The Louvre Palace was not built in a day!
The Louvre Palace started as an austere fortress that was part of the rampart King Philippe-Auguste built in the late 12th century.
This wall not only protected Paris, but also pushed the city limits farther west.
To fully discover the Louvre Palace it is important to understand that this extraordinary palace was not built in a day.
It was indeed demolished, rebuilt, enlarged and altered over three centuries!
Louvre Palace’s layout
Imagine a gigantic quadrilateral:
The Cour Carrée – Square Court is located on the eastern side.
The Perrault’s Colonnade adorns its outer facade.
The palace stretches from the Cour Carrée westward towards the Tuileries Gardens.
The Galerie du Bord de l’Eau or Grande Galerie – Waterside Gallery runs along the Seine and ends with the Pavillon de Flore.
The northern wing borders the Rue de Rivoli and ends with the Pavillon de Marsan.
The Waterside Gallery and the northern wing are both lined inner wings. Perpendicular buildings link them and form three inner courtyards on each side.
Each building intersection is marked by a pavilion topped by a dome.
The courtyard located between these two groups of buildings is called Cour Napoléon.
The glass pyramid – Pei’s Pyramid is the main entrance to the Louvre Museum and marks the centre of the Cour Napoléon.
It linked the Pavillon de Flore to the Pavillon de Marsan on the western side of the Cour Napoléon .
The Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel delineates the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens and was the Gate of Honour of the Tuileries Palace.
Medieval Louvre Fortress (12th-13th centuries)
The fortress was built in an area known as Louvrea.
This name might derive from the Latin Lupus (wolf) and would imply that wolves once roamed the area.
However, it most likely evolved from Leovar, which meant fortified camp in Old Saxon.
Indeed, the Norsemen established their camps in front of Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois Church (opposite the future palace)when they besieged Paris in 885.
In the 1180s, Philippe-Auguste built a rampart to protect Paris before he left for the Third Crusade.
The Louvre fortress (Vieux Louvre) was built as an extension of the rampart. It commanded the river Seine and the western outskirts of Paris.
A heavy metal chain ran across the river and connected the defense towers Tour du Coin and Tour de Nesles.
The Tour du Coin stood on the embankment of the existing Pont des Arts; the Tour de Nesles on the site of the Institut de France on the left bank.
A massive keep, Grosse Tour, housed the Royal Treasury, archives and arsenal; it stood in the center of the fortress.
Philippe-Auguste’s grandson, Louis IX, added a chapel and a hall in the western wing of the fortress during the 13th century.
The Vieux Louvre was small as it occupied a quarter of the current Cour Carrée.
Modern excavations uncovered its foundations and vestiges of the Grosse Tour under the courtyard.
Darker cobblestones today mark their layout.
Pei’s Pyramid accesses the vestiges of the Vieux Louvre.
Charles V’s Library (14th century)
By the mid-14th century, new districts had developed beyond Philippe-Auguste Wall and needed protection.
King Charles V built a new rampart; works lasted from 1356 to 1383.
This rampart encompassed the Louvre fortress, which consequently lost its defensive role.
In the 1360’s the king enlarged and embellished it with various architectural features such as turrets and terraces to turn the old fortress into a country residence.
He also founded the first royal library in the Grosse Tour, where he gathered a large book collection.
His successors followed in his steps.
They indeed sojourned in their castles of the Loire Valley and seldom lived in the Louvre during the next 150 years or so.
Renaissance Louvre Palace (16th century)
All changed in1527!
François I the great patron of the French Renaissance, indeed decided to take residence in the Louvre.
He commissioned Lescot with the modernization of the old fortress.
The royal architect demolished the Grosse Tour in 1546.
He replaced the ramparts and moats with gardens (the current Quai du Louvre).
He also cleared a large area for tournament and jousting (Place du Carrousel).
Finally, François I substantially enlarged the collection amassed by Charles V with new books and art objects, sculptures and paintings.
The architects of the Louvre Palace
Lescot kept working!
He built the Renaissance west wing, and the south and west wings (each with a Gothic and a Renaissance facade) under the reigns of Henry II, Charles IX and Henri III.
The palace’s new main entrance was facing west.
This detail, which might seem ‘insignificant’ is very important, as it later dictated the layout of the Champs-Elysées.
Jean Goujon was commissioned for the sculptures.
The Salle des Cariatides (in the Sully wing) dates from that era and is the oldest remaining hall in the Louvre.
It was named after the four gigantic statues, sculpted by Goujon, that support the upper gallery.
Vestiges of the apse of the chapel built by Saint-Louis in the 13th century are still visible on the walls.
When Henri II died, his widow Catherine de Medici commissioned Philibert de l’Orme with the construction of the Tuileries Palace.
The architect built the Waterside Gallery along the Seine in order to connect the two palaces.
Construction stopped after his death in 1572.
King Henri IV resumed construction in 1594.
He commissioned Jacques Androuet-du-Cerceau to complete the gallery.
The architect extended the building and raised it with an upper floor; he also built the Pavilion de Flore on the end.
Finally, he completed the decoration of the Tuileries Palace.
The ‘Good King Henri IV’ converted a section of the gallery into lodgings, workshops and studios in order to accommodate the best artists of the time.
For over two centuries, the Louvre therefore became the Cité des Arts – City of Arts.
Sadly the work stopped after the assassination of the king in 1610.
The palace’s maintenance was neglected until 1627 when the niece of Louis XIII took residence in the Louvre.
Cour Carrée (17th century)
Louis XIII increased the size of the Louvre Palace by fourfold.
In 1624 he therefore entrusted Le Mercier with the construction of the Pavillon de l’Horloge in the Cour Carrée.
The architect built a wing matching Lescot’s Renaissance wing on the other side of the pavilion.
He pulled down the northern side of the Vieux Louvre.
Louis XIV took over in the 1660s.
Le Vau completed the demolition of the Vieux Louvre, with the exception of Lescot’s wing, and extended the south wing.
He built the east and north wings in order to match Lescot’s wing.
These 4 wings encompass the Cour Carrée!
The architects Perrault, Le Vau and Le Brun teamed up in order to create the Perrault’s Colonnade.
The superb colonnade adorns the eastern outer facade of the Cour Carrée.
The Carrousel was converted in a parade and display ground for jousts.
Louis XIV took residence in the Tuileries Palace where he built a 5,000 seats theatre for his own entertainment.
He built the Pavillon de Marsan in the northwest corner of the Louvre, in order to amtch the Pavillon de Flore on the river side.
The Palais des Tuileries connected the two pavilions.
The work slowed after 1671.
The Colonnade and the buildings surrounding the Cour Carrée were indeed unfinished when Louis XIV moved to Versailles in 1678.
The king, however, considerably enlarged the Louvre art collections, during the 20 years he lived in the palace!
Louvre Palace before the French Revolution
Louis XV lived in the Tuileries Palace until 1722, then moved to Versailles.
From 1725 to 1789 the Louvre Palace was once again let to artists.
It even accommodated the Comédie Française from 1770 to 1782!
Sadly, the lack of maintenance and the presence of makeshift lodgings, stalls and cabarets seriously deteriorated the buildings.
By the late 18th century, the Louvre Palace was a huge shantytown.
Louis XVI even thought of demolishing it!
The palace fortunately became national property during the French Revolution and became a museum in 1793.
Completion of the palace-museum
The construction of the Louvre Palace was completed in the late 19th century!
Napoleon fortunately restored the buildings; he also significantly enlarged the collections and turned the Louvre into the largest museum in the world.
He commissioned Fontaine with the completion of the Cour Carrée and Perrault’s Colonnade.
The architect added an upper floor to the north and south wings so they matched the west wing, but also balanced the buildings’ architecture.
He embellished the facades with low-reliefs.
He opened the Rue de Rivoli and built the northern wing.
Finally, Napoleon built the Carrousel Arch in order to commemorate his victories of 1805.
Fontaine built the Pavillon de Rohan during the Restoration.
In the 1850s, Napoleon III entrusted the architects Visconti and Lefuel with the completion of the palace.
They erected two lavishly decorated wings (in Cour Napoléon) parallel to the Waterside Gallery and the north wing on Rue de Rivoli.
Three perpendicular buildings connect these new wings to the Waterside Gallery and delineate small courtyards.
One of these courtyards, the Cour Marly, is roofed with a glass top and exhibits the original Chevaux de Marly (replicas on Place de la Concorde.)
The architects redesigned the facade of Lescot’s wing that overlooks the Cour Napoléon in order to match these new wings.
The Flore Pavilion, Marsan Pavilion and the Tuileries Palace were destroyed during the Commune of Paris in 1871.
Lefuel rebuilt the two pavilions, but the ruins of the Tuileries Palace were pulled down…
The construction of the Louvre Palace was finally completed after three centuries of work!
An easy trick if you can’t remember when these buildings were erected:
Each section bears the initials of the sovereigns who commissioned their construction (i.e. N for Napoleon, H for Henri IV etc…)
Louvre Palace in the 20th century
In 1964, the Minister of Culture André Malraux commissioned the excavation of the moats along the Perrault’s Colonnade in order to recover their original depth of 7m.
An extensive rehabilitation project known as Le Grand Louvre was put in place in 1981.
It took place after the transfer of the Ministry of Finance from the Richelieu Wing to Bercy.
In 1984 the late President Francois Mitterrand commissioned the architect I.M.Pei with the construction of the Pyramid.
The Pyramide du Louvre was completed in 1989.
The latest addition to the museum is the Aisle Visconti along the river side.
This section, entirely dedicated to Islamic Art, was unveiled on September 22, 2012.
Directions: 1st district
Metro: Palais-Royal-Musée du Louvre on Lines 1, 7
Coordinates: Lat 48.860997 – Long 2.336038