The Louvre: Fortress, Palace, Museum

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The Louvre: Fortress, Palace, Museum
A lifetime would be nowhere near long enough to appreciate the Louvre’s stunning collections from all over the world. But even if you managed it, you would still have missed something important, namely the building itself and the history it represents. Originally a fortress, then a royal residence and seat of political power and finally a world-renowned art museum, this is a site which contains within its walls much that is also the story of Paris itself. It all began in the early 1200s, when Philippe Auguste, mindful that the English occupied Normandy and might attack Paris while he was away on a crusade, built a wall to protect the city and then added a fortress, complete with high tower to deter invaders. Its military role diminished in the 14th century when Charles V converted it into a residence and became the first king to live there. Aerial view of the Louvre Palace and Tuileries Park. (C) Unknown author, Public Domain François I, who reigned from 1515, liked the site, finding it “most fitting and convenient,” but he wanted a new building, one inspired by his love of Italy and the Renaissance, where he could store his art collection. His plans were so extensive that a visiting Venetian feared the project would never be completed. If it were, he said “one could rightly say that it was one of the world’s most beautiful edifices.” It is thanks to François that the first stones of the building we know today were laid and from then on the palace was to be the home of France’s reigning monarch and a seat of royal power. Henri II continued the work after the death of his father, François. He added the Salle des Cariatides, a large room named after the four sculpted female figures built as columns to support a musicians’ gallery up above. The room, now home to a collection of Greek sculptures, was originally used as the royal ballroom. Typically renaissance in style, it was modeled on the Forum of Augustus in Rome. But Henri, certainly an art lover, was also capable of acts of cruelty. One room, known as the chambre ardente (“fiery chamber”) was used as a courtroom, where some 500 religious dissenters were tried, 40 of whom were sentenced to death by burning for such “crimes” as reading the bible in French, not Latin, or eating meat on Fridays. Portrait of King Henry II of France. (C) François Clouet, Public Domain

Lead photo credit : The Louvre at night (C) Michael Fousert, Unsplash

More in Art, Battle, Henri II, Museum, Paris, World War II

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.


  • Kathleen Formanack
    2021-07-08 09:05:12
    Kathleen Formanack
    Thank you. My son and wife and baby to be live in Paris and we are in Pasadena Calif. This makes me feel closer to them.


    • Marian Jones
      2021-07-12 03:09:58
      Marian Jones
      Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the piece. And I hope that you are all able to see each other before too long, especially with such exciting times coming up for you all soon.