Aerial view of the Louvre Palace
Map of the Louvre Palace complex
The present-day Louvre Palace is a vast complex of wings and pavilions on four main levels which, although it looks to be unified, is the result of many phases of building, modification, destruction and restoration. The Palace is situated in the right-bank of the River Seine between Rue de Rivoli to the north and the Quai François Mitterrand to the south. To the west is the Jardin des Tuileries and, to the east, the
Rue de l'Amiral de Coligny, where its most architecturally famous façade, the Louvre Colonnade, and the Place du Louvre are found. The complex occupies about 40 hectares and forms two main quadrilaterals which enclose two large courtyards: the Cour Carrée (Square Courtyard), completed under Napoleon I, and the larger
Cour Napoléon (Napoleon Courtyard) with the Cour du Carrousel to its west, built under Napoleon III. The Cour Napoléon and Cour du Carrousel are separated by the street known as the Place du Carrousel.
The Louvre complex may be divided into the "Old Louvre": the medieval and Renaissance pavilions and wings surrounding the Cour Carrée, as well as the
Grande Galerie extending west along the bank of the Seine; and the "New Louvre": those 19th-century pavilions and wings extending along the north and south sides of the Cour Napoléon along with their extensions to the west (north and south of the Cour du Carrousel) which were originally part of the Palais des Tuileries (Tuileries Palace), burned during the Paris Commune in 1871.
Some 51,615 sq m (555,000 sq ft) in the palace complex are devoted to public exhibition floor space.
The "Old Louvre"
The Old Louvre occupies the site of the Louvre castle, a 12th-century fortress built by King Philip Augustus, also called the Louvre. Its foundations are viewable in the basement level as the "Medieval Louvre" department. This structure was razed in 1546 by King Francis I in favour of a larger royal residence which was added to by almost every subsequent French monarch. King Louis XIV, who resided at the Louvre until his departure for Versailles in 1678, completed the Cour Carrée, which was closed off on the city side by a colonnade. The Old Louvre is a quadrilateral approximately 160 m (520 ft) on a side consisting of 8 ailes (wings) which are articulated by 8 pavillons (pavilions). Starting at the northwest corner and moving clockwise, the pavillons consist of the following: Pavillon de Beauvais, Pavillon de Marengo, Northeast Pavilion, Central Pavilion, Southeast Pavilion, Pavillon des Arts,
Pavillon du Roi, and Pavillon Sully (formerly, Pavillon de l'Horloge). Between the Pavillon du Roi and the Pavillon Sully is the Aile Lescot (Lescot Wing): built between 1546 and 1551, it is the oldest part of the visible external elevations and was important in setting the mould for later French architectural classicism. Between the Pavillon Sully and the Pavillon de Beauvais is the
Aile Lemercier (Lemercier Wing): built in 1639 by Louis XIII and Cardinal Richelieu, it is a symmetrical extension of Lescot's wing in the same Renaissance style. With it, the last external vestiges of the medieval Louvre were demolished.
The "New Louvre"
Inside the Pyramid: the view of the Louvre Museum in Paris from the underground lobby of the Pyramid.
The New Louvre is the name often given to the wings and pavilions extending the Palace for about 500 m (1,600 ft) westwards on the north (Napoleon I and Napoleon III following the quarter-mile-long Henry IV Seine Riverside Grande Galerie) and on the south (Napoléon III) sides of the Cour Napoléon and Cour du Carrousel. It was Napoléon III who finally connected the north end of the Tuileries Palace with the Louvre in the 1850s, thus finally achieving the Grand Dessein (Great Design) originally envisaged by King Henry IV of France in the 16th century. This consummation only lasted a few years, however, as the Tuileries was burned in 1871 and finally razed in 1883.
The northern limb of the new Louvre consists (from east to west) of three great pavilions along the Rue de Rivoli: the Pavillon de la Bibliothèque, Pavillon de Rohan and Pavillon de Marsan. On the inside (court side) of the Pavillon de la Bibliothèque are three pavilions; Pavillon Colbert, Pavillon Richelieu and Pavillon Turgot; these pavilions and their wings define three subsidiary Courts, from east to west: Cour Khorsabad, Cour Puget and Cour Marly.
The southern limb of the New Louvre consists (from east to west) of five great pavilions along the Quai François Mitterrand (and Seine bank): the Pavillon de la Lesdiguieres, Pavillon des Sessions, Pavillon de la Tremoille, Pavillon des États and Pavillon de Flore. As on the north side, three inside (court side) pavilions (Pavillon Daru, Pavillon Denon and Pavillon Mollien) and their wings define three more subsidiary Courts: Cour du Sphinx, Cour Viconti and Cour Lefuel.
The Chinese American architect I.M. Pei was selected in 1983 to design François Mitterrand's Grand Louvre Project (1981–2002). A vast underground complex of offices, shops, exhibition spaces, storage areas, and parking areas, as well as an auditorium, a tourist bus depot, and a cafeteria, was constructed underneath the Louvre's central courtyards of the Cour Napoléon and the Cour du Carrousel. The ground-level entrance to this complex was situated in the centre of the Cour Napoléon and is crowned by the prominent steel-and-glass pyramid (1989), the most famous element designed by Pei.
In a proposal by Kenneth Carbone, the nomenclature of the wings of the Louvre was simplified in 1987 to reflect the Grand Louvre's organization. Corresponding to the three pavilions through which the public must pass to reach the museum from the main reception area under the glass pyramid, the north part of the complex is now referred to as the Richelieu wing; the east, as the Sully wing; and the south, as the Denon wing. This allows the casual visitor to avoid (to some extent) becoming totally mystified at the bewildering array of named wings and pavilions.