The Louvre Pyramid is one of the top three most recognizable landmarks of Paris – after the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.
Inaugurated in 1989, in a short span, the Louvre Pyramid has won over art lovers and become an integral part of the Parisian art Museum.
Even though the massive glass pyramid is the entrance to the Louvre Museum, it is a tourist attraction in itself.
In this article, we share everything you must know about the Pyramid before visiting the Louvre Museum.
Why Louvre Pyramid was built
In this section we take you through the various incidents which led to the building of one of the most popular Parisian landmarks.
Space Crunch at Louvre Museum
In the early 1980s, Louvre Museum was a world-class art museum bursting at its seams.
It had the finest collections of art in the world, and yet they were running out of space to display.
Because of lack of space, the galleries were disjointed, and visitor experience was poor.
So much so, there were only two public bathrooms to cater to the 2.5 million visitors who would come in to relish the art annually.
To add to the space crunch, the French Minister of Finance had claimed the Richelieu Wing of the building for their offices.
That is, out of the three available wings, one couldn’t be used to display art exhibits.
Louvre Museum’s repeated requests for space went unheeded.
The Louvre had to do something quickly, if it had to maintain its position as the World’s best art Museum.
Art-loving French President enters the fray
And slowly, Louvre Museum’s luck turned.
In 1981, socialist François Mitterrand was elected the French President.
Mitterrand doubled investment in the arts and announced that The Louvre was his top priority.
The same year Mitterrand announced the Grand Louvre project, which would include a redesign of the Museum and addition of space.
He also made sure the art Museum got the Richelieu Wing back.
Mitterrand identifies the architect
In 1983, François Mitterrand personally invited Chinese-American architect Ieoh Ming Pei and gave him the commission to modernize the Louvre.
The Grand Louvre project was so crucial for Mitterrand that he decided to forgo an open competition, which made many French architectural firms unhappy.
The President’s unilateral decision infuriated many, but he stuck to it.
Idea of ‘Louvre Pyramid’ is born
Architect Pei’s solution was simple yet effective.
He decided to place a new entrance in the Cour Napoléon, the courtyard enclosed by the Museum’s existing buildings.
The entrance would be in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by a transparent pyramid.
The transparent glass pyramid was to solve two purposes:
- Offer the visitor a ‘grand’ feeling of arrival
- Offer space for visitor services
- Light the underground space
Being transparent, the structure wouldn’t obscure the historic Louvre Museum’s buildings around as well.
Under the glass pyramid, he planned to create a reception, functional areas, and a network of corridors so that the visitors could access the art collections easily.
Architect IM Pei’s solution added more than 92,000 square meters (990,279 square feet) of floor space to the Museum and doubled the exhibition space from 31,000 square meters to over 60,000 square meters.
With this solution, the Louvre Museum could seamlessly direct visitors to 14.5 km (9 miles) of corridors and 403 rooms.
Opposition to Louvre Pyramid
Pei unveiled his 71-foot-tall glass-and-metal Pyramid, but he didn’t get the response he was expecting.
Almost everyone was against it, and the criticism was brutal on both aesthetic and technical grounds.
Many called it ‘Pharaoh Francois’ Pyramid.’
A 1985 New York Times story summarised the criticisms:
It is an architectural joke, an eyesore, an anachronistic intrusion of Egyptian death symbolism in the middle of Paris.
Louvre Pyramid’s construction
Despite the opposition, work on the glass Louvre Pyramid began.
While the project was IM Pei’s singular vision, it was also a massive collaborative effort.
Unprecedented archeological excavations in the Cour Napoléon and the Cour Carrée unearthed the Louvre’s medieval foundations.
The Pyramid with a square base was constructed entirely with glass segments and metal poles.
Ninty five tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminum support the structure.
While the Louvre pyramid is 21.6 meters (71 ft) tall, its square base has sides of 34 meters (112 ft).
The Pyramid has a total of 673 glass segments – 603 rhombus and 70 triangular shaped.
This main Pyramid used as an entrance in the Louvre’s courtyard has the same proportions as the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The main Pyramid is surrounded by three smaller ones, on three sides.
Besides providing aesthetic appeal, these pyramids are also a means to lighten the Museum’s collections downstairs.
Louvre Pyramid as an entrance
The Louvre Museum has four entrances – the Pyramid entrance, the Porte des Lions entrance, the Carrousel entrance, and the Porte de Richelieu entrance.
Of these, the main Pyramid entrance is the most popular because the 21-meters (71 feet) high glass pyramid makes for great photographs.
The Louvre gets around 30,000 visitors a day, which results in long lines outside the Louvre Glass Pyramid.
When you haven’t already bought Skip the Line Louvre tickets, you join this line at the end and wait your turn for the security check.
Once you clear the security, you are inside the air-conditioned Louvre Glass Pyramid.
Now you must stand in line at the ticketing counter to buy your Louvre Museum ticket. Thankfully, this second line moves fast.
Once you have paid the entrance fee and bought your tickets, you can enter The Louvre.
How to skip the long lines
However, if you buy your Louvre tickets online, you can skip these long lines.
Here is a step by step guide, of what happens when you decide to buy the tickets online, in advance.
Step 1: Buy the art Museum’s tickets in advance
>> Louvre Museum Ticket (20 Euros/adult, extra 4.70 Euros for audio guide)
>> Guided tour of The Louvre (65 Euros/adult)
>> Private guided tour of Louvre (when experience at Louvre is more important than cost of the ticket)
Step 2: Reach the Louvre Pyramid and walk past the long lines
Step 3: Once you near the Pyramid entrance, look for the sign’ visitors with tickets.’ In French, this sign should read ‘Avec Billet.’
Step 4: Show your online ticket (you can show the ticket in your email, no need for print outs) to the guard
Step 5: You merge with the security check line inside the glass pyramid.
Step 6: Once the security check is over since you already have the tickets, you walk into the Museum
When you buy your tickets in advance, you can avoid waiting in the sun.
Especially during peak months (which happen to be summer months!) when the waiting time can even go up to 2 plus hours.
Yet another way to way to beat the crowd is to visit the Louvre Museum at night.
Some tourists visit Eiffel Tower and Louvre Museum on the same day. If you also plan to do the same, follow the links for directions:
– From Eiffel Tower to the Louvre Museum
– From Louvre Museum to Eiffel Tower
Louvre’s Inverted Pyramid
The Inverted Pyramid wasn’t part of IM Pei’s first Louvre Museum redesign in the 1980s.
He designed and installed it in 1993 as part of Phase 2 of the Louvre Museum’s renovation.
Also known as the Louvre Pyramide inversée, it is a skylight constructed in the Carrousel du Louvre, an underground shopping mall in front of the Louvre Museum.
It is very similar to the Pyramid acting as the Louvre entrance on the ground, except that it is upside down.
To get to the Inverted Pyramid, you must go down the stairs near the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel and walk towards the main underground shopping arcade.
You can find the stairs on either side of the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel.
Keep walking, and soon enough, you will reach the intersection of two main underground walkways, which is where the inverted Pyramid is suspended in all its glory.
The Inverted Pyramid’s base can be spotted from outside, but nobody notices it because it is part of the roundabout of Place du Carrousel.
Louvre’s Inverted Pyramid entrance
The inverted pyramid orients visitors towards the Louvre entrance on the lower floor.
This entrance is referred to by many names:
- Louvre Carrousel entrance
- The mall entrance to the Louvre
- Inverted Pyramid entrance
If you are reaching the Museum by Metro, it is best to enter through this underground entrance.
If you have already bought your Louvre Museum tickets online, you can skip all the lines and walk into the Museum.
Interestingly, this doorway also leads to the same part of The Louvre Museum as the main Pyramid entrance on the ground floor.
Tip: For Line 1 and 7, the Metro stop for the Louvre Museum is ‘Palais Royale-Musee du Louvre.’
Louvre Pyramid facts
Here are some interesting facts about the glass pyramid in the Louvre Museum.
1. IM Pei took his time to accept the commission
In 1983, when IM Pei got the invitation from French President François Mitterrand to help him redesign the Louvre, he kept it a secret from his firm for four months.
Pei made secret trips to Paris to study the scope of the project, understand it better, and then commit. He accepted after four months of research.
2. Pei wasn’t French enough
The people of France were not happy with the President’s choice of the architect for the Louvre’s upgrade.
They thought IM Pei was not French enough to be entrusted with the critical task of redesigning the treasured Parisian landmark.
3. ‘What are you doing to our great Louvre?’
The Louvre’s Pyramid and redesign project lasted almost a decade, and in the early years, Pei used to be publicly mocked.
Speaking on a documentary on America’s PBS, Pei said:
When I first showed the idea to the public, I would say 90 percent were against it.
The first year and a half were really hell. I couldn’t walk the streets of Paris without people looking at me as if to say: ‘There you go again. What are you doing here? What are you doing to our great Louvre?'”
4. Fear of project getting canned
Since Grand Louvre was a long project, there was a real fear that if Mitterand didn’t get re-elected, it wouldn’t be supported. Maybe even stopped in the middle.
The people behind the project decided to construct it out of sequence, and the glass pyramid structure was built before the base.
The rationale was that if something existed in concrete form, it would be difficult to ditch the project midway.
As luck would have it, François Mitterrand got re-elected and served his two full terms of seven years.
5. Pei even impressed the future President
Jacques Chirac, who in the early 1980s was the Mayor of Paris, was against the glass pyramid idea.
However, when Pei showed a full-scale mock-up to Jacques Chirac, he was happy with what he saw and started supporting it.
Jacques Chirac would become the French President after Mitterrand and serve one full 7-year term and a 5-year term.
6. The glass on the Pyramid is special
Pei insisted on total transparency in the Pyramid so that the tourists could see the historic buildings all around.
However, it was a challenging task because most glasses back then had a faint bluish or greenish tint.
He roped in Saint-Gobin to find a type of glass that was transparent enough, light enough, and strong enough to be used for the Pyramid.
The glass company rose to the challenge by creating what they named ‘Diamond Glass.’
After months of research, they came up with the 21.52mm extra clear laminated glass, with unbeatable mechanical properties and high optical quality.
The company built a special electric furnace to remove the iron oxides and thus eliminate the green reflection from the glass.
7. Enough glass to make two pyramids
The ‘Diamond Glass’ is laminated like automobile windshields, so if any glass breaks due to impact, its fragments won’t scatter.
The 1,800 square meters (19,375 square feet) of glass in the Pyramid consist of 675 rhombus-shaped glass pieces and 118 triangles.
As a precaution, Saint-Gobain made enough glass to build two pyramids, but no repairs were needed in the last thirty years.
8. The Satan connection
The Louvre Pyramid saw its share of opposition. But the most interesting of all was when conspiracy theorists accused IM Pei of using 666 glass panes on the Pyramid.
Many times the architects announced that the design had 673 glass panes, but few believed them.
Some even accused the French President of especially asking for 666 glass panes to be used, as a tribute to the Satan.
9. People had to wait 25 days to see the Pyramid
Mitterand inaugurated the finished Pyramid on 4 March 1989, and it was telecast on Television for the public to see.
However, the public was allowed to visit the Grand Louvre’s Pyramid only on 29 March.
By now, the French had warmed up to the idea of a futuristic structure in the courtyard of their historic Louvre.
10. Many pyramids followed the Louvre Pyramid
In the year Louvre Pyramid opened, Pei built large glass pyramids on the roof of the IBM Somers Office Complex, the regional headquarters for the IBM corporation, in Westchester County, New York.
A few years later, Pei again went back to his pyramid structure at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
11. Cleaning the glass pyramid is a challenge
Cleaning the 21 meters (71-foot) sloped structure was always going to be difficult.
Tall structures usually get cleaned by carriage systems dropped from the top of the building or lift bucket systems, but in the Louvre Pyramid’s case, they were going to be useless.
Initially, the authorities hired mountaineers to climb up the Pyramid and clean the glass.
In 2002, a Seattle based company introduced a new ‘double breadbox-sized robot’ which the Louvre adopted.
Remote control was used to control the Robot, which could climb on the tracks laid on the Pyramid.
The Robot held on to the glass via suction cups and used a squeegee and rotating brush to clean.
12. Louvre Pyramid in the Da Vinci Code
In the 2006 film The Da Vinci Code, the protagonist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks) meets French Police Captain Bezu Fache in front of the Louvre pyramid.
During the movie, Captain Bezu Fache refers to the Pyramid as ‘a scar on the face of Paris.’
13. Louvre surpasses even Pei’s expectations
In 1983, when the Grand Louvre project was initiated to accommodate more visitors, the art museum was already receiving around 2.5 million visitors annually.
By the time the upgrade got over in 1989, the Museum was welcoming 3.5 million visitors.
In 2019, 30 years after the glass pyramid in Louvre got inaugurated, the world’s best art Museum gets more than 10 million visitors.
That’s a four-fold increase, which we are sure keeps the Louvre authorities up at night.
Fun fact: Did you know that around 85% of these 10 million visitors, visit Louvre to see Mona Lisa.
Architect of Louvre Pyramids
Ieoh Ming Pei was a Chinese-American architect born in 1917, in Guangzhou and raised in Hong Kong and Shanghai.
In 1935, he moved to the United States and studied architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before joining the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD).
A significant jump in his career came in 1948 when Pei got recruited by New York City real estate magnate William Zeckendorf.
Pei worked for Zeckendorf for seven years before starting his independent architectural firm, which would go on to be called Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
He is known for his bold designs and precise geometries in his projects, spanning his career over six decades.
Some of his best works are:
- Museum of Islamic Art, Doha (2008)
- Suzhou Museum, Suzhou (2006)
- Miho Museum, Kyoto (1997)
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland (1995)
- Bank of China Tower, Hong Kong (1990)
- Le Grand Louvre, Paris (1989)
- John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, Boston (1979)
- East Building at National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (1978)
- Dallas City Hall, Dallas (1978)
On 16 May 2019, the world-renowned architect passed away at the age of 102.