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History of the Louvre in 60 Seconds

Picture of Paul McQueen
Updated: 27 June 2018
Since it opened to the public amidst the turmoil of the French Revolution on August 10, 1793, the Louvre has become the most visited museum in the world, drawing an average of 15,000 people every day and a record 9.3 million visitors in 2014.
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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

Its history begins around 1190 when Philippe Auguste constructed a defensive fortress on the outskirts of Paris. Over the next few hundred years, the city grew up around the Louvre and it was converted into a pied-à-terre for the French kings who lived in the Loire Valley.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip
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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

Francis I, who brought Leonardo da Vinci and the Mona Lisa to France, declared in 1528 that the Louvre should be the primary royal residence. Unhappy with the limitations of the medieval structure, he and his 16th-century successors had it razed (a 13th-century pillared hall can still be seen in the basement) and a resplendent Renaissance palace built in its place, starting with the Lescot wings. The Palais des Tuileries was also built at this time but was destroyed by the Paris Commune in 1871.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

Between 1595 and 1610, Henry IV had his two royal architects join the palaces with a gallery a quarter of a mile long and one hundred feet wide. Though Jacques II Androuet du Cerceau and Louis Métezeau were miffed at having to work side-by-side, the king was adamant about avoiding a monotony of style on what was to be the largest building of its time.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

Before abandoning Paris for Versailles, Louis XIV made numerous Baroque additions to the Louvre between 1624 and 1670, most importantly finishing the Cour Carrée.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

After lying untouched for over a century, the Louvre saw its most rapid evolution between 1806 and 1880 under the successive regimes of Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Napoleon III, and the Third Republic. The Cour du Carrousel and its neoclassical Arc de Triomphe were closed off by the addition of the Marsan Wing and the symmetrical neo-Baroque Richelieu and Denon wings finally completely the total (albeit short-lived) linkage of the two palaces.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

Though the Louvre became a museum in 1793, large portions of its 652,300 square feet were taken up by government departments for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. This period also brought one of its greatest scandals. On August 21, 1911, Vincenzo Perugia, an Italian petty criminal and Louvre employee, walked out of the museum with the Mona Lisa concealed beneath his coat. The international manhunt that ensued captured the public’s attention (Guillaume Apollinaire and Pablo Picasso were early suspects) and catapulted the painting to international fame. It was only found in November 1913 when Perugia attempted to sell it to Alfredo Geri, a Florentine art dealer. He was swiftly imprisoned and the Mona Lisa returned to Paris after a brief stint at the Uffizi Gallery.

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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip
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Rachel Moyer / | © Culture Trip

President François Mitterand’s Grand Louvre project substantially extended the museum’s capacity to display its 380,000-piece collection and gave it I.M. Pei’s Modernist glass pyramids and subterranean reception area, which were unveiled on May 30, 1989, to coincide with the bicentennial of the French Revolution.