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History of the Louvre
From château to museum

A visit to the Louvre and its collections lets visitors discover Western art from the Middle Ages to 1848, as well as a large number of ancient civilizations. Yet it also offers another history to explore. The grand palace that houses the museum, which dates back to the late twelfth century, is a true lesson in architecture: from 1200 to 2011, the most innovative architects have in turn built and developed the Louvre. Long the seat of power, this royal residence was also home to French heads of state until 1870 and is one of the major backdrops to the history of Paris and of France.

The Louvre in the Middle Ages

Philippe Auguste and the founding of the Louvre

The history of the Louvre begins around 1190 with Philippe Auguste’s decision to erect a fortified enclosure to protect Paris. This was an important gesture in favor of urbanism and a display of the king’s authority just as he was preparing to leave the country to go to war in the Crusades. To defend one of the weak spots in this fortification, namely its junction with the Seine, a castle was needed: as such, the Louvre was born. The building designed by Philippe Auguste’s engineers was square in plan, protected by a moat, and equipped with circular defensive towers at its corners and in the middle of its sides. In the center of its courtyard stood a main tower with its own moat. This model was used on several occasions with some variations; the Château de Dourdan in Ile-de-France still offers a well-preserved example.
Philippe Auguste’s Louvre was not a royal residence but a garrison fortress. It was not in the very heart of the city—as it is today—but on its outer limits. Its mission was to protect and perhaps also to watch over the city. The Louvre’s “Grosse Tour” or cylindrical keep also acted as a royal strongbox and a prison for important people. Ferdinand, count of Flanders and enemy of Philippe Auguste, was held there for thirteen years after being defeated at the Battle of Bouvines.
The château’s site however underwent rapid change. A dense urban district gradually grew up around it, taking away its defensive interest. In addition, the kings of France, who liked to travel between their various residences within the capital, were to find themselves staying there more and more. A large pillared hall set in the château basement and dating from the reign of Saint Louis (1226–70) can still be seen today.

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  • Plan of the successive enclosures

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Moat of the Louvre

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Keep of the Louvre

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • John of Salisbury, Charles V in his library, BnF(FRANCAIS 24287)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Statues of Charles V and Jeanne de Bourbon, Musée du Louvre (RF 1377-1378)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • Pietà of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Musée du Louvre (Inv 8561)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015

  • The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry: the month of October, Musée Condé, Chantilly (Ms65-folio10verso)

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    Published on: November 5, 2015