The Louvre Pyramid – Concept, Controversy, Construction

After 800 years of construction, it was the 20th century that saw the biggest changes to the Louvre. Today, looking at the Louvre Pyramid, you would never guess that this site was once an important part of the fortifications of Paris. Every major ruler of France has tried to leave their mark on the Louvre — from Philippe Augustus and Francis I right up to Napoleon and François Mitterrand.

Louvre Pyramid

Even after centuries of additions, renovations, and beautification; after a series of kings, emperors and presidents — there was still work to be done in the 20th century and French President François Mitterrand was the man to do it. By the 1980s the number of people visiting the museum had grown so much that the original entrances could not handle the crowds. In addition, with the number of pieces in its collection, the Louvre simply needed more room to show off its art.


The Best Louvre Museum Tours

Skip-the-line Guided Tour of the Louvre Museum
Skip the Louvre lines with an expert guide to get past the crowds and into the museum to visit the masterpieces.
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Evening Louvre Tour & Wine Tasting
Skip the line on an evening tour of the Louvre. Afterwards, attend a guided tasting of French wine at a classicParisian bar.
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The Louvre Pyramid – The Concept

Louvre Pyramid

For a couple of hundred years the Palais du Louvre — the building itself — in addition to housing the museum, was also home office for the bureaucrats of the French Ministry of Finance. Unbelievably, this situation lasted almost to the end of the 20th century, in hindsight an incredible waste of the building.

The Cour Napoléon, the central courtyard, was even used as a parking lot for their cars! The work that President Mitterrand commissioned in 1984 in the Grande Louvre Plan began with moving the Ministry of Finance to new quarters and clearing out the central courtyard.


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The Cour Napoléon Parking Lot

The Cour Napoléon Parking Lot

We just want to repeat that fact — the main Louvre courtyard was used as a parking lot for bureaucrats' cars. It seems odd today, but here's the photo to prove it. It was taken just as the work on the Louvre Pyramid was starting, and you can see the lines of parked cars. (You can also see the incredible amount of traffic passing the Louvre, something that still exists to day but which the City of Paris is planning to change.)

With the government offices moved out, the central courtyard became available as a space to build a new entry. In a novel concept, architect I.M. Pei placed the new main entrance underground, in the center of Cour Napoléon and plunked a steel-and-glass pyramid on top of it. Pei's design didn't meet with universal approval and the reviews of his plans were mixed.

In addition to the ticket and entry areas, Pei created an underground network of shops, connection to the Metro, exhibition & meeting spaces, a cafeteria, even a tourist bus depot. The New Louvre (as he thought of it) opened in 1988. Since then attendance at the museum has doubled once again and now amounts to nearly ten million people every year — pre-Covid, that is!

With those kind of crowds you can see why we recommend skip-the-line techniques — like signing up for a guided tour of the Louvre.

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