Housed in a series of 17th-century buildings on Avenue des Gobelins, the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins is a government-run tapestry factory and museum dedicated to showcasing the historic art of tapestry weaving and traditional crafts.
Named after the Gobelin dynasty, a family of dyers who shot to fame after discovering a much sought-after scarlet dye in the 15th-century, the district became renowned throughout the 17th-century for producing tapestries under royal patronage of Henri IV and later, Louis XIV. It was Colbert, Louis XIV's minister who first formed the Manufacture Royale des Meubles de la Couronne (Royal Cabinet-Makers), bringing together the tapestry, cabinet and goldsmiths workshops in the area that today is home to the Manufacture Nationale des Gobelins.
Today the historic district is still a working entity, preserving the art form by producing and restoring tapestries from around the world. Although normally closed to visitors, several weekly guided tours allow visitors the chance to peek inside and watch the craftsmen at work. Visitors can learn about the origins and development of the historic crafts; discover how the dyes were found and produced; understand the years of work that goes into producing a single tapestry; and see the 17th-century weaving techniques still in use today. Displays of intricate hand weaving offer an insight into the painstaking process and there are often hands-on workshops available where visitors can try out their tapestry skills on an ancient loom. Also on site is the Galerie des Gobelins, displaying the royal factory collections and hosting a series of temporary exhibitions of ancient and contemporary art.