often repeat, “Am I a real boy?”
The question of what it means to be human is the focus of Musée de L’Homme in Paris. Literally translated as the Museum of Mankind, it aims to gain a better understanding of man’s origins, evolution and place among other forms of life on earth. This unique museum/laboratory also explores human societies and their margin for adaptation in the future.
If you live in or ever visited Paris, chances are that you have been there. The iconic architecture of the Palais de Chaillot directly across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower is hard to miss. Many people enjoy the spectacular view from the Place Trocadéro without bothering to go in which is a shame. The recent renovation is a perfect excuse to remedy that.
The Musée de L’Homme was founded in 1937 by ethnologist Paul Rivet on the occasion of the universal exposition. Now under the auspices of the National Museum of Natural History, it was closed for six years to completely transform the interior architecture and museography. The new space is deliberately more accessible and the interactive displays address human diversity in a way that draws in the visitor who is after all the subject.
The permanent exhibition, La Galerie de L’Homme, is clearly defined by three major themes: who are we, where do we come from, and where are we headed? A variety of approaches are proposed to discover the content according to one’s interest, abilities and time. Videos and audios and are in English, Spanish as well as French and in most cases, French braille and sign language. An audioguide is in the works. The exhibits are generously spaced over 3 levels with ample seating and natural lighting. Interactive supports engage the visitor with the displays on many different levels.
There is also a temporary exhibit space, a resource center and an auditorium. On level 2 a space open to the atrium below may provoke a frightening sensation to some. It is called the Science Balcony as it presents the museum’s research in different domaines. This area is also very user friendly. My son enjoyed a video on apiculture in a seat that evoked a beehive while I marveled at the glass ceiling that was part of Davioud’s original building design. The architectural history of Palais Chaillot is another fascinating story.
We particularly appreciated the comfortable sofas in the rest area on the 1st level. The calming atmosphere was the closest thing to a sensory room I have ever seen in a public building in France. It took us about an hour and a half for an overview of the Musée de L’Homme at our son’s pace. We look forward to to returning for the temporary exhibit “Nous et les Autres” (Us and Them) about prejudice and racism. According to the edition of Beaux Arts dedicated to its renovation (highly recommended) the working title was “L’exclusion de l’autre”. That idea will hopefully be revived as the museum continues to broach major issues of human interest including the sensitive ones such as inclusion of people with a handicap.
As we were leaving, a curious coincidence occurred to me. The same year Disney’s Pinocchio was released, Paul Rivet inscribed “Tu seras un homme mon fils” on the museum door. The line from If by Rudyard Kipling (another author that inspired Disney) could be the answer to Pinocchio’s question. You will be a man, my son.
The Musée de L’Homme is located in the Passy Wing of the Palais Chaillot at 17 place du Trocadero 75116 Paris. The building is shaped in a half-circle facing the Eiffel Tower, with the museum’s entrance on the right. There is a ramp, slightly farther to the right, that leads to the same entrance as the stairs. Click on the icon for the museum website in English.
When to visit: Open Wednesday through Monday 10am to 6pm. Closed on Tuesdays and certain holidays, January 1st, May 1st and December 25. Check the online agenda for details about guided tours.
Accessibility: Admission is free for visitors with a disability and one accompanying person. Workshops, individual guided tours, and other activities are available at a reduced price but require reservation. Guide dogs, by law, are welcome. The museum is wheelchair accessible and visitors may borrow wheelchairs, portable seats and visual aids at the Group reception desk on Level 1 of the museum. There are hearing loops installed throughout the museum. A tactile model of the entire building on Level 1 helps understand the museum’s spatial layout. A dedicated page on the website gives extensive information and downloadable documents about accommodations for specific needs but it is only in French. Inquire further by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01.44.05.72.72 between 2-5:30pm during the week except Tuesdays.
Food and Beverage: Café de l’Homme is an upscale restaurant on the ground floor. Café Lucy, on level 2 inside the museum, has light fare. Both use local, organic produce and have stunning views of the Eiffel Tower.
Restrooms: There are accessible restrooms on each level located near the cafés and/or the elevators. In a nod to gender equality, the changing tables are in both men’s and women’s toilets. A non-gender specific restroom, however, would have made the facilities truly family friendly.
Bus: Lines 22 and 32, Scheffer or Trocadéro stop, Lines 30 and 63, Trocadéro stop
Metro: Trocadéro (lines 6 and 9) exit Avenue Paul Dormer is right in front of the museum
By Car: The museum does not have a parking lot but there some on street parking and the website indicates reserved handicap parking and a private lot nearby.