Finding one’s way around the Musée du Louvre in Paris beyond the iconic glass pyramid is not easy to say the least. The historic monument’s three wings span multiple levels whose numerous exhibition rooms overwhelm most people. More than 35,000 masterpieces ranging from the antiquities to the mid-19th century daunt even the most avid art lovers 80 percent of whom are content only to see La Joconde, the French name for Mona Lisa. Just in time to remedy that the Pavillon de l’Horloge was recently renovated to make the Louvre easier to understand and more accessible. Visitors with different abilities, novices and connoissieurs, will all benefit from this initiation to the art and architecture of one of the world’s most important museums.
To get to the Pavillon de l’Horloge from the entrance hall, take the middle escalators to the Sully Wing, visually indicated by a large banner, or elevator G just behind on the left. It is shown in brown on the color coded maps available for free at the visitor information desk. After going past the ticket control, follow the hallway to the projected image of the Pavillon de l’Horloge’s exterior facade recognizable by the clock (horloge in French). Just beyond is the origin of the Louvre, a fortress surrounded by the remains of a moat. The circular path of the medieval structure has several panels narrating its history in three languages, using braille, illustrations, videos, and tactile models. The museum’s website has a downloadable visual guide intended for people on the autism spectrum. In the adjacent room, 800 Years of Architecture tells the story of how the previous fortress evolved into a royal palace for the Kings of France and what lead to its transformation into a museum, open to all, after the French Revolution. A large model of the Louvre in the center of the gallery includes the Tuilerie Gardens. Digital displays on two sides of the model provide a visual timeline of the building’s construction throughout the centuries right up to the glass pyramid entrance and reception/information area designed by I.M. Pei. Commissioned by President Mitterand in the 1980’s, Pei is the only architect to add to the Louvre who was not French. Whichever historical period is chosen on the touch screen, the corresponding area on the interactive model is illuminated so that the relationship between the descriptive text and the miniature Louvre is easily understood. While I am not certain how much of this knowledge my son was able to process, using the 3D visual aide to trace our path and point out the different wings of the museum helped to situate himself spatially. Architectural ornaments that can be found on the Louvre’s exterior are displayed on the walls of the gallery with explanations using archived images and films. This hands on crash course in the history of western architecture will take 45 minutes to an hour and a half depending how long one spends at each display.
In the Salle de la Chapelle on level one of the Pavillon de l’Horloge, the exhibit One Museum, Many Collections is a traversal of the artwork in the Musée du Louvre. It is best to take elevator G rather than the stairs to avoid taking a detour through other rooms in the Sully Wing and crowds looking for Venus de Milo. The entrance to Salle de la Chapelle is recognizable by the elaborately ornate metal doors. In the center of the room a large scale model of the Louvre museum’s interior, each level floating above the other, reveal’s the organisation of the museum’s eight curatorial departments. Like the interactive display on the lower level, the touch screens on either side of the model illuminate the area on the model that correspond to the chosen period of art showing its location in the museum along with miniatures of the Louvre’s most iconic masterpieces. Glass display cases around the room contain evocative examples of art from each department such as Egyptian antiquities or Italian sculpture along with an interactive display that tells the story of how the vast collection was established. Further representations from the painting collections embellish the walls of the former chapel. One can easily walk through the room in half an hour to have an overview of the Musée Louvre’s rich collection or spend time at each display to delve deeper into a specific period of art in context with the museum’s history. Either way, you will leave feeling more familiar with the Louvre more knowledgable about art and better prepared to return to any one of the departments that spark interest. The stunning view of the Cour Napoléan from the Salle de la Chapelle’s window make the visit even more worthwhile and on the way out glance out the opposite window towards the Cour Carrée. This will reinforce the architectural lesson from the lower level.
To complete the total immersion course on the Louvre take elevator G to level 2 of the Pavillon de l’Horloge. The exhibit The Louvre Today and Tomorrow is for those who would like to know more about the museum’s multiple missions beyond displaying art (acquisitions, restorations, scientific research) and beyond its own walls in the satellite locations (Lens and Abu Dhabi) as well as its partnership with an extensive network of museums.
In my next post about the Musée du Louvre, I will show you a few of the additional initiatives at the museum to make art more accessible to people of all ages and abilities such as the Petite Gallery and the Tactile Gallery. In the meantime, the website contains a wealth of information in English to help prepare your next visit.
The Louvre Museum is located at 4 Place du Louvre in the 1st arrondissement of Paris. The main entrance at the glass pyramid, priority access for visitors with a disability, will take you through security. There is a lift, stairs or escalators to go down to the reception hall. The Carrousel Gallery entrance at 99 rue de Rivoli also has elevators and escalators. Admission is free for visitors with a disability and one companion. Assistance in getting from the museum information point to the Touch Gallery, the Carrousel car park or the nearest taxi stand is available to the visually impaired. Wheelchairs may be borrowed with ID. Email email@example.com for more information or call 01 40 20 53 17.
When to visit: Closed on Tuesdays and certain holidays. The Musée du Louvre opens at 9 am Wednesday-Monday. It closes at 6 pm on Monday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. Wednesday and Friday it closes at 9:45 pm and the late afternoon on those days are the best time to visit if you want to avoid crowds. The first Sunday of the month admission is complimentary which draws huge crowds as do Mondays when Musée D’Orsay is closed. The day before free Sunday is quieter than other Saturdays.
Restrooms : Although there are accessible restrooms on every level in each of the three wings clearly indicated on the museum’s map I recommend stopping at the ones in the entrance/reception hall as distances can be long. The Pavillon de l’Horloge in the Sully wing has an accessible family restroom (non gender specific).
Food and Beverage : Inside the museum, the Café Mollien on the 1st floor near the staircase overlooking the french painting gallery serves lunch and snacks. Les Cafés de la Pyramide is a food court. There are tables on the mezzanine under the pyramid if you want to bring your own food or purchase sandwiches, salads and pastries at Le Comptoir du Louvre. The Tuileries gardens also have several kiosques and outdoor seating for picnics.
Bus: Lines 27,39,68,69,95 stop at the Carrousel roundabout in front of the pyramid entrance. Lines 21,67,69,72,81 stop at the rue de Rivoli entrance
Metro: Palais Royal/Musée du Louvre (lines 1 or 7) Pyramides (line 14)
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Car: There is a drop off in front of the pyramid for taxis, cars and vans. A private parking garage, Q Park, is located under the Carrousel du Louvre shops. The entrance is on avenue General-Lemonnier. Elevators go directly to the information/reception hall.