Visiting the Gisson Museum In Sarlat-la-Canéda, The Complete Guide

Sarlat-la-Canéda is a stunning medieval town, often considered the crown jewel of the Dordogne.

While the town’s splendor might make you hesitant to step indoors, the Gisson Museum is well worth a visit.

It’s housed in one of Sarlat’s most remarkable medieval buildings, and offers a fascinating glimpse into 17th and 18th century French noble life.

The mansion was the home of the aristocratic Gisson family.

facade of Guisson Museum

The Gissons held many honorary titles, including consul, royal notary, Knight of the Order of Saint-Louis, and Captain of the Dragoons.

The museum shows off their beautifully preserved rooms furnished with period antiques, art, and decor. There’s also an astounding collection of quirky artifacts in the vaulted basement.

In this guide to the Gisson Museum, I’ll tell you everything to see and provide tips for visiting. There are three floors to inspect and a small attic.

Grand Salon
Grand Salon

Guide To The Gisson Museum: What To See


The building dates from the 13th century/ The museum is made up of two buildings, connected by a hexagonal stair tower.

You can admire the elegant mullioned windows, slate roofs, and leaded windows on the facade. The windows are crowned with oculi, which serve both an aesthetic and decorative purpose.

Private Quarters of the Counsel

The first part of the tour turns back the curtain on the everyday life of the Gisson family. There are 10 rooms to visit.

You’ll pass through a grand salon, petit salon, study, bedrooms, lounges, dining room, and kitchen.

There’s an impressive spiral staircase and a terrace that offers exceptional views of the old town.

The most impressive room is the grand salon. There is beautifully detailed furniture, including ornately carved wooden chairs, sumptuous sofas, and an impressive fireplace that serves as the room’s focal point.

Oddly, there is a four poster bed in the room. It was likely a symbol of status or perhaps used for guests on occasion.

The dining room is also gorgeous. It’s called La Salle d’Honneur.

There’s another grand fireplace and carved wood furniture. The ceiling is beautiful — timbered and painted with floral motifs.

Along the route, there is some exquisite period furniture. And the floors are gorgeous — some adobe, some stone, and wood.

There are costumed mannequins in many rooms to give you an idea of how people dressed during the period. There are also family portraits.

spiral staircase

The spiral staircase is a fine example of medieval stonework. Each step is carefully carved and fitted to create a seamless, spiraling ascent in a clockwise direction.

The story goes that staircases were designed this way, with a central pole, to make fighting more difficult.

An assailant would be hard pressed to fight with a sword in his right hand, squished against the pole.

In reality, this is probably a myth. The spiral design was used to save space and, in the Gisson’s time, was a mark of status.

display in the Cabinet of Curiosities
Cabinet of Curiosities

Cabinet of Curiosities

In the vaulted basement areas, there is a remarkable “cabinet of curiosities.”

These type of cabinets were forerunners of modern day museums and played an important role in the advancement of science..

The collection is an eclectic mix of artifacts and oddities from around the world. 

Collecting oddities was a fashionable hobby of the well-to-do in the period after the Renaissance.

The Gissons, like other collectors of the day, bought up items that sailors and explorers brought back from their adventures abroad. The more outlandish and ghoulish the better!

Kids will love this area! You can examine masks, headdresses, animal fossils, skeletons, stuffed animals, weapons, armory, and even a Nile crocodile.

To me, the masks were the most interesting. There were African masks, plague masks, masks of disgrace, and scolds bridles.

There is a copy of the iron mask, from the “Man with the Iron Mask.” Legend holds that he was imprisoned 34 years by Louis XIV.

It’s a perplexing story. He was kept alive all that time, but could communicate with no one. What secret did he hold?

red hanging tapestry

Practical Guide & Tips For The Gisson Museum

Address: Place du Marche aux Oies, Sarlat la Canéda

Hours: 10:0 am to 7:00 pm, closing at 6:00 pm or 6:30 pm outside high season.

Tickets: 8.50 euros

Pro Tips:

When you buy your ticket, you’ll be given a rather hefty guide in English discussing all the rooms you’ll visit.

You’ll need to be able to climb up winding stairs. But there is a handrail.

You can visit on your own, which was what we did. You can also take a 45 minute guided tour.

You can also take photos, always a plus to me.

Right outside the building, you will see two interesting bronze sculptures, the Gawker and the Three Geese.

Is the Gisson Museum Worth Visiting?

I admit that I visited partly to escape a rain shower. That said, it was exactly the type of small museum I particularly like.

It’s a wonderful historic building, and it gives you a window into life centuries ago. Plus, aside from the cathedral, it’s the only medieval building you can actually enter in Sarlat.


costumed mannequin

If hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the Gisson Museum in Sarlat-la-Canéda. You may find these other southern France travel guides useful:

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