Your Short and Sweet Guide to The Louvre
Although it hasn’t been a fortress in over 800 years, the Louvre Museum in Paris, France certainly feels intimidating and impenetrable. The zigzagging hallways, multiple levels and sub-levels and the three wings all create a labyrinth of fine art, tourists and a surprising lack of bathrooms. According to the official Louvre site, there are about 35,000 works of art on-display at the Louvre at any given moment. If you only devoted 30 seconds to every piece, it would take you thirteen straight days to see everything. This means you need a solid game plan.
Start by exploring the online archives of the Louvre and making a list of all the pieces you want to see. The Mona Lisa is definitely a must-see, but the lines are atrociously long, so get a few lesser-known but equally beautiful pieces under your belt by starting in the basement.
Not only will this allow you to work your way up, but the Islamic art exhibit is full of marvels and famous artifacts that are left out of many westerner’s art education. You can browse giant cabinets filled with beautiful and ancient pottery and a folio containing pages from a ninth-century Qur’an. Additionally, you’ll be able to see the ruins of the original Louvre, when it was a fortress from 1190 to the 16th century. The medieval Louvre tour will have you exploring moats, castle walls and some fascinating history. Before you leave the basement for good, be sure to spend some time on the sub-landing to browse tiny treasures and view the legendary Church of St. Christopher floor tiles from above.
Like every floor, the ground floor is dotted with iconic and beautiful sculptures, many of them from ancient Rome and Greece. If you’re already tired from walking up-and-down stairs and weaving through crowds of confused foreigners and school children, spend some time relaxing on a bench in front of a glorious frieze. The ground floor is home to the Frieze of Archers from 510 B.C. Once you get a second-wind, the Egyptian Antiquities wing is as iconic as it is interesting.
As you head onto the 1st floor, pause in the foyer to admire the headless and armless statue standing before you. This is “Nike of Samothrace,” commonly known as Winged Victory. She is a massive and awe-inspiring statue carved in 190 B.C. The Louvre has a massive exhibit cataloguing the history of the iconic marble and also videos showing the painstaking efforts to move and restore the 8-foot masterpiece.
Cruise through one of the many temporary exhibits (currently they have one entitled “Founding Myths: from Hercules to Darth Vader” that looks amazing). The Decorative Arts exhibits may sounds underwhelming, but if you skip this wing you’ll be missing out on the lavish and breath-taking apartments of Napoleon II and other French monarchs. Nearly reconstructed dining rooms, bedrooms and sitting rooms are filled with beautiful furniture, personal trinkets from Marie Antoinette herself and other small details like lamps and rugs that transport you back in time.
You’ve probably been in the Louvre for a couple of hours by now, and may be a little burnt out. At this point you should make your way to room 6 where the Mona Lisa is displayed. Even if you use your elbows, the crowd will take at least a half-an-hour to get through, so use this break from critiquing fine art to critique the footwear of fellow tourists.
Don’t be surprised once you actually get up to the front that the Mona Lisa is quite small and the closest you can get is about five feet away. This is probably to avoid a repeat of the 1911 scandal. While you’re up at the front, might as well wave and say hi to the armed guard. They’ll talk to you, but with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. It passes the time as you wait for a hoard of Chinese tourists to put their cameras away and let you slip to the front for a quick snapchat with the famous lady herself.
Make your way out of the hall of paintings and stealthily eat that granola bar you’re not allowed to have as you head up to the second floor. Thankfully there is only one wing of paintings and unless you’re looking for a specific piece (I recommend checking out “Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds” and the iconic “Liberty Leading the People”) you can take this time to decompress, admire the beautiful architecture of the building itself, and quadruple-check your map to make sure you’ve hit all the “must-sees.”
Please exit through the gift shop and try to visit the Louvre at least twice more before you leave Paris. The grand old building houses thousands of hidden treasures and breathtaking art hidden behind twisting passages. Or, opt for the much cheaper and jet-lag free version by taking an online tour.