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While today’s Louvre serves a huge museum, it has gone through several different phases throughout the history.
Founding of the Louvre
The known history of the Louvre started as early as year 1190, when king Filip II built a fortress on the site to protect Paris from Viking raiders. The remains of this fortress can actually still be seen in the Louvre crypt.
During the 14th century, Charles V converted the fortress into a royal residence and later in 1546, Francis I had the whole site renovated into the French Renaissance style Louvre one can see today. Francis I is by many seen as the founder of the modern Louvre, as he not only renovated the site, but also acquired the Louvre’s center piece; the Mona Lisa.
Visitors to the Louvre can see an inscription on either side main entrance to Pavillon Sully. The left one says that in 1541, Francis began the construction of the modern Louvre. Underneath, one can read that Catherine de Médicis - wife to Francis second son - founded the Tuileries Palace in 1564. The inscription on the right side states that Napoleon III united the Louvre with the Tuileries between year 1852 and 1857.
The Tuileries Palace
The Tuileries Palace was standing behind the large arc, which now forms the entrance to the Louvre, and looked very similar to the Louvre buildings of today. The palace was at this time connected to the Louvre, so the courtyard you are now standing in used to be an enclosed space.
The Tuileries Palace was later burned and destroyed during the reign of the Paris Commune in late 19th century.
During the reign of Louis XIV, the construction and expansion of the Louvre was slowed down, as Louis moved his court from the Louvre to Versailles in late 17th century. Instead of housing the royal court, the Louvre began to serve more as a museum and as a residence for artists.
The museum was however still very much closed to the general public. By the mid 18th century, more and more voices were calling for a public gallery within the Louvre.Louis XVsoon agreed on this matter and displayed of some of the royal collection in the Louvre for the public. With this, the idea of a national museum was born.
However, none of the many offers, suggesting that the Louvre would be turned into a museum, was agreed upon by the king.
After the French Revolution in the end of the 18th century, the newly constituted National Assembly decided that the Louvre should serve as a public museum and display the nation’s masterpieces.
The museum was opened for the public in 1793 with an exhibition of 537 paintings, the majority of the works being confiscated church and royal property. With the opening of the public museum, the modern Louvre as we now know it was born.
Why visit Louvre ?
The Musée du Louvre is the largest national museum in France and an absolute must for anyone interested in art or history. The Louvre, as it is often called, is not only the largest museum in France, it is also the most visited museum in the whole world. The museum houses several pieces of art which are renown all over the world, the most famous one being Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa.
The Louvre has more to offer than just beautiful art; the area itself is one of the most beautiful places in Paris. As noted before, the architectural style of the Louvre is typical French Renaissance.
By looking at the outside of the Louvre, one can see that it is covered in magnificent sculptures. Above the first level stands a row of statues that goes all along the front facade the Louvre. These are statues of noted French scholars and other academics that all played a part in the French history.
While the Louvre buildings themselves are impressive, there are some other features worth mentioning. One of them is the arch that marks the entrance to the Louvre. This arc, built in early 19th century, is called “Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel”. The arc was, just like its famous big brother, built in honor of Napoleon Bonaparte’s military victories. While it is only half the size of the Arc du Triomphe, it is still an impressive sight and definitely worth a close inspection.
Another main feature of the Louvre is of course the glass pyramid, located in the center of the courtyard. The pyramid was designed by the American-Japanese architect Ieoh Ming Pei on order by the French President François Mitterrand.
In 1983, Mitterrand arranged an architectural competition for a grand renovation of the Louvre, where one of the main objectives was to create a new entrance into the Louvre.
An elegant solution
Pei´s winning entry is a smart construction. It creates a new entrance to the Louvre while at the same time not blocking the view to the main buildings due to its glass structure. It did however cause a lot of controversy when it was introduced, as its modern look is very different compared to its surrounding Renaissance buildings.
The origin of the name, “Louvre”, is somewhat uncertain. Some believe it refers to the structure's status as the largest building in late 12th century Paris, as the French word for “masterpiece” is “chef d'oeuvre”.
A popular site
Being the world’s most visited museum, the Louvre receives around 15.000 visitors per day, so expect some crowds. The crowds usually aren’t terrifying though, as Musée du Louvre has so many objects and covers such a large area. It is absolutely huge. It covers more than 60,000 square meters and holds more than 380,000 objects, so if one can forget about doing the whole Louvre in one afternoon.
Today, the Louvre and its surroundings has become an icon of Paris and one of the most loved sites in Paris.
Louvre is slightly askew of the historic axis; a roughly eight-kilometer architectural line bisecting the city. It begins on the east in the Louvre courtyard and runs west along the Champs-Élysées.
The Louvre can be reached by the Palais Royal, Musée du Louvre Métro or the Louvre-Rivoli stations. It is also easy accessible by foot. For the exact location of the Louvre, check out the location map to the right.
Statue of Vauban. © WSG.
Interactive location map. For a larger and more detailed map, check out our France map.
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