Established as a museum in 1793 the Louvre is one of the world great and largest museums. It is a product of the French Revolution, and represents the belief of the French people that the treasures of humankind should be shared with all members of society.
The Louvre’s collections, housed in what was formerly a 12th century palace, have the widest scope and the best overall quality of any museum in the world. In the Louvre you will find extensive collections of sculptures, decorative arts, paintings, prints and drawings.
The museum’s collections of Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities are extensive and unique. In addition, the Louvre features an acclaimed collection of Islamic art.
To the East of the Louvre is the famous Garden of the Tuileries and the Orangerie art museum. If you are not fatigued from your visit to the Louvre, this is a great stop that is close-by.
The Louvre and Surrounding Attractions
The Musée du Louvre
The Musée du Louvre, one of the main tourist magnets in Paris, attracts over six million visitors a year. Once a medieval fortress, it was later used as a palace for the French Monarchy. Louis XIV and Louis XV both added to the grand buildings that evolved from a palace to serve as one of the world’s greatest museums, a consequence of the French Revolution.The Louvre is comprised of different architectural styles (for example, the New Louvre, the Sully Wing, and the Old Louvre) that are worthy of note. In the Sully Wing you will be able to see portions of the medieval fortress that once occupied this location. Recently, the controversial newer entrance (the glass pyramid), designed by I. M. Pei, has attracted even more attention due to its role in movie based on the best selling novel “The Da Vinci Code”.
The Louvre houses a treasure trove of history and visiting is a must for any tourist lucky enough to be in Paris. The Musée du Louvre contains many of civilization’s greatest artistic triumphs and most important antiquities. “Must-sees” include the Mona Lisa, and the statutes of Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Be sure to explore the stunning collections of Egyptian and Near Eastern antiquities (arranged by geographical and cultural areas). In addition, the collections of Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities are splendid and the exquisitely detailed sculptures in these collections are popular attractions for many travelers.
As you might suspect, Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa (La Gioconda) is the Louvre’s most popular attraction. Mona is hung on her own wall in the museum’s Salle des Etats. The mid-sized painting, which dates from the 16th century, is approximately 30 inches by 20 and painted directly on a panel of poplar wood.
The picture is protected by security glass and other countermeasures to deter theft and damage. The painting was stolen in the early 20th century and returned several years later. The Mona Lisa was also damaged on two occasions. In the 1950’s, one irate visitor tried to douse the famous picture with acid, damaging the bottom of the painting. Another patron caused minor damage by bruising the artwork with a thrown rock.
Visiting the Louvre
Buy your ticket in advance or consider purchasing a Paris Museum Pass that includes admission to the Louvre. If you already have a ticket, you do not need to wait in line and can directly enter the museum from one of its many entrances.
If you are unable to purchase a ticket in advance, plan to arrive near the opening time (9 a.m.), as the ticket lines are shorter and, as a side benefit, you will enjoy the lack of crowds as your tour the collections.
Our experience is that mid-day is most crowded. This may be by choice or a reflection that the Louvre has several excellent eateries that are always crowded during the lunch hour. You may find fewer patrons visiting later in the afternoon, but arriving after three may not allow you to see everything you had planned, as the guards begin clearing the exhibition spaces thirty minutes before closing time for the museum.
The Louvre can be overwhelming due to its physical size and the complexity of its collections. It would take months to see each and every one of the articles owned by the Louvre, so do yourself a favor: either join a tour, or decide what you want to see before you arrive. If you do not have an agenda when you enter the Louvre, it is likely that you will miss the most important attractions simply because you will not be able to find them in this massive museum. (Bring your best walking shoes, as touring the Louvre is a hike.)
The Louvre is open year around, but is closed Tuesdays, as well as December 25, January 1, May 1, and August 15. Normal entrance hours are from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except on Wednesday and Fridays, when the museum remains open until 10 p.m. As noted above, the guards begin clearing the rooms thirty-minutes before closing time.
You can enter the Louvre at the Pyramid (main entrance and best photo opportunity), the Galerie du Carrousel entrances (9 a.m. to 10 p.m.), the Passage Richelieu entrance (9 a.m. to 6 p.m.), and the Porte des Lions entrance (9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Friday).
Visit the Louvre’s official web site for more information on visiting, as well as to see the virtual tours of the museum’s collections.
Jardin des Tuileries
Located east of the Place de la Concorde, the Tuileries Gardens provide a pleasant transition to the Louvre. Surrounded by formal buildings, the Garden of the Tuileries is a refuge of understated beauty and calm in the center of Paris. The name, Tuileries, derives from the fact that the area was once a center for tile making in Paris (“tuile” translates to “tile” in French).
Located in what is now the Place du Carrousel, the Tuileries Palace, for which the gardens were named, was destroyed by fire during civil unrest in the 19th century and later razed. The palace and gardens were built by Catherine de Medicis in the mid-sixteenth century, Louis XIV, the Sun King, lived in the palace at the Tuileries while Versailles was being constructed.
The ceremonial arch Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel was the entryway to the Tuileries and dates from the early 19th century. It is smaller and less well known to tourists than the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile. Both arches were built to celebrate Napoleon’s victories throughout Europe.
Facing both the Tuileries and the Louvre is the compact Place des Pyramides, which contains a fine statue of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc) by Emmanuel Frémet. The statue is located at the intersection of the Rue des Pyramides and the Rue de Rivoli.
The world-famous Museum Orangerie, nestled into the landscape of the Tuileries, is the home of the Impressionist Claude Monet’s Lily Pond paintings (the Nymphéas), although it contains works by several noted artists.
The Musée Orangerie reopened in May, 2006 after 6 years of construction that were required to resolve problematic additions made to the structure in the last century. The “new” Orangerie is spectacular and Monet’s Nymphéas, the prime focus of the redesign, are once again bathed in natural light. Monet created these stunning, large paintings of the lily ponds and Japanese bridge in Giverny near the end of this life and gifted them to the French people after the end of World War I.In addition, the museum displays many of the masterpieces of the Jean Walter and Paul Guillaume Collection that is focused on the works of Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Sisley, Matisse, Modigliani and other masters associated with modern art.
The Musée is open to visitors from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Orangerie is closed Tuesdays, May 1st and Christmas. See the official website for more information.
If you are interested in Monet, you may want to visit the Musée Marmottan Monet, or possibly his home and gardens in Giverny, one of our recommended daytrips from Paris. Monet’s home in Giverny includes the water garden where he painted his Nymphéas (Waterlilies) that are on display at the Orangerie.