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Paris, France

Musée de Cluny

Medieval museum built over Roman baths that features famous tapestries of a lady and a unicorn. 

The Musée de Cluny, also known as the Musée national du Moyen Âge, is housed in one of the oldest buildings in Paris, a former townhouse whose construction started in 1334. Yet beneath it is something even older: the ruins of Gallo-Roman thermal baths believed to have been used by 3rd-century boatmen. 

Inside the museum is a vast presentation of medieval life through sculptures, furnishings, stained glass, and manuscripts. However, the most significant objects are a group of Middle Ages tapestries known as “The Lady and the Unicorn.” Woven from wool and silk, five of the tapestries fixate on the five senses, with a woman interacting with a unicorn, as well as a lion and sometimes a monkey. For example, in the “sight” tapestry she holds up a mirror to the unicorn which looks at its gaze, possibly admiring its beautiful reflection. In “touch” she has her hand on the unicorn’s horn.

The sixth tapestry remains more of a mystery with its text ”À Mon Seul Désir” (“To my only desire”) interpreted most frequently as a declaration of independence or purity. No matter the meaning, it’s hard to escape the charms of the strangely captivating unicorn as it confidently poses through the scenes. 

Contributed by
Allison
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