Le Havre – Maison de l’Armateur (Ship Owner’s House)
If you’re not that much into big museums but prefer to see old-fashion houses, the “Maison de l’Armateur” is a great visit (and it’s also a museum). The house, built in 1790, was owned by a ship owner (although he did not commission the building of the house). After having served as a house, a shop and even a hotel, the house is now a museum, with as centrepiece, the house itself.
Built inside the old fortified part of the city, the old, 5 story high house, still stands without a scratch after having seen several wars.
Since the imposing house is part of a larger block of houses located next to the old harbour (now the commercial fishing harbour- see the photo lower down), you could easily miss it. The entrance is quite small:
Since this really was “just” a house, it’s small, and its capacity is limited to some 50 people. So you stand the chance of having to wait before being able to visit the place.
TIP: If you are coming as a group, you really need to reserve in advance.
Once inside, after having paid the entrance fee, the first striking thing you notice is the tall open-air column in the middle of the house. It’s a big “light shaft”!
All 5 floors have this “light shaft” going through it, bringing in a lot of light to the centre of the house. It’s a bit reminiscent of a Moroccan Riad house, very unusual for Northern European houses.
At the ground-floor you smell seawater and dead fishes. This is accentuated at high tide, since the fishing harbour’s water flows below the house. Its basement gets flooded regularly but the smell does not propagate to the upper levels.
At the top of the “light shaft” is a glass dome, allowing for a lot of light to come into the otherwise dark house and to keep the elements out.
On each of the 5 floors you can look up or down to the other floors. It truly is the centrepiece of the house.
On each floor, the light shaft allows you to see the other rooms, since each room on each floor looks onto the other rooms (maybe a good way for the parents to check onto the children).
TIP: Since it’s an old house, and there is no elevator, it is impossible to visit the house if you are in a wheelchair. There is one stairway in use (the other was used by the servants), and it’s small and rather steep.
All the rooms have been done up the way the people used to live in those day. Kitchen, water room, offices, dining room, library, sleeping rooms, nanny’s room, etc.
Roving, non-permanent, exhibits are displayed at times (so you can see the house itself and a particular exhibit at the same time). I visited it when there was an interesting exhibit of the first hot air balloons to fly in France. You will notice for example on the table in the photo above, cups with hot air balloons painted on them, several paintings on the wall depicting hot air balloons and on the left a firewood holder in the shape of a hot air ballon.
You can see that the organisers have woven the hot air balloon exhibit nicely into the everyday items of the house. This is the nanny’s room, and you can see the painting above the bed is that of a hot air balloon.
From the front part of the house, particularly from the upper floors, you have a nice view of the commercial fishing harbour, the ferry (Le Havre to the UK), and behind that, though not visible on the photo, the cruise ship terminal.
It’s an interesting visit, and you get to see the old and interesting house, furniture and an exhibit for one price.
Click here to read more about it on the city’s web site (in French only, as are all the explanations at the house)