The Historial Charles de Gaulle


To mark the 80th anniversary of De Gaulle’s call to arms of 18 June 1940, the Musée de l’Armée has completely revamped the Historial Charles de Gaulle to offer visitors a considerably enhanced museum experience.

France Forever, 1942, mobile in the form of a Cross of Lorraine, by Alexander Calder, Musée de l’Armée. © 2020 Calder Foundation, New York / ADAGP, Paris

On 9 November 2004, the anniversary of de Gaulle’s death, President Jacques Chirac announced the creation of a museum devoted to the General, within the Musée de l’Armée, at Les Invalides. It officially opened in February 2008, after three years of works undertaken by the Musée de l’Armée and the Fondation Charles de Gaulle. The near-absence of de Gaulle collections led to the creation of a specific cultural facility, a veritable audiovisual monument conceived entirely around the staged presentation of archives, productions and interviews with historians. Following the initial choice of site, the museum was specifically located in the basement of the Hôtel National des Invalides, in order to provide it with sufficient technical capacity. The resulting technical specificity makes this historic remembrance site a veritable “interpretation centre” that has served as a model for a number of facilities since, in France and overseas.

Twelve years after it opened, although audience surveys and an analysis of the visitor book showed that the Historial continued to be seen as a modern space with valued historical content, it was acknowledged that updating and modernisation were necessary, in particular the renewal of equipment, some of which was nearing the end of its life. While some systems remained perfectly suitable, others had become less efficient and some were out of step with recent developments in technology. The facility, which receives approximately 200 000 visitors each year, was therefore in need of a general overhaul, according to a comprehensive survey of the site carried out in 2017.

The main focus of the renovation involved a variety of aspects. Visitor welcome, for instance, was given a complete rethink. The identity and presence of the Historial within the building of Les Invalides were entirely revised, from the entrance in the museum’s west wing, to the landings, stairwell and entry arch. On passing through this new entrance, visitors are met by the Musée de l’Armée’s major new heritage acquisition: the France Forever mobile, made by Alexander Calder in 1942, a piece recognised by the Ministry of Culture as being of major heritage interest. Bought with the patronage of the CIC, a key partner of the Musée de l’Armée, the mobile in the form of an almost solar Cross of Lorraine symbolises the future victory of the forces of Free France over the black clouds of oppression and barbarism. A dedicated display accompanies this exceptional work.

The redesign of the visitor areas is accompanied by a restructuring, with the creation of an exhibition space and temporary displays enhanced with new visitor tools. Among them, a next-generation automatic infrared audioguide system has been put in place, along with lots of additional information screens. All these technological advances have also been deployed across the content, with the replacement or adaptation of existing layouts, redesigned ergonomics, updated transmission systems, etc. All this concerted modernisation work aims both to improve visitor comfort and further enrich the scientific content, which has been considerably developed.

Vincent Giraudier, responsable de l’historial Charles de Gaulle au musée de l’armée

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