Curators say the Maison Mantin in Moulins, central France offers a unique freeze-frame of turn-of-the-century France in all its grandeur and strangeness.

What precisely lay behind the imposing 19th century mansion's locked doors and shuttered windows had been the subject of intrigue for decades.Some believed that its wealthy, unconventional former owner, Louis Martin, had hidden a collection of human skeletons among its many rooms.It was closed shortly after his death in 1905 and its contents left to attract dust, mold, woodworm and rats.

Mr Mantin made his fortune in land and property but died unmarried and childless aged just 54 – only eight years after the sumptuous home was completed. It had been built on the ruins of a 15th-century castle that had belonged to the aristocratic Bourbon family.

In his will, he bequeathed the house to the town, specifying that he wanted it to be made a museum a century after his death.Although he left no orders to have it sealed, the mansion was left practically untouched all those years, its eerie calm even unbroken by the occupying German forces of the Second World War.

As the centenary of Mr Mantin's death approached, the town was spurred to act on his bequest as it faced losing the building to a surviving heir.Under French law, Mr Mantin's great-niece Isabelle de Chavagnac could claim it back 100 years on.  

When they opened up the house, experts found it in a musty and awful condition, with insects everywhere.There were no skeletons but a host of untouched treasures, including rich tapestries, extremely rare gilded leather wall coverings and contemporary artworks.  Thanks to a £2.9 million refurbishment funded by local authorities, the mansion has been fully restored and is now open to the public.

Source: Telegraph Online