Perhaps the most famous museum in the world is the Louvre, found in the First Arrondissement (District) of Paris on the right bank of the River Seine. Between 1860 and 2020 there were 20 designated districts of Paris and the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens were to be found in the ‘Premier’ district. Since 2020, the four districts with the smallest populations were amalgamated into one administrative centre which now includes the Louvre, Bourse, Temple and Hotel de Ville. The Metro map on the right gives a good indication of the current extent of First Arrondissement.
This article is for those wanting some background information on a visit to the Louvre and for the grand walk from the Louvre through the Tuileries gardens to Place de la Concorde. There is a lot to see so the visitor should allow plenty of time for both sections of this itinerary.
The Louvre is of course to be found in the centre of Paris. The district includes a section of Ile de La Cite where Paris is reputed to have started more than 2000 years ago. This section of Ile de La Cite includes Sainte Chapelle, part of the original Palais de la Cite that was the home of the French monarchy between the sixth and 14th centuries. Where the Louvre stands today, a fortress was built sometime in the 12/13th centuries as part of the defence for Paris during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) against the English. In 1546, the old castle was converted to the Primary residence of the French Kings and was renovated regularly over the next 100 years or so to become the building that is the present Louvre Palace.
The status of Royal Palace of the Louvre changed in the late 17th century when Louis XIV chose Versailles as the primary residence of French kings and queens and the Louvre became a display centre for the royal collection of valuable objects. This practice continued during and after the French revolution and the collection rapidly expanded over the 18/19th centuries until today where the Musee de Louvre holds 38000 objects in its collection.
The image below shows the layout of the wings Louvre Museum today, reaching to the area of the Place du Carousel. The centre of the first view from Place de Carousel is a triumphal arch built between 1806-8 to commemorate the military victories of Napoleon over Italy and Austria in the previous years.
Napoleon was fond of memorialising himself and so the other Arc de Tiromphe Etoile was also designed and started to be built around this time as well. It hadn’t been that long before 1806 that the Revolution had cleared away the French monarchy; both Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were guillotined just up the park at Place de la Concorde. Napoleon claimed for himself the title of Emperor in 1804 and moved into the home of the French monarchy along the ‘Axe Historique’, into the Palais des Tuillieries. His new triumphal arch was designed as the gateway to his new home. One of the curious touches to this Triumphal Arch was that Napoleon had confiscated the ‘Horses of St Mark’ when he had captured Venice in 1797 and they were brought out of storage to sit on top of this arch. The Venetians shouldn’t have been too outraged as their armies had looted them from Constantinople almost 800 years previously. These famous bronze horses didn’t last long here, being returned to Venice by the Austrians after the Battle of Waterloo.
The modern visitor to the Louvre and its attached gardens might ask the obvious question when faced with the dilemma after inspecting the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel of wondering on the whereabouts of the palace that the arch was the gateway to? There is an empty space in the image above after passing through the Arch. The first painting below of the Louvre district from around the middle of the 19th century shows that a line running from the centre of the Louvre passes through two fountains, the triumphal arch and then through the main doorway of the Palais de Tuileries. The famous Catherine de Medici, wife of Henry II of France, had this palace built from 1564 and it was the ‘townhouse’ of the French monarchy until Napoleon moved in. The second drawing below of the same area comes from 1852.
The flame of revolution never quite died out in 19th century France, particularly the revolutionary ideal of burning down the buildings put up by previous ruling classes. Damage had been done to the Tuileries Palace during the 1830 and 1848 revolutions but on both occasions, the palace was repaired. However, in the hard times after 1871 after Prussia had defeated France in war, a revolutionary government (they were also described as feminist, socialist and anarchist!) took over Paris. This government lasted two months before the National Guard took control of the city. In the wash up, 10 to 15 thousand ‘Communards’ were killed in battle or executed afterwards. Part of the Communards’ revenge was to execute the Archbishop of Paris as well as burn down/blow up the Tuileries Palace.
As for the Hotel de Ville that was also set on fire, the internal structure of the Tuileries Palace was destroyed but the walls remained standing. The Hotel de Ville was rebuilt but the Palais’s remaining walls were pulled down 11 years later. On the left below is a painting of the Tuileries Palace on fire and on the right, a photo of the walls of the building still standing after the fire.
Any walk past the Arc du Carousel should be done slowly; hopefully visitors will be trying to imagine the missing, gorgeous building that was once home to Kings, Queens and one Emperor. However, there is still plenty to see and ponder on this long, gorgeous walk through the Tuileries Gardens to Place de la Concorde.