The Louvre

The Louvre in Paris is the world's largest art museum and one of France's most prestigious historic monuments. The landmark building, located on the Right Bank of the Seine and covering a huge area of 72,735 square metres, is home to around 380,000 historic objects.

As the world's most visited art museum in 2018, 10.2 million people viewed the treasures on display there. The history of the Louvre dates back to the 12th century when it was built as a castle. The remains of the original fortress are still visible in the museum's basement.

The Louvre

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History

Back in 1190, Philippe Auguste, the King of France, decided to erect a fortified castle to protect Paris. It was a mark of his authority on France, as he was just about to embark on the war of the Crusades. He felt a castle was needed to defend what he perceived as a weak spot.

The Louvre was a majestic building, designed by the king's engineers. It was surrounded by a moat, with a main tower with its own moat in the centre of the courtyard. This was a common design of the era. It was built as a fortress for a garrison and as a prison, rather than a royal residence.

Featuring a cylindrical keep, known as a “Grosse Tour”, this doubled as a royal strongbox and a jail for important prisoners. Count Ferdinand of Flanders, Philippe Auguste's sworn enemy, was imprisoned there for 13 years after his defeat at the Battle of Bouvines.

Developments

Over the centuries, the Louvre underwent many changes. An urban district grew around it and it became more of a royal residence than a fortress as time passed. It was converted by Frances I into the main royal residence in 1546. Many extensions were built until it became the current Louvre Palace.

Louis XIV decided to move his household to the Palace of Versailles in 1682. This left the Louvre more of a place to display the royal collection, rather than a residence.

In 1692, a sizable collection of ancient Greek and Roman sculpture was added. At the time, the Louvre was occupied by the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture and the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. They remained at the venue for a century.

The National Assembly ruled that the Louvre should display France's masterpieces during the French Revolution. The museum officially opened on 10th August 1793, when it exhibited 537 paintings. Most of the exhibits were royal and church property which had been confiscated.

Recent years

The museum was forced to close in 1796 due to the building's structural problems. It reopened in 1801 following repairs and was renamed Musée Napoléon in honour of the French statesman Bonaparte. However, following his abdication in 1814, it reverted to being called the Louvre.

Further expanding throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the collection gained another 20,000 artefacts. Bequests and donations have accounted for a large number of the exhibits.

The collection is split into eight different sections - decorative arts; prints and drawings; Egyptian antiquities; paintings; Greek, Etruscan and Roman antiquities; Near Eastern antiquities; Islamic art; and sculpture.

One of the most famous exhibits is the Mona Lisa, painted by Italian Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci, dating from the early 16th century. It has been on permanent display at the Louvre since 1797. Its value in 2018 was estimated to be $650 million. It remains the Louvre's most popular visitor attraction.

21st century

Today, the Louvre is one of the main tourist destinations in the world, containing more than 380,000 historic objects and 35,000 works of art in its eight curatorial sections. It attracts 15,000 visitors each day, 65% of whom are overseas tourists.

The Louvre exhibits paintings, sculptures, drawings, objets d'art and archaeological finds, dating from the 6th century BC to the 19th century. A new 3,000 square metre pavilion opened in 2012, featuring a spectacular roof, made from around 9,000 steel tubes, which created a golden interior web. The galleries represented the first major architectural development at the Louvre since the creation of IM Pei's famous glass pyramid in 1989.

The French government owns the Louvre, although it has become more independent since the 1990s. Since 2003, it has needed to generate funds for itself. Government funding decreased from 75% to 62% of the total budget in 2006. Every year, the Louvre receives around €122 million from the state and generates the same amount itself.

Statisticians say it's physically impossible to see every artefact at the Louvre in one visit. They estimate it would take you 100 days to squeeze in every piece of art - and then this would mean spending only 30 seconds viewing each one!

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