The Archives Nationales, located at 60 Rue des Francs Bourgeois in Le Marais, was allocated to the Hôtel de Soubise in 1808 by Napoleon to ensure a concrete place to house all of France's important archival documents. In 1867, the reception rooms of the Hôtel de Soubise were allocated to the Museé des Archives Nationales, which displays some of France's most important documents in an richly historic building. However, before the Hôtel de Soubise was chosen to hold the Archives Nationales, the very existence of a system for archiving the country's documents came to be during the French Revolution as there was no centralized way to archive the nation's documents already in place. In 1790 this all changed when The Constituent Assembly officially named the Archives Nationales an official government body in order to create a system in which documents would be archived and available for free viewing by the public. Eventually, it was determined that this important task needed a permanent location in which to work, and thus the Hôtel de Soubise was chosen. The very first structures of the present day Hôtel de Soubise date all the way back to the 14th century, and the historic building was redesigned and renovated multiple times before the iconic 16th century mansion that stands today was built. Both the history of the Museé des Archives Nationales and the Hôtel de Soubise are incredibly telling of the aristocratic origins of Le Marais. The Hôtel de Soubise was built for aristocrats, and today serves as one of the most historically important places in Paris as it houses a majority of Paris' most significant historical documents and records. By serving as a prime example of both Le Marais' aristocratic past and France's quest to immortalize its' own history, the Museé des Archives Nationales inside the magnificent Hôtel de Soubise stands out as one of the most historically and culturally crucial sites in Le Marais.
Before one can understand the Museé des Archives Nationales role in society and presence in Le Marais today, it is crucial to understand this institutions rather complicated, yet essential history. When Napoleon chose the Hôtel de Soubise to house the Archives Nationales in 1808, he did so under the impression that this would be a temporary decision and that a new building dedicated specifically to this cause would be built. This building was never built, and the National Archives remained at the Hôtel de Soubise and expanded into the surrounding areas. Eventually, the Musée des Archives Nationales was founded in 1867 to display some of the country's most impressive documents. Years later, the Archives Nationales would expand to the surrounding buildings such as the Hôtel de Rohan to form the large complex that stands today.
While the history of the creation of the Archives Nationales is crucial in order to understand France's journey towards creating this institution, the history of the Hôtel de Soubise itself further demonstrates Le Marais' close relationship with the wealthiest of Parisians. The Hôtel de Soubise was constructed by one of Paris' most wealthy families, the de Guise family, who would dictate the construction and use of the building for centuries. The de Guise family purchased the building in 1553, and chose Italian artist Francesco Primitaccio for the job of rebuilding the structure, which had fallen into a state of disrepair. Later, during the Wars of Religion, the house became the headquarters for the Catholic League. This reality is quite interesting considering that Le Marais would eventually develop into one of the largest Jewish quarters in Paris. In 1700, the de Guise's stint with the building came to an end when it was purchased by François de Rohan-Soubise. Rohan-Soubise commissioned an architect to modernize and refurbish the building. Eventually, during the French Revolution, the building was acquired by the state after it had been sold in order to pay the Soubise family's creditors. Finally, in March 1808, the building was named the home of the Archives Nationales. The history of this building is incredibly crucial as it demonstrates just how much sway and power the elite had in French society for centuries before the French Revolution. The construction, remodeling, and uses of this building were completely decided by two French aristocratic families alone. Considering this reality, the Hôtel de Soubise is a prime example of immense power held by the wealthy upper echelons of French society.
Today, when visiting the Museé des Archives Nationales and wandering the halls of this incredibly decadent mansion, the building's rich history completely envelops you. Before stepping foot inside the building, the ornate 16th century architecture and décor tells its own story of the building's history and significance. The large columns that dominate the exterior of the building and beautiful statues situated on columns high above the ground elicit feelings of luxury and strength. The inside of the building is filled with endless shelves of archival documents, which emphasizes the building's academic purpose. Also inside the building are multiple rooms decorated in the style of the 16th century aristocracy, complete with magnificent chandeliers, gold covering walls and ceilings, and intricate artistic details. Stepping inside of these rooms truly feels like travelling back in time to a breathtaking 16th century mansion and living as a powerful aristocrat. While the central purpose of the Museé des Archives Nationales today is to display historical documents so that academics and the general public alike can explore them, the history of the building itself is incredibly telling of the French aristocracy's daily lives. The history of the Museé des Archives Nationales speaks to both the advantages that accompany exponential wealth as well as the role that Le Marais played in shaping and cultivating this historical phenomenon.