LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – When the Seine that runs through Paris overflowed this month, Louvre museum officials were relieved that some of their most prized items were safely stored in northern France.
The largest and most visited museum in the world, with nearly 10 million visitors a year, had already transported some 100,000 works of art at risk to the new Louvre Conservation Center in Liévin, about 190 km north. North. The reason? Climate change.
“The current floods show once again how necessary it is to protect our works of art from flooding,” said Jean-Luc Martinez, director of the Louvre, which has around 620,000 works of art, of which only 35,000 are. exhibited in the old Parisian palace.
“Soon this flood danger will – once and for all – be behind us,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
With climate change, scientists say the heavy rains that cause flooding are set to become more frequent, threatening riverside gems like the Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Musée d’Orsay – home to the greatest Impressionist paintings. of the world.
The problem is not specific to Paris. Italy has built flood barriers to protect Venice’s historic city center after salty seawater damaged St. Mark’s Basilica, while London’s Tate galleries are on flood-prone sites .[[[[
“We have a lot of museums whose collections will be affected if they are not stored properly,” said Mechtild Rossler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Center, which supports iconic buildings recognized by the United Nations cultural agency. .
By mid-2021, Louvre officials hope that 250,000 at-risk paintings, sculptures and tapestries – including the Venus de Milo – will be in their new $120 million home, where they will be safe from floods, heat waves and other extreme weather conditions.
The 18,500 square meter glass and steel building was designed to blend into the local environment, with a grass-covered roof where wildflowers grow in the spring, which helps with rainwater management to prevent flash floods.
The Louvre Conservation Center is destined to become one of the largest art training and research centers in Europe, visited by museum specialists, curators and scholars from all over the world, as well as a refuge for countries in conflict.
“This request must come from the states themselves, in full respect of international law, and on the condition that the works are returned safely once the conflict is resolved,” the Louvre said on its website.
The conservation centre, which opened in October 2019, will bring together in one place works previously stored in around 60 locations, almost two decades after the Paris police headquarters first warned that the Louvre was in danger.
The Seine has always been subject to flooding.
During the great flood of 1910, the river rose 8.6 m. Roads were submerged for two months, the subway was flooded and thousands of people were evacuated, with damage estimated by Louvre officials at $1.9 billion in today’s currency.
With climate change, Parisians have experienced more frequent flooding. Two of the worst floods since 1910 have occurred in the past five years. In 2016, the river rose by 6.1 m, and in 2018 by 5.8 m – a little less than during the floods of 1982 and 1955.
Although the 2016 flood did not damage any art, it forced the Louvre to quickly close and move 35,000 works from its basement storage to higher ground within 48 hours, costing the museum approximately $1.8 million in lost revenue.
“The Louvre teams were in panic mode,” said Hamish Crockett, the center’s project architect. “It was a reminder that the need (for the centre) was very real.”
The facility is not only doubly sealed with a leak detection system, but is also built on well-drained limestone and sandy soil where the risk of flooding is low to non-existent, even taking into account future rainfall projections. higher.
The new center also helps regulate temperature and humidity to protect artwork from extreme heat that can degrade wood and increase the risk of mold and insect infestation.
“We imagined the worst climate scenario and then designed a building that was safe for it,” Crockett said.
Other major museums are taking note.
The British Museum is building a storage space for archived artefacts in Shinfield, about 40 miles west of London.
In the Netherlands, some 600,000 objects from four national collections, including the Rijksmuseum, will be housed in a center in Amersfoort, 50 km southeast of Amsterdam.
“We are seeing heritage sites disappear due to climate change,” Crockett said. “It’s the new reality.”
Reporting by Mélissa Godin; edited by Katy Migriro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit news.trust.org/climate