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The Louvre Pyramid is one of the most famous landmarks in Paris. This Glass Pyramid in Paris stands in the Napoleon Courtyard of the Louvre, and it opened to the public in 1989. Designed by the Sino-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei as part of the extensive renovation and expansion project for the Louvre Museum, the Louvre Glass Pyramid welcomes today more than 10 million visitors a year.
Former residence of the kings of France, the Louvre Palace became a museum during the French Revolution. Today, the Louvre presents a collection of more than 35,000 works spread over 60,000 m2, including masterpieces such as the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Raft of the Medusa, Liberty Leading the People… and so many others!
But do you really know about the Louvre Pyramid, one of the most celebrated structures in the city? Discover these 10+ fun and unusual facts about the Louvre Pyramid in Paris.
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10+ Louvre Pyramid Facts
1. Louvre Pyramid History
The Pyramid of the Louvre has a fascinating history. The Louvre Glass Pyramid was constructed as part of an extensive renovation and expansion project for the Louvre Museum, the “Grand Louvre” project. The project’s goal was to modernize the museum, make it more accessible to visitors, and increase its exhibition space.
The “Grand Louvre” project was launched in 1981 by François Mitterand, who had just been elected President of the French Republic. The museum would incorporate the Richelieu Wing of the Louvre Palace, which at the time served as the home of the Ministry of Finance.
The Glass Pyramid of the Louvre was designed to be the Louvre’s new visitor entrance. It needed to complement the surrounding architecture and not overshadow the view of the buildings all around. At the same time, the entrance had to stand out and be easy to find.
When the Grand Louvre project was completed, the exhibition space doubled. The glass-and-metal structure designed by I.M. Pei sits atop the Louvre’s underground, yet light-filled, lobby. It acts as the main entrance and connects the museum’s three pavilions — Denon, Richelieu and Sully.
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2. The Louvre Glass Pyramid Wasn’t Received Well Initially
When the design was initially presented, the Glass Pyramid “sparked much media controversy and unleashed passions on both aesthetic and technical grounds,” according to a press statement from the Louvre. The structure was straight-up ridiculed by the French media, calling it an “architectural joke.”
90% of Parisians were against the building of the Glass Pyramid, deeming it too radical for the classic French style. Also, some people didn’t like the fact that the architect wasn’t French enough to design such an important monument in the city, right in the middle of the Axe Historique of Paris.
The architect had fully expected controversy in this instance, and he was not surprised when he was attacked. In regards to the choice of a pyramid for the new Louvre entrance, I.M. Pei wrote:
“We experimented with various forms; we even tried a cube or a curved, hemispheric shape. But, if you look at the silhouette of the Louvre, there is no curve, so we had to exclude curves. I concluded that the pyramid was the only shape that was acceptable. It is the most appropriate form.”
This is one of the Louvre Pyramid facts that shouldn’t surprise our readers: a similar rejection by the Parisians happened at the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower, designed for the Paris World Fair of 1889. Today, however, the Tower is recognized as the symbol of Paris and France, and climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower is one of the best things to do in Paris.
3. The Idea of a Pyramid at the Louvre is Much Older
But actually, the idea of a Pyramid at the Louvre dates from the 19th century. A pyramid in the Napoleon courtyard was initially proposed for the celebrations of the French Revolution, in particular for the centenary (architect Louis Ernest Lheureux proposed a cyclopean pyramid project in neo-Aztec style).
You can also find this idea in a small booklet, “Memoirs on two great obligations to be fulfilled by the French”, written by Balzac and published in 1809. One of these obligations was to erect, in the courtyard of the Louvre, a pyramid which would be a national monument of recognition to the Emperor (Napoleon).
It is possible that the architect Ieoh Ming Pei was made aware of this proposal when he chose the shape of a pyramid for the Louvre.
TIP: The Louvre is located in Paris 1, the most central Arrondissement of Paris, near the Tuileries Garden, the Palais Royal, and the Seine River. With such a privileged position, hotels near the Louvre Museum are very requested, so book your room well in advance!
4. There are Satanist Theories Around the Louvre Glass Pyramid
The urban legend has long preached the existence of 666 (the devil’s number!) glass panels on the Louvre Pyramid. Even recently, in the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, we find an allusion to these obscure theories.
The most tenacious myth about the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre is that it is the work of the Devil. But these rumours are, in reality, only rumours: there are exactly 603 diamonds and 70 triangles, which gives us a total of 673 glass panels.
5. The Louvre Pyramid is Based on the Cheops Pyramid
It is also said that the Glass Pyramid of the Louvre is based on the proportions of the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt. This is totally true! With a square base of 35.24 meters on each side and 21.64 meters high, the Louvre Pyramid is indeed a reduction of the most famous pyramid in the world.
6. Louvre Pyramid Dimensions and Numbers
Technically, the Pyramid of Louvre occupies an area at its base of 1,000 m2 and rises 21.65 meters above the ground. It is a self-supporting structure with no pillars and is made up of 95 tons of steel, 105 tons of aluminium frames and 673 glass lozenges. The Pyramid has the same proportions as the Cheops Pyramid in Egypt, and the same slope was also given, of 51 degrees.
As soon as the excavation works started, workers discovered remains of Medival Paris, like the parade helmet of King Charles VI. This construction project will last 10 years! – estimated the architects. To keep the schedule, the preventive archaeology works were done in the time record of one year, and four years later, the Louvre Glass Pyramid was finished.
The Glass Pyramid of the Louvre was inaugurated the 4 March 1989, and the total cost of the Louvre Pyramid was two billion Francs.
7. New Glass Was Developed to Build the Louvre Pyramid
I.M. Pei insisted on total transparency in the Glass Pyramid so as not to obstruct the view of the wonderful Louvre building. Finding a clear glass presented a serious challenge because glass has a faint bluish or greenish tint. So he enlisted the French manufacturing company Saint-Gobain to create a new glass specifically for the project.
Months of exhaustive research went into the development of this 21.5-millimetre extra-clear laminated glass, called “Verre Diamant”, with its exceptional mechanical properties and high optical quality. It took about two years to get it right and removing the iron oxides (to avoid any green reflection) required the company to construct a special furnace.
There are 1,800 square meters of glass in the pyramid — 675 “lozenges” (the rhombus shape glass segments we associate with the Pyramid) — and 118 triangles. These rest on a structure composed of 6,000 metal bars, bringing the total weight of the Glass Pyramid in Paris to 200 tons.
Just in case any glass pieces ever break, Saint-Gobain made enough to build two glass pyramids! After more than 30 years, however, no repairs have yet been needed — Where do they store such an incredible amount of Verre Diamants, by the way?!
8. Its Design Aligns with French Tradition
Despite its seeming contrast with the French Renaissance style of the museum, the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre keeps with some French architectural traditions.
In fact, when the Louvre Pyramid opened in 1989, The New York Times remarked that it “communicated” with existing monuments of Paris and that the country’s architectural history was “laden with references” to architects like these, who “relied heavily on blunt geometric forms, including pyramids.”
Indeed, French Neoclassical architects of the late 1700s, such as Boullée, Lequeu and Ledoux, experimented with pyramidal forms deployed as monuments, cenotaphs or other programs.
And, of course, just a short walk from the Louvre, the 3,300-year-old Egyptian Obelisk brought from the Luxor Temple in 1833 is on the same line as the Glass Pyramid. The two monuments complement each other on the city’s landscape.
9. The Thinker at the Louvre Pyramid Inside
The original project planned to erect a statue on the central pillar at the heart of the Pyramid. For this special place, it was suggested Rodin’s The Thinker.
A test made with a replica of plaster showed that from the outside the surface, The Thinker looked perfect, but when seen from below in the lobby, The Thinker seemed to be sitting on a pot! Because of this scatological aspect, the statue was not installed, and no replacement solution was found.
10. The Louvre Glass Pyramid is not Alone
The Louvre Pyramid is surrounded by three much smaller replicas and a fifth pyramid, this one inverted, built under the Carrousel du Louvre.
The three small pyramids represent the three wings of the Louvre – the Richelieu, Sully, and Denon wings.
The Inverted Pyramid is one of the other four entrances to the Louvre. It was completed in 1993, after the other pyramids. From the top, the upside-down pyramid looks like a glass plate.
There are other lesser-known pyramids in Paris: small pyramids in a couple of tombs at Père Lachaise Cemetery (e.g. the Pyramid of Jean-Louis Sacchet), the metro station Pyramides, Rue des Pyramides, and Place des Pyramides in (Paris 1), dominated by the statue of Jeanne d’Arc.
11. Cleaning the Glass Pyramid of the Louvre It Is a Monumental Task
One thing that did not cross the mind of many during the Louvre Pyramid construction and design was cleaning. When the Pyramid was still new, several attempts to clean the glass failed because of how it was inclined.
In the early days, mountaineers were hired to scale the Louvre Pyramid and clean the glass. In the 1990s, a robot was designed to do the job. Then in 2002, Seattle company Advanced Robotic Vehicles developed a new model, a “double breadbox-sized robot.” Manoeuvred by remote control, the robot climbs the Pyramid on tracks and is secured to the glass via suction cups. It boasts a squeegee and rotating brush.
However, the task is not entirely left to the robot. For example, the water features near the Pyramid deposit a mist loaded with tartar on the glass, and it’s necessary to descale the glass from time to time. For this, ropers are still used to repair the joints.
12. Increase in Tourism
The Louvre Pyramid brought notoriety to the museum. Once the Pyramid was unveiled, people began to embrace the geometric marvel. The Pyramid helped make the Louvre the most visited museum in the world. Since its creation, the number of annual visitors to the Louvre Museum has increased from 3 to 10 million!
Overall very popular with visitors today, the Louvre Glass Pyramid is the third most popular work of visitors, with the Mona Lisa and the Venus of Milo. The Louvre Pyramid is also the second most visited location after the Eiffel Tower.
The Louvre is also popular with families in Paris with kids. Check out this Louvre Museum guided tour especially designed for families and this fun Louvre Treasure Hunt.
13. The Louvre Museum is Too Big for the Pyramid Now
One of the strangest facts about the Louvre Pyramid is that it actually became way too small to serve as a proper entrance for the largest museum in the world!
Indeed, the Louvre Glass Pyramid was originally constructed for a museum that would welcome about 4 to 5 million visitors a year. By 2014, this number had already doubled, and at the time of writing this post, this number has nearly tripled!
Luckily, measures were taken, and between 2014 and 2017, a renovation project was done to expand the capacity.
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14. A Vital Part of Paris’ Renowned Cityscape
Thirty years after it was unveiled, the Louvre Pyramid stands in front of the world’s most visited museum, and despite its relative youth, it has become a vital part of Paris’ renowned cityscape, vying with the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe for the title of Paris’ most recognizable landmark.
This Glass Pyramid in Paris has also been featured in several movies and has been written about in novels.
The Louvre and its Pyramid are part of the best views of Paris. The Louvre Glass Pyramid and its three little sisters also offer exceptional subject matter for photographers and Instagrammers, especially at night when they are illuminated. Book a Paris photoshoot with a professional photographer by the Glass Pyramid at the Louvre and other landmarks for the best souvenir from Paris!