In the early 1980s, the newly-arrived Socialist government, under the impetus of its Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, launched two events for mass access to culture. The first, in 1982, was the Fête de la Musique – since then, every year on June 21st, all sorts of people of various musical ability hit the streets and do their thing. The second, in 1984, was the Open House Days in France’s historical monuments. This has gone on to be an extraordinarily successful event, now expanded to all of Europe and called the European Heritage Days, or Journées Européennes du Patrimoine.
The JEP are a superb opportunity to raise awareness of our heritage and to visit many places that are ordinarily off limits. It is always impressive to see the enthusiasm with which people take part in this, with long lines in many locations and small groups trecking to visit some truly unusual locations in others.
If you happen to be in France on the date (this year it will be September 17th and 18th) you should absolutely make it a point to do something special. You can search the fill list of locations at journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr, but here are some ideas:
Fondation Eugène Napoléon: created at the initiative of Emperor Napoleon III and Empress Eugénie, designed by Jacques-Ignace Hittorff, it is usually not accessible. There is a chapel and gardens that are hidden from the street.
The Hôtel de Lauzun on the Île Saint-Louis is a place you would ordinarily not even notice, much less visit. Despite its discrete entrance, it is a seventeenth century residence designed by the great architect Louis Le Vau. The interiors are famous – there is a reproduction among the period rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the nineteenth century, Baudelaire and Gautier lived in this house – there will be readings of texts by Gautier for those waiting in line.
The Suez House was the property of the Suez company, which merged with Gaz de France a few years ago. It houses collections relating to the creation of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the visionary behind the canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps. Visitors will have access to the grand staircase, library, and board room and to the collections. There will be screenings of films about the canal and readings and games for kids.
In Paris, the Cité de Chaillot, the architecture museum, is organizing many activities, including a full schedule of events and screening.
This concept has proven extraordinarily successful elsewhere: the English Heritage Trust organizes the immensely popular Heritage Open Days; the Tag des offenen Denkmals was the opportunity for 4.5 million people to visit Germany’s monuments last year; and the Dutch Open Monumentendag is celebrating its 25th edition. It would be wonderful to see a similar large-scale celebration of our shared cultural heritage in the United States.