Musée du Louvre: 1er

 Cour carree of LouvrePerhaps the must-see when you come to Paris is the Musée du Louvre [+33 140205824/140208458 ad/ch €10/free (permanent collection) €11/free (temporary)]. Arguably the most significant art museum in the world it occupies a 40 hectare space in central Paris.  This huge maze is the world’s most visited museum thanks to its 60,600 square metres of galleries displaying the most prized artworks and antiquities from around the world.  The Louvre is an imposing structure that has dominated the central Paris skyline since the 12th century. The structure was initially a fortress that was built in 1190 by Phillipe-Auguste, to protect Paris from Norman invasions. This was when it got its name, Louvre. As time went on, the fortress’ original keep was destroyed and the ramparts were restructured to create a château for François I.

It morphed yet again, when the reign of Louis XIV began, as he started the construction of a grand palace for himself. In the 16th century, when the neighbouring Tuileries palace was being built, plans were made to link these two buildings via the Grande Galerie. Unfortunately he was unable to complete the restructuring and many wings and towers were left hanging. This brought about a period of dormancy to the grand building.  His successor, Louis XV completed the new wings and towers, restoring its splendour. In 1791, the National Assembly announced that the Louvre and the Tuileries were to be the official palace of the king as well as a museum. This short stint led way to the inauguration of Musée du Louvre, as the first national museum of France, in 1793.

At this time, the museum started off with a mere 2 500 paintings and artefacts. Its collection grew over time, as the consecutive French governments contributed to it steadily, over 5 centuries. Today, the museum houses 35 000 artworks and artefacts. While it still stays close to its traditional role of focusing on the development and history of European art, the museum has also expanded into other areas of the world by including Assyrian, Etuscan, Greek, Coptic and Islamic collections as well.

For all the high art and architectural reputation that the Louvre has, it is still a museum that draws in an apprehensive crowd. Being dauntingly huge and rich, the museum also has a reputation for boggling visitors’ minds. Words of caution- don’t attempt to view everything in the Musée du Louvre. It is an impossible task that might take 9 months to complete (probably if you stay in without sleep). Many unprepared, first-time Louvre visitors leave the grandest museum in the world, unsatisfied and lost. So, the key to making the most of your visit is to go in with a strategy. Many travel guides recommend picking your favourite 3-4 pieces, doing your research and heading on (you will be able to see other artworks on your way there). For the more well-informed, curious visitor, know the highlights of each wing and head for them.

The main entrance of the museum is at cour Napoléon (on the central courtyard) covered by the glass Pyramide du Louvre. Created by IM Pei, this iconic structure is usually crowded; so is the southern entrance at Porte des Lions. So your best bet would be to try other entrances like the 99 rue de Rivoli entrance (west of the pyramid), which is connected to the Carrousel du Louvre- an underground shopping centre. You can get your tickets at the ticketing machines in the shopping centre itself. Better still, you can completely skip the queues by purchasing an online ticket.

It is useful to download and print out a floor plan of each level at the Louvre website here.

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