Louvre, or French Musée du Louvre or Louvre Museum, is a haven for all things pleasing to the eye. It highlights the incredible history and beauty of the ancient civilization to the 19th century and houses more than 35,000 renowned works of art, which includes “Venus de Milo,” the “Great Sphinx of Tanis,” and “Mona Lisa.” Though famed, not all are aware the attraction was once a fortress, an arsenal, a treasure, a prison, and even the French monarch’s residence before turning to a magnificent repository and is certainly one of the great places to visit in France. Here, let’s discover the Louvre’s beginning and its fascinating transformation to being the world’s most visited museum.
Built around the year 1190, the Louvre was a fortress erected upon King Philippe Augustus’s order to protect Paris from Normal and English raids. Its strategic location along the Seine River banks made it well-fit for its function.
However, the city grew in influence and wealth during the 13th and 14th centuries. The fortress was no longer capable of holding in the growing population and eventually lost its original purpose as a defensive tower.
A Royal Residence
With Louvre being situated in the city’s wealthy region, it became an ideal place for a royal residence. As such, King Charles V directed to transform into a palace. Yet, the peril from the Hundred Years War prevented any monarchs from using it as their dwelling. Instead, the subsequent royalties stayed 200 kilometers south of Paris in the Loire Valley to seek refuge.
Even after the end of the war, it became customary for the French kings to reside outside Paris. They remained in the Loire Valley and only visited the capital city a few times annually. It wasn’t until the reign of King Francis I when the tradition was broken. Upon his return from captivity in Spain, he desired to reclaim control over Paris. Thus, he declared Louvre as the monarch’s official royal residence, had it rebuilt, and used it as a repository of his massive artwork collection.
Monarchs who follow King Francis I also added their collection of arts to the Louvre Palace. During the said times, the building has also been expanded that form the present structure. In 1682, King Louis XIV decided to move the royal residence to Versailles. Thus, leaving Louvre as the primary home of the royal collection.
As the Age of Enlightenment started in the 17th century, the French middle-class people clamored for the royal art collection’s public display. Yet, it was only at the start of the French Revolution in 1789 that the National Assembly decreed transforming the palace into a museum, allowing the display of the nation’s stunning art pieces.
On August 10, 1793, the Louvre Museum opened to the public. It was a monumental feat for the revolutionaries. What once a home of the monarchs and their private collections were now available to the public view – a symbolic effect of the French Revolution that aimed to change the country’s nature of political power. However, due to some structural issues, the museum was closed shortly for renovations from 1796 to 1801.
Louvre museum’s collection grew massively during Napoleon Bonaparte’s time, and its name was changed to Musee Napoleon. The works added were seized by his armies during the Napoleonic Wars. After his downfall at Waterloo, many of these art pieces were given back to their original owners. Still, most of the ancient Egyptian collection available in the Louvre today was a product of Napoleon’s plundering.
The Restoration, Second Empire, and the Third Republic
During the Restoration or the post-Napoleonic era, the art collection in the museum further increased under the reigns of Louis XVIII and Charles X. Meanwhile, Napoleon III’s imperialist regime saw around 20,000 pieces added to the museum. Then, during the Third Republic, the art pieces acquired came primarily from gifts and donations.
In World War I, the museum collection wasn’t able to add many significant new pieces to its collection. Some iconic works only include Baron Edmond and Georges de La Tour’s Saint Thomas donations of illustrated books, drawings, and prints.
At the commencement of World War II, many important and valuable works, such as the “Mona Lisa” were evacuated from the museum and hidden at Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. Some pieces were also transferred to Château de Valençay. However, they were also transported from estate to estate to avoid them from being seized by the Germans.
The Louvre museum was cleared of most art pieces, and those that were deemed too hefty or not as significant were placed at the repository’s basement. It was only in 1945 when the works were returned to the Louvre after France’s liberation.
The Louvre Pyramid
In 1983, the Louvre Museum went through the “Grand Louvre” project, which was geared to expand, create a new main entrance design, and renovate the museum. The job was awarded to Chinese-American architect I.M Pei. He made the underground lobby and the iconic glass pyramid that features two staircases, serving as the entryway for visitors to different palace sections. Blending traditional elements with contemporary architecture, the pyramid now showcases the Louvre’s ageless charm that captivated and still entices millions of visitors worldwide.