Museums belong to what we are used to thinking of as enduring institutions in
European national cultures, resistant to change. Or in metaphorical language, as sanctuaries for material and immaterial reminiscences of own or distant cultures. Their status as safe sanctuaries is not so evident any longer. In Paris two renowned and venerable anthropological museums close their doors in 2003, to combine and reinvent themselves in the form of one transformed institution, a museum of art and civilisations. Another metamorphosis is the closing of the national museum for French popular culture (in Paris) and the subsequent birth (in Marseille) of a museum for European and Mediterranean civilisations. A third significant change is the (politically enforced) introduction of primitive art from the Third World in the Louvre, the bulwark of Western art. This article describes these transformations and the associated debates, and discusses the factors behind: paradigmatic changes and intrascientific developments within ethnology and anthropology, new ways of representing the nation, the European and the Other, as well as political power and public taste.