“I can see everything from above, you just know!” Museum of plans and reliefs in Paris


Entrance to the museum

Interesting museums. On the pages of “VO” we have already talked about what can be seen in the Army Museum. But there is so much of everything that in one day it can only be bypassed … But in order to examine it, you need to allocate at least two days, and that will be a very, very cursory examination.

Two in one

There is another museum in the Paris Army Museum, so to speak, a museum within a museum, which is worth visiting at least out of curiosity alone, since there is no other such museum anywhere else. This is the Museum of Plans and Reliefs, created by chance after the idea of ​​drawing relief maps to King Louis XIV was suggested by his Minister of War Louvois. Obviously, it was clearer this way, and besides, with the help of relief maps, fortresses under construction were easier to tie to the terrain. The outstanding military engineer Vauban undertook their development, and Louis gave all the models of the fortresses he created, the status of especially important state secrets. In total, more than 20 such maps have been created. And they were kept in the Louvre, in a well-guarded room. Special people were sent to remove plans from fortresses in other countries, and the Sun King was especially interested in the fortifications of Holland. But along with the death of the king, his secrets died with him. Rather, they seemed outdated and unnecessary.


Bird’s eye view of the House of Invalids. Pay attention to the two blocks of buildings on the left, reminiscent of two huge numbers 8. So the museum we are interested in is located in the far block just in the middle of the “eight” (the red arrow points there)

Only after the Seven Years’ War began, Louis XV decided to update the old maps, which in 1754 was taken up by the Duke de Broglie, the Minister of War. We managed to restore about 15 maps, to which several new ones were added. But then they became obsolete and in 1777 they were all transported to the Invalides. Disabled people had to work so that there was something to feed them, as well as pour a portion of wine, the deprivation of which there was one of the most serious punishments! But they had to be given work according to their strength – after all, disabled people – that’s when they came up with the idea that they would work on making such relief maps and plans! The production of relief plans was resumed during the Revolution and continued under Napoleon 1. It was stopped only after the war of 1870 in connection with the refusal to build bastion fortifications.


Chamber of Cards in the Louvre.

Well, in total, from 1668 to 1870, 260 (!) Relief maps of 150 fortified objects were made, located on the borders of the kingdom, as well as in its former possessions. The collection has traditionally been classified for a long time, but has become a stunning monument to the history of fortification and model modeling.


I have always liked Mont Saint Michel very much. But when else can I see him up close. And here – here he is, with all the details

It was opened for public viewing only in 1953. By that time, museum workers had at their disposal about a hundred relief maps and about seventy detailed plans of different cities belonging to different eras. But the museum got visual aids, which were used to teach military engineers. Well, the oldest and most valuable exhibit, which dates back to 1686, is the plan for the fortifications of Perpignan, a city on the border with Spain, developed and executed by Vauban.


Here it is, this plan

Well, one of the most beautiful is the model of the fortifications of the famous island-fortress of Mont Saint-Michel in Normandy, made in 1691. This fortress was a stronghold of power on the northern coast of France, so that even the English fleet could not capture it.


And again the layout of Mont Saint Michel. Usually in all photographs we see him from the side of the coast. But here we can see how he looks from behind …

Interestingly, this very specific museum is the second most visited in the Army Museum – that’s how it is. Apparently, the desire to see huge cities and castles from above attracts people here like a magnet. It is interesting that only the exhibits themselves are illuminated in the halls, so a mysterious twilight reigns, only reinforcing the impression of what he saw. But it should be remembered that no other country in the world has had such accurate maps and terrain reliefs as those that were collected here. So, setting off on the next campaign, the French marshals should only visit here and find out if there are plans here for the conquest of a city or a fortress or not. Well, and only then act according to the circumstances. By the way, many of the surviving relief maps are still being restored, so the collection of this unusual museum is constantly being replenished.


Mont Saint Michel. Such was its development at the end of the 17th century. Masterfully made layout, right ?!

Here we digress a little from the topic, since we still need to explain in more detail why the need to create such layouts arose not earlier and not later than the era of Louis XIV. And the fact is that it was in his time that the power of artillery became such that not a single old castle and not a single old fortress could withstand their fire. That is why, starting from the 16th century, the upper parts of the medieval towers began to be dismantled, and their bases were covered with earthen ramparts, which better resisted the cast-iron cores. This is how the concept of a bastion fortification was born, brought to perfection by the same Vauban in the 17th century. But it required a more accurate reference to the area than medieval castles, which is why visual layout plans appeared at that time. Due to the accuracy of their execution, relief plans became for us an important source of information about the construction of cities before the era of the industrial revolutions. After all, the models contain not only fortifications, but also farms, mills, ports, roads and bridges. At first, the plans-reliefs by royal decree were made on the spot, directly in the settlements. Then, since 1750, a workshop for their production was located in Mezieres, and in 1777 it was transferred to the House of Invalids. The manufacturing technique and scale of the models were gradually standardized. Thus, the corresponding relief was cut out of wood, which was then covered with a layer of fine sand and silk. The trees were made of silk fibers twisted on a metal wire base. Buildings were cut from small blocks of wood and then pasted over with corrugated or dyed paper.


And this is how the rocks are depicted on this model, of which the island itself is composed.

The main scale is 1: 600, which makes it possible to show on the model even such large objects as entire cities.

Well, now let’s take a walk around this museum and see what is so interesting about it. There is a map at the entrance to it, on which all objects are marked, the models of which are in its exposition. And first of all, these are the fortifications of the English Channel, the main of which is the monastery-fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. It is a prime example of a fortress built on a rocky island. In the east of France, it is the city of Strasbourg, the defense complex of which was additionally fortified in the 2nd half of the 19th century. the construction of Fort Shavagnak.


And here is the fort of the port of Brest, 1807 – 1811.

On the Atlantic coast, many fortresses were built by the notorious minister Colbert. Here, particular attention is drawn to the model of the Belle-Ile citadel (well, the one that was reinforced by the notorious Porthos in Dumas’s novel), which reproduces this settlement after the work carried out there under the leadership of Marshal Vauban.

Models of fortifications in the province of Onissa are, first of all, forts on the islands of Ré, Oleron and Aix, and completed by Louis XIV to cover the port of Rochefort, built by Colbert deep in the estuary of the Charente River.

Famous Toulon

In Aquitaine, coastal surveillance was carried out from the port of Bayonne, which was fortified until the 20th century. The Bordeaux coast was also defended by a number of fortifications for the Blam forts, for the Pathé and for the Medoc. All of them were built between 1700 and 1705 and were directly related to the defense of the French coast during the War of Spanish Succession, which lasted from 1701 to 1713.


The interior of the museum and the layout of Bayonne

Large-scale fortification work was carried out by Vauban in the Pyrenees, and began in 1679 at his request after the war between France and Spain exposed the vulnerability of the Franco-Spanish border. Fortifications and forts here were built in pairs, such as Fort Lagarde and Fort Le Bon on the border in and near Perpignan.


The famous Saint Tropez

In the Mediterranean direction, one of the most popular models is the model of the Château d’If from 1761. Well, of course, because Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo, was also kept there! Also in the collection of the museum there is a model of the Tower of London and the fortifications of Rome.


Fort St. Nicholas. Marseilles

The section of city plans shows Paris in different eras, plans of Brest, Nantes, Versailles and Rome. These are beautifully executed ink drawings.


The illustrious castle d’If

So you will be in the Army Museum, do not be lazy, go up to the fourth floor of its left wing and visit also the Museum of Plans and Reliefs.

Well, the address of the museum is simple: France, Paris, VII arrondissement of Paris, st. Grenelle, 129, Army Museum.

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