How It's Built: The Louvre
Standing as the world's largest and most visited museum, the Louvre, located in Paris, France, is a cultural landmark known not only for the art on display within its walls but the history of the building itself. To historians, the outer walls of the Louvre are considered just as much of an exhibit as the items inside. That is because in order to become the structural icon that is today, what is now known as the Louvre has undergone several architectural changes and adjustments dating back to the 1100s. While the Louvre is mostly known for holding some of the world's most famous art pieces like the Mona Lisa, the story of how it came to be is just as impressive.
The History of the Louvre
The Louvre is one of the most fascinating buildings in the entire world. While it is now revered as the most popular and biggest museum in the world, before it was a museum, the Louvre was both a medieval fortress and a home for French royalty. Only in the late 1700s, during the French Revolution, did the Louvre officially become a public museum.
The first known records detailing the history of the Louvre property outline that it was originally built sometime during the late 1100s and early 1200s to be a fortress to defend the border of what is now modern-day Paris. Originally constructed by King Philippe-Auguste, the structure started as a square defensive fortress to defend the city from attacks from the West as there were still threats of war during this time. If you go deep enough into the crypt of the Louvre, there are still remnants and remains from this era of the structure's history, which can be seen on display today.
Once there was less threat of war, primarily due to urbanization in those areas, the original fortress lost its purpose and primary function. It was then that King Charles V transformed the fortress into a personal residence in the late 1300s and early 1400s. This would be the primary function of the property over the next few centuries.
The kings and royalty that would use this land as a primary residence continued to add their own contributions to the building until it became the finished version of the Louvre Palace. This included slowly building components of the West, East, and South wings to create a fully enclosed palace.
In the 16th century, it was Francis I who rebuilt the palace and added upgrades in what is known now as the French Renassaince architectural style. However, many of the upgrades and construction were put on pause in the late 1600s after Louis XIV chose Versailles as his primary residence. It was only when Napoleon III returned to the property in the mid to late 1800s did the exterior construction of what we see today was truly complete.
However, while Louis XIV preferred to reside in Versailles, he left the Louvre as a place to display the collection of artifacts and art that the royal families had accumulated over the last few centuries. This was a collection ranging from Roman and Greek sculptures to famous paintings. The Louvre officially became a museum open to the public in 1793 and was a place to honor the highest achievers of arts and science.
The Louvre Today
In 1981, the president of France, François Mitterrand, proposed a list of grand projects that included some changes to the Louvre. Included in this proposal was the removal of some of the office buildings that resided in the Louvre. This would allow for the entire palace and structure to be dedicated to the museum, which would become the largest expansion to the museum in its history. To accomplish this bold endeavor, Mitterrand selected I.M. Pei, an award-winning Chinese-American architect. Pei chose French architects Michel Macary and Jean-Michel Wilmotte to help with his project vision.
As part of his designs, IM Pei designed and built the glass Louvre Pyramid and underground lobby. Pei wanted the design of the pyramid to be completely clear for viewers to peer into the Louvre. As such, the pyramid sits on a 2-meter thick concrete platform and is made primarily out of glass. There are even air fans at the bottom to ensure that no condensation stays on the pyramid so that views are not ruined. The glass is held in place by stainless steel poles to help not obstruct views but also make it stable enough to withstand heavy winds.
Overall, the glass pyramid at the Louvre has about 70 triangular glass segments and 603 rhombus-shaped segments. The pyramid became the new entrance of the museum as the old structure could no longer withstand the number of visitors the Louvre was getting every day. This new area and design provided more space for people to gather and support tourism. The Louvre Pyramid was finished being built in 1988.
Visiting The Louvre
If the purpose of Mitterrand's grand plan was to increase the number of tourists to the Louvre, then the redesign and reconstruction can only be considered a success story. The Louvre is not only the most visited museum annually, but the number of tourists to the Louvre has doubled since the pre-Mitterrand era.
Visiting the Louvre Pyramid is often considered a staple activity of any trip to Paris. Almost as much as seeing the Mona Lisa in person. If you're ever in the area, make sure to plan your trip and see this extraordinarily designed piece yourself.