> The Cluny museum > The hotel of Cluny's abbots

the hotel of cluny's abbots

A backdrop for the museum

The powerful Order of Cluny

This monastic order, which was established in Burgundy and controlled a large network of abbeys across Western Europe, consisted of three colleges strategically located close to the centers of power in Paris and Avignon, as well as in Dole in the territory of the Empire. These establishments are where novices of the order would come to study their academic curriculum. The Parisian college was built in the 13th century just south of what is now place de la Sorbonne. This served as a pied-a-terre for the Abbot of Cluny during his stays in the capital as, located within the immediate proximity, it was the most suited to his status.

The history of the construction

The original residence, which was built around the same time as the college, is known only for its mention in archives. The current, distinctive town house was built in 1485 by Jacques d’Amboise, the Abbot of Cluny, who was born into one of the dominant families in the late 15th century. The head of the Order of Cluny, the young abbot had the building constructed with the aim of increasing his status, with expensive materials, a complex layout and opulent decor.

The Hôtel des abbés de Cluny

A place of residence and entertainment, the Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny stands next to and is closely linked with the Gallo-Roman baths which occupy the west side of the structure. The preservation and integration of these imposing ancient buildings was not done completely by choice; the economic dimension of the architectural project offers a partial explanation. It would have been very costly to destroy these ancient buildings just to obtain an open space and to take on the colossal labor costs involved without actually being able to sell the materials salvaged from the buildings. The master builder therefore adapted to these constraints and ingeniously used them to his advantage.

A modern and innovative distinctive town house

Built in the Gothic style, l'Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny adopts part of an exceptional residence, the private town house, an urban architectural composition which saw huge success throughout the entire Ancien Régime. Its windowless crenelated wall edges a vast interior courtyard accessible through a double door and a gate. The façades are heavily sculpted in the Flamboyant Gothic style. On the pediments of the high windows and on sections of the staircase, the coats of arms of Jacques d’Amboise affirm the power and the rank of the man who commissioned this building. The central body of the residence is flanked by two wings; one on the East side where the kitchens are located on the ground floor and the other on the West side, forming a gallery on the first floor above a series of open arcades. The architect skillfully made the most of this irregularly-shaped plot of land and the presence of the ancient buildings, finding novel solutions to the constraints faced.

The chapel of the Hôtel de Cluny

The chapel, the jewel in the crown of the residence, occupies a unique location at the back of the building, highlighting its private nature. Almost square in shape, a dense network of ribs unfolds from its single central pillar. It also once functioned as a place of passage in the building’s layout, enabling the abbot to access the garden directly via a spiral staircase in a vaulted room. This once rather modestly sized garden used to provide a link with the main body of the building. On the west side, two rooftop gardens were created on the thick arches of the frigidarium.

A little château in the center of town

Detail of the facade of the Hôtel

Today, l'Hôtel des Abbés de Cluny is both similar to and quite different from how it looked in the Middle Ages. Its façades and roofs benefited from high-quality restoration work in the 19th century, scrupulously led by Albert Lenoir in accordance with the original layouts. However, the urban fabric into which it was once nestled has since disappeared, following Baron Haussman's town planning work, which significantly modified the perception of this remarkable emblem of civil medieval architecture, an “urban gem”, as Prosper Mérimée called it.