Musée du Louvre
Good for: Van Gogh paintings, Paintings, Art Enthusiasts, Art affectionados, discover Paris
Not good for: couch potatoes, food, crowds, expensive coffee
Lonely Planet review for Musée du Louvre
The vast Palais du Louvre was constructed as a fortress by Philippe-Auguste in the early 12th century and rebuilt in the mid-16th century as a royal residence. The Revolutionary Convention turned it into a national museum in 1793.
The paintings, sculptures and artefacts on display in the Louvre Museum have been amassed by subsequent French governments. Among them are works of art and artisanship from all over Europe and collections of Assyrian, Etruscan, Greek, Coptic and Islamic art and antiquities. The Louvre’s raison d’être is essentially to present Western art from the Middle Ages to about 1848 (at which point the Musée d’Orsay takes over), as well as works from ancient civilisations that formed the starting point for Western art.
When the museum opened in the late 18th century it contained 2500 paintings and objets d’art; today some 35,000 are on display. The ‘Grand Louvre’ project inaugurated by the late President Mitterrand in 1989 doubled the museum’s exhibition space, and both new and renovated galleries have opened in recent years devoted to objets d’art such as the crown jewels of Louis XV (Room 66, 1st floor, Apollo Gallery, Denon Wing). Late 2012 saw the opening of the new Islamic art galleries in the restored Cour Visconti, topped with an elegant, shimmering gold ‘flying carpet’ roof designed by Italian architects Mario Bellini and Rudy Ricciotti.
The richness and sheer size of the place (the south side facing the Seine is 700m long and it’s estimated it would take nine months just to glance at every work) can be overwhelming. However, there’s an array of innovative, entertaining self-guided thematic trails (1½ to three hours; download trail brochures in advance from the website) ranging from a Louvre masterpieces trail to the art of eating, plus several for kids (hunt lions, galloping horses). Equally entertaining are the Louvre’s new, self-paced multimedia guides (€5). More-formal, English-language guided toursdepart from the Hall Napoléon, which also has free English-language maps.
For many, the star attraction is Leonardo da Vinci’s La Joconde, better known as Mona Lisa (Room 6, 1st floor, Denon Wing). The most famous works from antiquity include the Seated Scribe (Room 22, 1st floor, Sully Wing), the Code of Hammurabi (Room 3, ground floor, Richelieu Wing) and that armless duo, the Venus de Milo (Room 16, ground floor, Sully Wing) and the Winged Victory of Samothrace (top of Daru staircase, 1st floor, Denon Wing). From the Renaissance, don’t miss Michelangelo’s The Dying Slave (Room 4, ground floor, Denon Wing) and works by Raphael, Botticelli and Titian (1st floor, Denon Wing). French masterpieces of the 19th century include Ingres’ The Turkish Bath (off Room 60, 2nd floor, Sully Wing), Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (Room 77, 1st floor, Denon Wing) and works by Corot, Delacroix and Fragonard (2nd floor, Sully Wing).
The main entrance and ticket windows are covered by the 21m-high Grande Pyramide, a glass pyramid designed by the Chinese-born American architect IM Pei. You can avoid the queues outside the pyramid or at the Porte des Lions entrance by entering the Louvre complex via the underground shopping centre Carrousel du Louvre, at 99 rue de Rivoli.
Buy your tickets in advance from the ticket machines in the Carrousel du Louvre, by phoning 08 92 68 46 94 or 01 41 57 32 28 or from the billetteries (ticket offices) of Fnac or Virgin Megastores, and walk straight in without queuing. Tickets are valid for the whole day, so you can come and go as you please. The centrepiece of the Carrousel du Louvre is the glass Pyramide Inversée, also by Pei.