The Louvre is the most famous museum in the world – and the most visited. Armed with the right tips and plenty of time, you can see all of its famous icons and more without getting caught in the crowds. Jennifer Ladonne reveals how…
As well as being the most famous and visited museum in the world, the Louvre is also the largest. With over 780,000 square feet of exhibition space – about the size of a dozen football fields (or 13 km if extended end to end) – and approximately 35,000 works on display, it No wonder visitors can feel intimidated even before setting foot in the building.
It would take a good part of the year to see all the artwork in the Louvre, but there are plenty of ways to make the most of a day, or even a few hours, armed with a map and a little advance planning.
The Louvre in brief
Originally built as a fortress in 1180, the Louvre was expanded and transformed into a royal residence in the 14th century. For eight centuries, the building grew bigger and bigger with each passage of the monarch. Although the Louvre officially became an art museum in 1793 during the Revolution, plans were already underway to use at least part of the mastodon as gallery space for the various collections acquired or looted over successive centuries, kings and conservatives. Each of the Louvre’s three main wings – Denon, Sully and Richelieu – bears the imprint of a different monarch.
There is undoubtedly something for everyone at the Louvre. Apart from a treasure trove of works of art, the architecture, interiors, history of the museum and the wide variety of its collections are vast and incomparable.
This is why a little planning is very useful: identify what piques your interest the most and let it guide you. If it’s European paintings – including the Louvre’s resident icon, Mona Lisa – head straight to the first floor (second floor for Americans) of the Denon Wing, where you’ll also find the museum’s spectacular Grand Gallery – a huge sky-lit corridor crammed with Italian masterpieces – as well as the Nike of Samothrace, the Winged Victory in short, dominate him on a staircase. If you prefer lavish interiors, head to the Richelieu, where Napoleon’s piles of red plush, gilding and crystals push the boundaries of good taste, or the beautifully restored Galerie d’Apollon – precursor to the Galeries des Glaces of Versailles – where the French crown jewels have resided there since the 19th century.
History buffs should not miss the Pavillon de l’Horloge, in the Sully wing at the heart of the palace, where the history of the Louvre is told over four floors, starting with the actual foundations of the original medieval fort and continuing to the oldest. hall of the palace – the Salle Saint-Louis – up to the Salle de la Chapelle at the top, offering the best views of the Tuileries Gardens, the Pyramid, the Champs-Élysées and the Arc de Triomphe in the distance.
These are the most popular and busiest areas of the museum. But go a little further and you will be amply rewarded. The museum’s Egyptian collection, created by the famous scholar Jean-François Champollion, who deciphered the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone looted by Napoleon, covers 5,000 years of Egyptian history and is one of the most impressive collections in the world. . One of the museum’s most prized possessions awaits you in the Persian rooms – collected by French archaeologists over 25 years – where the majestic remains of the Susa Palace (one of the oldest cities in the world, mentioned in the Bible’s Book of Esther) features a magnificent column flanked by two kneeling bulls. The 30,000 square foot Islamic Wing, housed under a bright modernist canopy, is another treasure trove filled with lavishly crafted artwork, furniture, rugs, mosaics, and decorative items from the palaces of the caliphs.
Wandering through these collections is a joy, especially since they are wonderfully clear, apart from random groups of French schoolchildren.
To see or not to see?
The fact that nearly 80% of the 30,000 to 50,000 daily visitors to the Louvre say they come only to see mona-lisa could be interpreted in two ways: first, it is a once-in-a-lifetime thing that everyone should do or, second, it should be avoided at all costs. Note that neither option has much to do with the artistic merit of the 30-inch painting. Aside from the new Prussian blue backdrop and the tidy, cordoned-off aisles, the Louvre’s recent upgrade to room 711 didn’t do much to make the experience more enjoyable. Guards still hover and shove you in the blink of an eye, and smartphones, heads, and elbows still insult your sight, if not your person.
If you decide to see what it’s all about, book your ticket for 9:00 a.m. when the museum opens. This way you can head straight to the Denon wing, follow the signs, and get a relatively crowd-free view.
Keep in mind that being housed in the same room as Mona Lisa and, as far as I could see, going largely unnoticed are some of the great Venetian masterpieces in the Louvre, such as Titian and Veronese (Veronese The wedding at Cana, the largest painting in the Louvre, is just a few doors away). Also keep in mind the unfathomable fact that as the line winds its way past the Mona Lisa, just outside in the Grand Gallery a 20-second walk away are three masterpieces by Da Vinci: La Belle Ferronniere; The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne; and Saint John the Baptist, often soulless before them
The Louvre has four entrances, but with fewer visitors due to Covid, only two are open to the general public: the main Pyramid entrance in the museum’s central courtyard, or the underground Carrousel du Louvre entrance in the center Louvre Carrousel shopping mall. At the general ticket office you will be asked for your health pass and ticket on your smartphone or pre-printed.
While certainly helpful, the detailed Louvre map of each wing, with inset photos of highlights, is confusing. In what are described as simple corridors is a maze of smaller galleries represented by numbers. If you get lost – and you will – don’t be too shy to ask a guard for directions.
Don’t approach them with your question, be sure to start your request with a polite, “Hello Madam/Sir…”. They are much more likely to help you if addressed that way.
The Louvre is accessible to people with reduced mobility, with several dedicated elevators in each wing to which a caretaker will be happy to guide you. The agents at the entrance to the Carrousel du Louvre are provided with information on the best routes to move between floors. The toilets are surprisingly numerous and clean.
Where to dine and relax
If your morning date with the Venetians has let you down, the Louvre offers plenty of dining and relaxation options. Just outside the Salle Mollien (room 700) is a boutique and Café Mollien, with a lovely outdoor terrace and views of the Tuileries Gardens. The Salle Mollien, also known as the Red Room, houses the museum’s gargantuan masterpieces, including Géricault The Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People by Delacroix and the winding Grande Odalisque by Ingres. On the mezzanine of the Richelieu, between a spacious new Starbucks and the cafeteria-style Café Goguette, you can have a hot meal or an overpriced coffee. You can also have a drink and a snack at the take-out counters on the mezzanine of Denon and Richelieu, with limited places. The Louvre’s resident Café Marly (accessible through the museum’s courtyard without a ticket) is elegant, average, and pricey, but with an unrivaled view of the courtyard.
If you don’t mind going outside (a much less crowded proposition), at the Carrousel du Louvre, an upscale underground shopping center accessible from rue de Rivoli or the metro (metro line 1; stop: Louvre-Rivoli) , you will find the Restaurants du Monde food court, where you can dine on Italian, French, Chinese, Turkish-Greek or Spanish fast food. In the Tuileries Garden, you will also find food stands. These are detailed on the practical application of the Louvre.
Shop till you drop
The Louvre boutique, located in the Carrousel du Louvre, is the museum’s main boutique. In addition to the usual jewelry, scarves, bags, crockery, postcards, etc., you will find a unique space in the museum: the Chalcographie du Louvre. Here you can choose from hundreds of original prints made in the Louvre workshop and dating from 1850 to the present day. The collection includes pieces by renowned contemporary artists such as Jenny Holzer, JR (of his large-scale projects at the Louvre) and Arnulf Rainer, as well as hand-colored botanical prints, maps of Paris, landscapes and more again, from €50 to €500.
Ways to visit
If the immensity of the Louvre and the treasure found there advises us to restrict our visit to the essentials, wandering aimlessly in the great French tradition of stroller has its rewards. Putting aside all expectations and FOMO to enjoy the unforeseen wonders that unfold gallery by gallery is perhaps the greatest pleasure of visiting this magnificent museum.
What is certain is that there is no better time than the present to visit the Louvre. Despite all the horror caused by the pandemic, it has opened up an unprecedented opportunity for art lovers in Paris. In 2020, 2.7 million people visited the Louvre, up from 9.6 million in 2019. As tourist numbers slowly increase, the relatively minor inconveniences of having to pre-book (tickets are rarely sold out for more than four days in advance and are refundable up to 24 hours before your visit), presenting a sanitary pass and wearing a mask are well worth the pleasure of an unobstructed view and the possibility of standing without complex in front of masterpieces work. On several recent visits, I was completely alone with Vermeer’ Lacemaker and Rembrandt Bathsheba at her bath.
What could be better?
The Louvre is open every day except Tuesday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Tickets, purchased online, cost €17 and allow access to both the permanent collections and the temporary exhibitions.
Excerpt from France Today magazine
Main photo credit: The Louvre © Shutterstock