Of course we had to go to the Louvre during our trip to Paris. Mark and the boys had never been. Mom and I had gone 15 years ago and seen Winged Victory and the Mona Lisa before having a memorable meal of rabbit in the Louvre restaurant. Well, I had rabbit, she went with something less exotic and probably wondered who’s child I really was.
Turns out Dad had a lot of rabbit in his youth.
The Louvre is huge. Colossally huge. Like more than two city blocks huge.
And, word to the wise, get your tickets ahead of time. The same with the Catacombs. That line was looooong.
The Louvre wasn’t always a museum. It used to be a palace. Actually it was a giant fort back in the 12th century built by Phillip II. The location next to the Seine and off the Ilê St. Louis made it ideal to be a royal residence. Later kings kept adding onto it until it become the Louvre that we know today.
When Louis XIV decided that he’d had enough of the city life and moved out to Versailles, he decided to make the Louvre the home of his royal art collection. Once the Revolution happened the people decided that since the art was already on the walls maybe we should just add to it and make it the national art museum.
The first thing you see is the glass pyramid designed by the great I. M. Pei.
It’s an incongruent and startling addition to an otherwise classical plaza, but it’s elegant and reminiscent of the Eiffel Tower with the exposed metal supports and angles.
The Louvre Pyramid is actually the entrance into the Louvre. They have these classy metal herding gates that keep you in straight and orderly lines. We bought our tickets before hand and skipped the entire queue. Worth. It.
Once inside it is a bit confusing because it’s just a big open space with signs that indicate various choices, like Help, Cloakroom, and the different galleries you can enter. You do get a big map which is somewhat help in pointing out the popular pieces like Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, and Mona Lisa.
Actually to find Mona you just follow the stampede.
Every single person inside the Louvre is there to see The Mona Lisa. Every one of them. And they want to see it first. Not just have it be the first thing they see. They want to be first.
Some people are slowed down by Winged Victory because it happens to be prominently displayed on a grand stair landing on the way to Mona, but others just rush on by and miss how wonderful Nike is.
They don’t see how her clothing is sculpted to make it look like she is standing facing a brisk wind, her wings behind her ready to take off. She is defiant and joyful all at the same time. This was actually H’s favorite piece of the whole day.
You continue past docents and tour guides desperately trying to educate the masses on classical sculpture to Room 6 in the Denon gallery.
We seemed to have reached Mona relatively early in the day. The crowd was only 6 people deep around the bullet-proof glass enclosure that protects da Vinci’s masterpiece.
Mona Lisa ended up in France as part of Leonardo da Vinci’s luggage when he moved to France to build a mechanical lion for François I. I visited Ambois, where da Vinci, died with Mom and there was a story there saying da Vinci fled Italy to François’s protection after some of his ideas where declared heretical and he was in danger of imprisonment or perhaps even execution.
I’ve never seen that version events published anywhere else so I’m not sure what to believe.
Some people dart into the room, take a photo, and are off again like they are some sort of timed scavenger hunt. Some people linger and try to take in as much of Mona as they can before they are elbowed out of the way by impatient art-goers.
You would think she is the only lady in the room, but the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with pieces of art just as wonderful as Mona. We lingered and wandered around taking in the other masterpieces that were getting short shrift.
Did you know that a couple of rooms down there are Rembrandt pieces? Huge ones. And they are incredible.
These are full-scale, true to life paintings of a husband and wife. Don’t they look like they could just walk off the canvases? They are so realistic. The light seems to come out of the painting and into the room. I think I was allowed to stand here for a good 10 minutes before the children had had enough.
The halls of works are numerous and span for miles and miles. Yes, that is the Venus de Milo up there. The lines to see her aren’t nearly as long or thick as for Mona, but Venus will always have a special place in my heart.
Thankfully they have several cafes and they still have that same restaurant that Mom and I ate at 15 years ago. I did not have rabbit. The food was good and we were able to sit and relax for as long as we wanted.
But E had one more thing he wanted to see. Napoleon III’s apartments.
Napoleon III took over the Louvre Palace and modified part of it to be his private apartments. They compare to Versailles in grandeur. Especially since everything is intact. During the Revolution, Versailles was stripped bare and things were sold to finance the costs of a revolution and a new government. It turns out Revolutions are expensive.
But these apartments were built long after Louis XVII and Maria Antoinette’s time had passed. They are really far away from Mona in the Richelieu wing, but they are worth a minute if you aren’t ready to fall over from exhaustion.
And after 7 hours in the Louvre, I think we’d all earned a big, lovely ice cream in the cafe across the street.
The boys loved the museum. Well, they loved parts of it, anyway. We all had our favorite pieces and the ice cream made our sore feet feel magically better.
We treated ourselves and had some of the most incredible food that night at a little cafe that specialized in classic French cuisine and seafood. It was almost like experiencing the same food that Julia Child ate when she lived in France. I was in heaven!
If you have never gone to Paris find a way to go. There is no other city on earth like it. You will not be sorry.