For crime buffs, French history lovers and visitors who are simply looking for something a little different, the Paris Police Museum (Musee de la Prefecture) certainly fits the bill. Here, visitors can peruse some 2,000 original artifacts related to criminal and police history. Items in the collection span from 1667, when Louis XIV created the post of Police Lieutenant, to 1945 and the end of World War II.
This entirely free Parisian museum, established in 1909, is housed within the present-day police department of the 5th arrondissement. Boasting 5,600 square feet of exhibition space, the quiet and virtually unknown museum, housed on the third floor, offers a fascinating display of old police uniforms and weapons that were used to fight crime, as well as evidence from famous criminal and historical events that have taken place in Paris.
Some Tips for Your Visit: What to Focus On?
The museum is laid out in chronological order and begins with a bang-- or a stabbing, as it were-- documenting the assassination of King Henry IV in May 1610 by François Ravaillac on a Parisian street, along with the tortures Ravaillac suffered before succumbing to his death an hour later. The open police registry reveals elaborate French script that can easily be mistaken for a book of poetry rather than an account of the murder.
Manuscripts, 17th-century maps of Paris, caricatures of villains and various prints sit alongside old bill posters that, until the 20th century, were the chief way police regulations were communicated to Paris citizens. Many of these edicts came directly from kings.
Haunting Artifacts From the French Revolution of 1789
Sketches of Louis XVI bidding farewell to Marie Antoinette and his children before being taken to his execution by revolutionary guards are haunting even in pencil form.
So, too, are the commemorative medals that were made to celebrate his death. The king's son Louis XVII's autopsy is situated within the same case, as well details explaining how the child prince's heart was moved to the Basilica of Saint-Denis just north of Paris.
Behind the next wall sits a replica of a guillotine, with the actual blade used during the Revolution on Place de Gréve (now the Place de l'Hotel de Ville where City Hall stands) enclosed in a glass case beside it. The blade weighs close to 20 pounds. Documents of the creation of the Commune of Paris follow, along with an eye-catching book written by J.F.N Dusaulchoy describing the agony that took place at the old prison (now a train station) at Saint Lazare under the leadership of despotic revolutionary leader Robespierre.
Enter Napoleon Bonaparte
To bring an end to the instability within the police force during the early years of the Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte established the role of the Préfet de Police in 1880. The room depicting this evolution is an absolute treasure trove of shackles, handcuffs, weapons and theft devices of all shapes and sizes.
One especially interesting artifact in this section is a police phone calling station from Bois de Vincennes dating to the German occupation, an actual prison door (number 58) from the Mazas prison and an unusually long camera used for taking mug shots.
From the Belle Epoque to the World Wars
The room leads to a meticulous recreation of a police office between 1893 and 1914, complete with police mannequins taking a mug shot of a seated and shackled prisoner.
Perhaps one of the most powerful items of memorabilia is what's left of a wooden pole used for mass executions by the Germans during World War II, sourced from Issy Les Moulineaux in the southwestern suburban area of Paris. There are numerous dents and pieces missing from the pole, along with pictures of it situated next to others, creating a truly haunting image.
Elsewhere in this section, pictures of the Parisian police force trying to hold off the Germans are taken from inside the very buildings where the police were shooting from. Relics from the 1945 Liberation of Paris soon follow, including the bottle of a Molotov cocktail.
Location and Contact Information
The museum is located on the third floor of the police station of the 5th arrondissement.
Address: 4, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève
Metro: Maubert-Mutualité (Line 10)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 44 41 52 50
Visit the official website
Sights and Attractions Nearby
More Collections for History & Military Buffs
If you enjoy this museum, you can also visit Musée de l'Armée (Paris Army Museum), located within the sprawling military hospital and complex known as Les Invalides. We also recommend that you visit the Musée Carnavalet, another free collection dedicated to the long and fascinating history of Paris.