Paris History: Le Louvre

Image The Vikings camped on this spot on the Right Bank in their unsuccessful siege of Paris in 885, and in 1220 King Philippe- Auguste selected it to plant a square crusaders castle before the new city wall, as key to the western defenses. Through subsequent centuries and the attentions of 11 monarchs, the château-fort was made into one of the worlds biggest palaces, completed in 1852. The last of the Gothic portions disappeared only in 1673. From the original square, two galleries extend westward for 1,640 feet, one along the river, the other along the rue de Rivoli. Only 19 years after the huge oblong was finally completed, its western face, the Tuileries Palace (begun 1563), was destroyed by the insurrection of the Commune, in 1871.

Image Two of the facades of the original palace square, the Cour Carrée, have considerable architectural importance and were strong influences on the development of French styles. Pierre Lescot began his inner courtyard facade in 1546, adapting the Renaissance rhythms and orders he had observed in Italy, and adding purely French decoration to the classical motifs. Claude Perrault, also distinguished as an anatomist and court physician, created a masterpiece for the outer east face of the palace in 1673. It, too, employs classic elements--coupled columns and a pediment--but they are handled with a grace and originality that makes it perfect for the late reign of the Sun King.

Image For so many centuries the seat of French power, the Louvre still contains some national administrative offices in the rue de Rivoli gallery, where a separate museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, is also housed. The gallery is an awkward 19th-century counterfeit of the riverside arm (Galerie du Bord de l'Eau) built in the last half of the 16th century. The Louvre, known formally as the Musée du Louvre, occupies the older gallery, the palace around the Cour Carrée, and, at the far end of the Tuileries Garden, the galleries of the Orangerie and the Musée du Jeu de Paume. Among the treasures of the museum, one of the worlds greatest, are the Victory of Samothrace, the Venus de Milo, and the Mona Lisa. The enormous collections contain works from 7BC to the mid-19th century, with a huge cultural and geographic spread. The Ecole du Louvre, in addition to its regular university-level curricula, offers free public evening classes in art history.

Crossing from the Louvre to the Institut, the Pont des Arts is one of the most charming of all the Parisian bridges. It was the first (1803) to be made of iron, and has always been reserved for pedestrians: it provides an intimate view of riverside Paris and of the Seine itself.

© 14 Oct 2002, Nicolas Pioch - Top - Up - Info
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