Friday, May 9, 2014

Exploring Paris' Louvre Museum


No trip to Paris is complete without a visit to the world-famous Louvre Museum.  (At least, not your first trip to Paris. It's okay if you don't want to attend the Louvre every single time you hit up Paris!)  The Louvre offers many great things for history buffs, architecture nuts, and art lovers.  Even if you are none of those, you will still probably appreciate at least one visit to the museum.

Paris, France, Louvre, Museum, Pyramids, Louvre Pyramid
Entering the Louvre Museum courtyard.

For the history buffs, there are many facets to explore while at the Louvre.  The building itself used to be a palace, built in the 12th century by Philip II as his own personal fortress.  It was added to and expanded over the years, and then abandoned as the official palace when the French royalty decided to head on out to Versailles.  The Louvre Palace became a place for the royals to display their artistic collections.  It was home to several art schools as well, so when the Revolution in France was over, it was natural to decree the Louvre be made into an art museum.

Louvre Museum, Paris, France, art in Louvre
The proud but headless "Winged Victory" statue.

Other fascinating histories can be found inside the museum - there are eight departments featuring the histories - in art - of the Egyptians, Middle Eastern peoples, Greeks and Romans, and Islamic people. (The other four departments are separated into mediums: paintings, drawings, sculpture, and decorative arts.)  There is so much to see in the Louvre that it is said you could spend a week wandering its halls and still not see everything.

For the architecture nuts, there are some very interesting structural highlights of the museum.  The most famous is the Louvre Pyramid, added to the grand courtyard in 1989, and its counterpart, the Pyramid Inversee which was added in 1993.  There are two other, smaller above-ground pyramids as well.  The Louvre Pyramids are surrounded by reflection pools, which make for a very beautiful sight.  I loved the Pyramid Inversee, which is accessed from inside the Louvre lobby.  You can reach out and touch the tippy-top (bottom?) of it - and I also love it because of its tremendous importance to the Da Vinci Code book!

Louvre Museum, Paris France, French art, Da Vinci Code pyramid
Touching the top (or is it bottom?) of the Pyramid Inversee.

For the art lovers, well, what can I say? The Louvre is perhaps the most famous museum in the world due to its massive collection of art from all walks of life.  The key piece in the museum's collection is Da Vinci's The Mona Lisa.  She is a tricky one to see - there are usually huge crowds surrounding her, held at bay from the actual painting by a wooden balustrade and a bulletproof glass case.  The Mona Lisa itself is a tiny canvas, so when you combine that with big crowds full of people that want to pose for their camera in front of her, be prepared to throw some elbows to get up close.  (Just kidding.  I'd never behave like that in a museum... no really.  I have no idea how I ended up front and center...)

Louvre Museum Paris, Paris France, Da Vinci Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa size
The actual size of the "Mona Lisa"

Other fantastic pieces that are considered 'must-sees' include the armless Venus de Milo sculpture, the painting of Liberty Leading the People depicting the French Revolution, the creepy Raft of the Medusa which tells the tale of ship-wrecked cannibals, the headless Winged Victory sculpture (they are always missing some body part!), and The Consecration of Emperor Napoleon I, which has a sister painting in Versailles with a hidden love story painted into it.  Of course, there a TON more things to see, but the purpose of this blog post is not to create a giant list of artworks in the Louvre.

Venus de Milo statue, Paris France, Louvre art, Louvre statues
Posing as "Venus de Milo" with some students.

I had the pleasure of visiting Paris in 2010 when I took 23 junior high students and their 10 parent chaperons on a school field trip.  We spent one afternoon exploring the Louvre, although I wished we could have spent more time there.  One afternoon was probably enough for a group of junior high kids, I suppose.  For those of you NOT CRAZY and heading to the museum on your own or without a school bus full of teenagers, here's what you need to know.

The Louvre is located on the Right Bank in Paris, in the 1st arrondissement. The museum is open every day except Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (on Wednesdays and Fridays it is open later, until 9:45 p.m.). If you go during the off-season (October to March) admission is free on Sundays.  General admission is 12 Euros, and if you want to see everything the price is 16 Euros.  There are several 'special circumstances' in which admission is free: check here to see if you apply to any.  Line-ups can be ridiculous, so either get there super early, or come much later in the day, after the majority of the line has already made its way in.  From what I've read online, most people recommend choosing the Porte des Lions entrance as it is usually manned with more staff and therefore moves quicker.  The second-best choice is the Carousel entrance because it is more remote and less people choose to line up there.

outside Louvre Museum, Louvre Museum pyramids, courtyard Paris France
The beautiful Louvre Museum as the sun sets on our day.

One thing that kept myself and 23 junior high students on track in the museum, and allowed us to see most of the 'must-see' works, was a scavenger hunt that Explorica, our tour company, had put together and provided us.  The scavenger hunt acted as a map, guidebook, and fun activity for the kids to do while we hopped from room to room, searching for famous works of art and learning facts about each.  I won't include the entire thing because I doubt Explorica would like me doing that, but I'll provide one page here so you can see what we were working with.  It was a great way to move a bunch of young teenagers through one of the world's largest museums!

how to find art in the Louvre Museum, Louvre Museum with kids
Louvre Museum scavenger hunt for kids from Explorica

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