As the largest museum in the world, it should come as no surprise that the Louvre has had its fair share of scandals, controversies and is often shrouded in mystery… Here are 10 quirky and unusual facts about the Louvre… the kind of facts you won’t find in any guidebook!
#1 The Myth of 666 and the glass pyramid
Urban legend suggests that the main Pyramid in the central Louvre courtyard contains 666 panes of glass (sign of the devil). Simple math shows that this quirky fact about the Louvre is not just inaccurate, but completely wrong! Instead, the central Pyramid of the Louvre contains 673 panes of glass.
#2 The Mona Lisa is not the original Mona Lisa
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most important piece of artwork in the Louvre. Known as ‘La Jaconde’ in French, it’s probably Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting. But did you know that the Mona Lisa in the Louvre may well be a copy of the original Mona Lisa? Both Mona Lisas are allegedly painted by Da Vinci, but the one hanging in the Louvre is thought to have been painted at a later date than the Isleworth Mona Lisa.
#3 The Mona Lisa was once Stolen
While we’re on the subject of the Mona Lisa, here’s a little fact for you: once upon a time (long before all of the cameras and sensors) the Mona Lisa was stolen. In the dead of night, an Italian security guard locked himself in a storage cupboard so he wouldn’t have to leave the Louvre at the end of his shift.
He waited until everyone had left the museum and stuffed the masterpiece into his jacket. When the museum opened the following morning, he simply walked out- with the masterpiece in tow. The theft wasn’t discovered until a day or two later… And this is why the Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece is the most famous of all da Vinci’s works!
#4 Mary Magdalene is buried under the Louvre
For those familiar with Dan Brown’s work, the Da Vinci Code will need no introduction. For those who haven’t yet read the book or seen the film, I highly recommend you either read or watch one version- or binge on both (and you can find all the Parisian Da Vinci filming locations here). In the Da Vinci Code, Brown alleges that the remains of Mary Magdalene are located under the Louvre, right under the ‘inverted pyramid’- which can be found in the Louvre’s underground shopping centre.
#5 People once criticized the glass pyramid
Nowadays, you think of the iconic glass pyramid in the central courtyard of the Louvre as being a pretty fixed image on the Parisian landscape. But, much like the Eiffel Tower, and the nearby installation of the Colonnes de Buren, many people initially rejected the idea of having a glass structure in contrast with the ancient palace of the Louvre. Luckily for us, however, the pyramid was approved and remains one of the best places to capture the sunset in the city to this day.
#6 The Louvre was once an actual palace commissioned by a Medici
Ah, the Medici family… After her husband was killed in a jousting accident, Catherine de Medici moved her palace from its location in Le Marais (where Place des Vosges now stands) to a new position near Palais Royal as she could no longer bear the memory of all she had lost in the palace in Le Marais. The Palace you now see was constructed on the site of a medieval fortress (the ruins of which can still be visited in the basement of the Louvre Museum).
#7 The Louvre was used as a storehouse during the Nazi Occupation of Paris
As the Nazis advanced on Paris during the Second World War, many of the museum’s staff hid important paintings in safe places so that they would not fall into the hands of the Nazis. This meant that when the Nazis arrived in Paris and occupied the city, much of the museum was actually empty.
During the war, the Nazis used the Louvre as a storeroom, where they kept many of the artworks they’d stolen (elsewhere, the Nazis stole the Amber Room in Russia). Goering would enter the building on a regular basis, and select pieces of the stolen works to hang in his home.
#8 There’s an Arc de Triomphe right beside the Louvre
Of all the unusual facts about the Louvre on this list, this is probably the thing that surprises people the most. Sure, you’ve heard of the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Champs Elysées (and if you’ve been reading this blog a little while, you’ve most likely seen the Original Arc de Triomphe, as well as the Arcul de Triumf in Bucharest), but there’s also a smaller Arc de Triomphe right beside the Louvre.
On the opposite side of the road, just across from the glass pyramid, you’ll find the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel. Sadly, the interior of this one isn’t open to the public- but that doesn’t mean you can’t admire it from the outside!
#9 It’s impossible to see all the items the Louvre houses within the span of a human lifetime!
If you looked at every item in the Louvre for just thirty seconds, it would take over a hundred years. This is if you didn’t take any breaks to sleep, eat, or leave the museum! Although I don’t find this fact about the Louvre particularly surprising, it is a little sad! After all, there are just too many interesting and historical pieces in the Louvre, let alone in the world, to experience in a lifetime!
#10 The Louvre was temporarily renamed ‘Musée Napoleon’
Under the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Louvre was renamed after him, and Napoleon expanded the museum’s already vast collection by over 5000 pieces. During this period, the Mona Lisa was removed and hung in Napoleon’s personal apartments- in his bedroom, in fact!