Did you know a single tapestry can take 4 years to complete, employing as many as three to five full-time weavers? The founder of this dynasty, Jehan Gobelin, came from a family of dyers and clothmakers; in the 15th century, he discovered a scarlet dye that made him famous. By 1601, Henri IV imported 200 weavers from Flanders to make tapestries full time. Until this endeavor, the Gobelin family hadn't made any tapestries. Colbert, Louis XIV's minister, bought the works, and under royal patronage the craftsmen set about executing designs by Le Brun. After the Revolution, the industry was reactivated by Napoleon. Today, Les Gobelins is a viable business entity, weaving tapestries for museums and historical restorations around the world. Throughout most of the week, the factories are closed to casual visitors, who are never allowed to wander at will. But if you'd like insight into this medieval craft, you can participate, 3 days a week, in one of two guided tours, each lasting 90 minutes and each conducted in French. The tour guide will showcase the history of the enterprise and expose you to views of weavers and needlepoint artisans as they painstakingly ply their craft, patiently inserting stitch after laborious stitch, often while standing or seated behind huge screens of thread. If you don't speak French, pamphlets in English are distributed, each outlining the context of the lecture.
- © Frommer's 2013
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