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Le Palais du Louvre
For many centuries, the Louvre Museum – today the world’s best museum – was the Palais du Louvre, home to French Kings and Queens. Since the first construction in the 12th century, France’s main rulers – from King Philippe Auguste to François Mitterrand – have left their footprint on the Louvre Palace by enlarging it or embellishing it.
In this article, we will leave the Louvre artwork for a while and learn about the Louvre history while visiting the most beautiful galleries and halls in the Louvre Palace.
Plan your Visit to the Louvre Palace
The Louvre Palace and Museum is one of the top places to visit in Paris. We recommend visiting the Palais du Louvre in the following Paris itineraries:
- 2 days in Paris itinerary
- 3 days in Paris itinerary
- 4 days in Paris itinerary
- 5 days in Paris itinerary
- 6 days in Paris itinerary
From Medieval Louvre to the World’s Best Museum
Who built the Louvre? The Louvre Palace has a long history, starting back in medieval times. Here are the main contributors to the Louvre Palace:
King Philippe Auguste (1180-1223). He built the first structure, a medieval fortress, to secure the Paris city wall.
King Charles V (1364-1380). When the Louvre lost its defensive role, he transformed the Louvre fortress into a luxurious royal palace.
King Henri II (1547-1559). This King enlarged the Louvre Palace with a new architecture complete with classical features. When the King died, his wife, Queen Catherine de Médicis, ordered the construction of the Tuileries Palace, a weekend palace located on Paris’s outskirts. The city’s walls separated both palaces.
King Henri IV (1595-1610). He was one of the most important Kings who lived in the Palais du Louvre. He conceived the ‘Grand Dessein’ (great design), a master plan to connect the Louvre Palace to the Tuileries Palace. This connection was made with the construction of the Grande Galerie.
King Henri IV’s architects also designed the Cour Carrée.
Emperor Napoleon I (1804-1815). He built the North Wing, parallel to the Grande Galerie. During his rule, Napoleon I also commissioned the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to glorify Tuileries Palace’s access.
Emperor Napoleon III (1852-1870). He wanted to complete his predecessors’ master plan, a pity that a big fire destroyed the Tuileries Palace! It was then when the Louvre Palace opened onto the city, offering new opportunities for major renovations.
François Mitterrand (1916-1966). He launched the ‘Grand Louvre Project,’ which consisted of assigning the entire Palais du Louvre to the Louvre Museum (until then, the Richelieu Wing was occupied by the Ministry of Finance) while modernizing and improving the presentation of the artwork.
Mitterrand also commissioned the Louvre Pyramid, which has been the Louvre’s main entrance since it opened in 1989.
A Peek Inside the Louvre Palace
Here’s the best of the Louvre Palace: our favorite rooms, halls, and galleries of the best museum in the world!
The Louvre Fortress
The construction of the Louvre started in the 12th century under the rule of King Philippe Auguste, who wanted better protection for Paris before leaving for the crusades.
The Louvre was a small medieval castle, part of the fortress protecting the city. At that time, Paris was a small city, limited in the south by the Seine River.
This first Louvre building was square in plan, with circular defensive towers and an imposing central keep. The Louvre was separated and protected from the Seine by a moat fed with the river’s waters.
During the Grand Louvre Project, the renovation works unveiled this medieval Louvre, some parts of medieval Paris, and sections of King Charles V’s city walls which are today part of the Louvre Museum.
After a great mise en scène (staging) work, visitors can see part of the foundations of that first Louvre fortress, the moat, and also parts of the defensive towers.
WHERE: Sully wing – Lower Ground floor
Salle des Caryatides (Sully Wing)
The Salle des Caryatides (Caryatids Room) is an impressive hall with an entrance decorated with four impressive Greek caryatids (a stone carving of a draped female figure, used as a pillar to support the entablature of a Greek-style building), hence its name. It was built during the reign of King Henri II as a ballroom for glamorous parties.
Before the first Louvre Museum was founded (1793), this hall hosted King Louis XIV’s sculpture collection for some years. King Louis XIV lived in the Louvre during the first years of his reign, before moving the court to the Palace of Versailles.
Finally, in the late 18th century, the Salle des Caryatides hosted some important meetings of the Académie Française.
Today Salle des Caryatides displays part of the Louvre’s collection of Greek Antiquities.
WHERE: Sully wing – Ground floor – Room 348
Grande Galerie (Denon Wing)
The Grande Galerie was built between 1595 and 1610 to connect the Louvre Palace to the Tuileries Palace.
During the 17th century, the gallery was used for the scrofula ceremony (an infection of the lymph glands that led to swelling and discharge, which the French Kings’ touch claimed to heal), during which the King laid his hand on the sick to heal them.
In the 19th century, the Grande Galerie was shortened by a third to build the Flore Wing. Today, it hosts part of the Louvre’s Italian paintings.
Despite its length and the quality of the artworks displayed (Da Vinci, Raphaello, Caravaggio, …), this is a gallery that visitors ‘see’ quickly, all in a rush on their way to see the Mona Lisa!
WHERE: Denon wing – 1st floor – Rooms 710, 712, 716
Galerie d’Apollon (Denon Wing)
The Galerie d’Apollon, recently restored, is one of the most beautiful spaces of the former Palais du Louvre. This gallery perpendicular to the Seine River was built under King Henri IV’s reign, during the construction of the Grande Galerie.
At that time, the Galerie d’Apollon was called Galerie des Rois (Kings’ Gallery), and it hosted the portraits of Kings and Queens of France.
In 1661 a large fire destroyed the gallery, and reconstruction works took place during King Louis XIV’s reign. This gallery was King Louis XIV’s first royal gallery and was used as the model for the famous Glass Gallery in Versailles.
Today, the Galerie d’Apollon hosts part of the jewels of the French crown, with the famous Regent Diamond. Don’t miss its impressive vaulted ceiling!
WHERE: Denon wing – 1st floor – Room 705
This inner courtyard was built in the North Wing in the 19th century. During Mitterand’s Grand Louvre Project, it was refurbished and covered with a glass roof.
Today it hosts French statuary, and it gets its name from the spectacular Horses of Marly, one of our favorite sculptures in the Louvre!
WHERE: Richelieu wing – Ground floor – Room102
Salle du Manège (Denon Wing)
The Salle du Manège was built during the Second Empire (1852-1870) to accommodate the exercises and equestrian events of the Imperial Stable.
When the Louvre Palace became a museum, in 1793, La Salle du Manège was the Louvre’s main entrance until the Glass Pyramid’s construction.
Today the Salle du Manège displays Roman antiquities coming from important private collections.
WHERE: Denon wing – Ground floor
This (today) inner court was used in the past for the horses to access the Salle du Manège, hence the stairs’ huge dimensions and shape.
Unfortunately, this courtyard is not open to the public, so you can only view it from a window.
WHERE: Denon wing – Ground floor
The Ministry of State’s Ceremonial Apartments (Richelieu Wing)
Named the Napoleon III Apartments, these rooms and halls were built between 1852 and 1857 for the Ministry of State during the Second Empire. These apartments were built for hosting VIPs like heads of state, not for Napoleon III himself.
The construction works were supervised by Napoleon III himself, who lived in the Tuileries Palace. Particularly impressive are the main saloon and the big dining room.
WHERE: Denon wing – 1st floor – Rooms 544, 547
The Louvre Pyramid
The Glass Pyramid, dominating the Cour Napoleon, was designed by the architect I.M Pei. Its construction was very polemic, and all the city was against it, just like with the Eiffel Tower!
The Louvre Pyramid is the museum’s main entrance since its opening in 1989 and the symbol of the Louvre. The pyramid is also very appreciated by photographers in Paris, and some of the best views of Paris have the Louvre Pyramid as the main object.
The Louvre Pyramid, 21.64 meters high, consists of a 95-tonne steel structure, a 105-tonne aluminum frame, and contains 673 glass panes (603 rhombi and 70 triangles). The Glass Pyramid is not alone: three smaller copies surround the main pyramid.
And there you have it, the list of best rooms and halls of the Louvre Palace. What is your favorite room in Palais du Louvre?
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