Heritage preservation: a monumental task akin to a pharaonic construction site

There are 45,000 monuments scattered throughout the national territory. Manifestation of the richness of history and hexagonal culture, however, the heritage must be preserved. The difficulties encountered by the state in preserving the entire area are forcing both public and private actors to diversify the functions attributed to monuments, as well as their funding to enable them to survive.

A cultural wealth with holes in its pockets

The problem is the long-standing successive governments since the 19e century are aware of the importance of preserving and enhancing the national heritage. However, cathedrals, castles, old factories and other buildings are not preserved by the sole will of a state and require a lot of cold hard currency, which is often missing, and especially in places – the distribution of endowments is a daily reminder of how France was a centralized state remains – the national domain. Lack often sparks the imagination and countless alternatives have been found, both locally and nationally. The Loto du patrimoine, which has placed the Republic under the auspices of Stéphane Bern, a staunch defender in this field, thus makes it possible, through a professional partnership with the Française des Jeux and the Fondation du Patrimoine, to interest the French in the preserving their monuments by pulling the rope of profit, justified by an act of philanthropy. The model has already proven itself elsewhere in Europe, especially with our neighbors across the Channel, where the love of gambling and betting is well established. Positioning themselves on a more educational credo, certain places such as the swimming pool of Roubaix, setting up the Patron Ticket: for a few euros more, anyone can participate in the restoration of a work or part of the place visited. More modern, websites like Dartagnans are setting up financing solutions in the form of crowdfunding, with descriptions, promotional videos and targets to be achieved to boost the process.

Money doesn’t grow on trees but on the facades of monuments

Conservations and renovations are prompting the Center des monuments nationaux (CMN) to think about innovative solutions in financing. In this sense, the Hôtel de la Marine is in the 8e arrondissement of Paris has experienced a double revolution. The four-year renovation, worth EUR 130 million, was financed for 80% by the letting of 6,700 square meters of offices, in the areas designated as less interesting, from own resources, subsidies, but also by the use of advertising tarpaulins, which evoked a wave of criticism, but made it possible to raise 8 million euros in just thirteen months. The renovation of the place was also done thanks to the participation of many patrons, such as the insurance broker Siaci Saint Honoré, who took care of certain parts of the place, in exchange for the exclusive privilege of their privatization. This new approach, integrating more intensive partnerships between the public and private sectors, could serve as an example in this area, given the very favorable reception by the CMN and its president, Philippe Bélaval.

Previously open to the public only on heritage days, the former navy headquarters is also undergoing a transformation in its use, now taking on the costume of a museum, while serving as a storage and display place for the famous collection. Al-Thani, for the next twenty years.


Hangar Y has seen many uses: rebuilt in Meudon in 1880 after being designed on the Champs de Mars by Gustave Eiffel for the Universal Exhibition of 1878, the site was successively the first airship factory in the world, the museum of l’Air, or the assembly workshop for the ceiling of the Opéra Garnier for Marc Chagall. The current restoration of the site by Vinci is a novelty, with the creation of the first administrative leasehold of appraisal, which makes it possible to transfer ownership of a property to a private actor for several decades. The model offers the advantage of shortening implementation times, as it is not done through public tenders, while respecting the standards and restrictions applicable to buildings belonging to the historical heritage.

The central question that arises with regard to historical monuments concerns the use made of them, the notion of utility must be posed in order to revive the historical heritage, combining cultural and economic success. The recent health crisis has highlighted the state’s huge reliance on tourism. Some sites have seen a drastic drop in visitor numbers, the CMN has seen the influx of visits drop from 10 million in 2018 and 2019 to just 4 million in 2021. The remnants of the past are thus reinventing their present and opening up to new ones. use, become hybrid, open spaces. The CMN will soon conduct an experiment to make certain places third: the list is not yet final, but mention is made of the castle of Angers, the citadel of Mont-Dauphin, or even the castle of Villers-Cotterêts where Emmanuel Macron wants to install the International City of the French language. There are many possibilities, with the integration of fun experiences, culinary courses or even coworking spaces. What seems to be taking shape in the coming years is a phase of experimentation, trial and error and diversification of uses for a range of buildings. If a more general appeal to private sector participation in preserving the national domain requires clarifications and requires an adequate legal framework, the aim could be to lead to a revitalization both of the state and of the use of a large part of the inheritance.

Emile Le Scel

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