France in miniature
Spectacular models from the Musée des Plans-reliefs

from Louis XIV to Napoléon III
18 January to 17 February 2012 – Grand Palais


France in miniature, under the great glass roof of the Grand Palais. Arranged around a 650 square-metre map of France, sixteen scale models of fortified towns, produced in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, are to go on show in this prestigious Champs-Élysées setting. Interactive multimedia displays and innovative exhibition design will allow visitors to examine every detail of these extraordinary models. This exhibition is an unmissable opportunity for the general public to view spectacular pieces from the Musée des Plans-reliefs in Paris.


These historic models of fortified towns (plans-reliefs) are part of a unique collection begun in 1668 under Louis XIV and expanded until 1873. Initially created for military purposes, the 1/600th-scale models represented fortifications and their surroundings to help the central government prepare defensive operations. But they were also used for reasons of prestige: exhibited until 1777 in the Galerie du Bord de l’Eau of the Louvre, they expressed the power of France. Teams of engineers and topographers were sent all over the country to produce these models. Constructed in wood, paper, silk and metal, they reproduce the smallest details with remarkable precision.
The Musée des Plans-reliefs possesses over a hundred of these scale models. Sixteen of the most impressive pieces – the model of Cherbourg covers some 160 square metres – will be exhibited in the great hall of the Grand Palais. They illustrate how national borders change over the centuries: some of the towns on display, such as Bergen-op-Zoom (in Holland) or Exilles (in Italy), were once French. Others, such as Saint-Omer or Besançon, were once foreign but later became French. Each model will also be presented from a particular angle, focusing on the town’s construction and planning, defence techniques and the art of war, the history of the town and its province, or its changing environment. The model of Brest, which was finished in 1811 and depicts the old town that was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, will be compared with contemporary views.

These various approaches will be developed through a range of interactive features, including audiovisual documents, multimedia terminals and touch screens. The exhibition design will make the most of the vast space in the great hall of the Grand Palais and allow visitors to examine the models very closely. To situate each town geographically, the scale models will be displayed around a huge floor map of France covering 650 square metres. This exhibition is the first to be produced by the Maison de l’histoire de France (MHF), with the support of the RMN-Grand Palais and the scientific partnership of the Musée des Plans-reliefs. It reflects the MHF’s principal aim, which is to bring France’s rich history alive for the widest possible audience.


Scale models exhibited

Fort-Barraux (Isère), Montmélian (Savoie), Exilles (Italy), Fenestrelle (Italy), Embrun (Hautes-Alpes), Grenoble (Isère), Briançon (Hautes-Alpes), Mont-Dauphin (Hautes-Alpes), Besançon (Doubs), Neuf-Brisach (Haut-Rhin), Strasbourg (Bas-Rhin), Luxembourg, Bergen-op-Zoom (Holland), Saint-Omer (Pas-de-Calais), Cherbourg (Manche), Brest (Finistère).


Chief curators

Max Polonovski, director of the Musée des Plans-reliefs
Éric Deroo, historian and documentary film-maker, member of the MHF Scientific Advisory Committee

Associate curator

Isabelle Warmoes, research officer at the Musée des Plans-reliefs

Exhibition design

Agence NC Nathalie Crinière


This exhibition is produced under the aegis of the Ministry of Culture and Communication. It is organized by the Maison de l’histoire de France, the RMN-Grand Palais, and the Musée des Plans-reliefs.


Visitor information

Grand Palais
Main entrance
Avenue Winston-Churchill – 75008 Paris

Metro: Champs-Élysées Clemenceau (line 1, 13) or Franklin D. Roosevelt (line 9)

Opening hours: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday: 10am to 8pm. Friday late opening: 10am to 10pm. Closed Tuesday

Ticket prices:
Standard admission: 5 € / Concessions: 2,50 €
Free admission for persons under 26


The making-of of the exhibition (in French)

Produced by ECPAD