(c) Paul N. Dubuisson (1)(c) Paul N. Dubuisson (1)
©(c) Paul N. Dubuisson (1)|Musée Champollion - Paul-N. Dubuisson
An illustrious manA prodigious life

Meeting with Champollion

The famous decipherer of hieroglyphs, founder of egyptology, Jean-François Champollion, was born in Figeac on December 23, 1790. Dying at the age of forty-two, his life was, in its brevity, one of prodigious intensity. By deciphering heroglyphs, Champollion contributed greatly to the enrichment of human memory. From his childhood in Figeac to the expedition that led him to the shores of the Nile, let’s go and meet a man of conviction, erudite, tenacious, enthusiastic and passionate, attached to his family and friends.

The book

A family history

Jean-François Champollion was born into a family that belonged to the petty bourgeoisie of Figeac. His father,Jacques Champollion, a book peddler originally from the Dauphiné, settled in Figeac in 1770. He opened the city’s first bookstore, place de la Halle, a place much frequented by the city’s cultivated population. He moved into a house, rue de la Boudousquerie, now rue de Frères Champollion. In 1773, he married Jeanne-Françoise Gualieu, the daughter of a city merchant.

Originally from a family of seven children, Champollion Le Jeune was the couple’s last child. Baptized at the churchNotre-Dame-Du-Puy, he grew up among books and showed extraordinary precociousness. At the age of five, he learned to read on his own.

Early on, his brother Jacques-Joseph Champollion, one of the most prominent intellectuals in the city of Grenoble, took him under his wing and took charge of his education. He took him with him in 1801 and got him into the Lycée de Grenoble. He will be by his side all his life to encourage him in his work.

A man


Jean-François avidly studies languages and ancient writings. At 17, he already knew that ancient Egypt would be the focus of his life. In 1807, he left to study in Paris, attending the Collège de France, the École spéciale des Langues Orientales and the Imperial Library. He undertook or deepened the study of many languages and scripts: Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Ethiopian, Sanskrit, Persian,Chinese and especially the Coptic. Appointed professor of ancient history at the Faculty of Letters in 1809, he also served as assistant librarian to his brother at the Grenoble library.


A discovery


Very soon, Champollion works on the inscription of the Rosetta Stone. Thanks to his knowledge of Greek and Coptic and by establishing correspondences between the three texts, he identifies about ten signs including those of Ptolemy. It was the in-depth study of many other texts that would lead Champollion to the discovery of the Egyptian writing system.

Thus, on September 14, 1822, after research marked by hypotheses, questioning, and brilliant insights, he wrote to himself, “I’ve got the case!” He deciphered the hieroglyphs by understanding that the writing of the heroglyphs falls under a complex system, a mixture of figurative, symbolic and phonetic signs. A fabulous discovery since we had lost the knowledge of this writing for over 2000 years!



From July 1828 to December 1829, he organized a scientific expedition to Egypt.

Appointed curator of the Egyptian department of the Musée du Louvre in 1826, he was awarded the Chaire d’Antiquité égyptienne at the Collège de France in 1831.

He died in March 1832, aged 41. He is buried in the cimetière du Père Lachaise.


in its city

Place of learning or work, destination of exile or rest, Figeac was throughout his life, a horizon both distant and recurrent.

From March 1816 to October 1817, compromised by their relationship with Napoleon during the Hundred Days, the Champollion brothers were sent into exile in Figeac upon the return of Louis XVIII to the French throne. In 1831, Champollion returned, at the invitation of his family, to his native town. He is a weakened man who joins Figeac. Champollion is happy to be away from Paris and finds, in joy, his sisters to whom he remains very attached. In the Lot, his health improves and, while finding rest there, the scholar manages to work with application and regularity.

A museum and monuments

in his memory

Place de la Raison, the obelisk in degree by architect Urbain Engel, erected in 1836, features a sculpted decoration with Egyptian references to which Jacques-Joseph Champollion collaborated. It is adorned with hieroglyphic signs evoking life and eternity.

Installed in his birthplace, the Musée Champollion – Les Écritures du Monde invites us, following in the footsteps of the decryptor, to take a journey through time and space, into the fabulous history of writing.

Created in 1990, the Place des Écritures unveils a monumental floor reproduction of the Pierre de Rosette. This x10 magnified black granite work is the work of contemporary artist Joseph Kosuth. Like the stele housed at the British Museum in London, it is engraved with three scripts: heteroglyph, demotic and ancient Greek. In a courtyard adjoining the square, the French translation of the original text is engraved on a glass plate closing a vaulted cellar at the bottom of which is visible a map of the Nile Delta where the Rosetta Stone was found.