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Starting with a prehistoric canoe from 4600 b.c. and continuing into the 20th century, the history of Paris is recounted at this fascinating museum, through items as diverse as Gallo-Roman figurines, Napoléon’s toiletry kit, and an 18th-century portrait of Benjamin Franklin when he was the U.S. ambassador to France.

The museum is housed in two magnificent 17th-century mansions. Little of the original interior decoration remains in either building, but this is made up for by the importation of entire rooms, including wall paneling and furniture, from various private mansions of different epochs. Highlights include the Louis XV–style Salon des Philosophes, with its beautiful boisseries (carved wood paneling) and historical objects like the inkwell of Jean-Jacques Rousseau; and the 18th-century Café Militaire, a room from an officer’s cafe with gilded and sculpted wood paneling representing military motifs.

The section on the French Revolution includes several fascinating mementos, such as the keys to the Bastille prison and a copy of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” that once hung behind the president of the Convention. Particularly moving are the personal objects of the royal family from their last days in prison—a lock of Marie Antoinette’s hair, Louis XVI’s razor and water glass, the young Dauphin’s writing exercises—reminders that these iconic figures were in fact made of flesh and blood.