President Francois Mitterand of France was a great instigator of modern planning and architectural ideas for Paris. During his tenure, he was the originator of many post war features including the apparently dead straight ‘Triumphal Way’. This alignment of celebrated structural icons stretches from the Louvre as far as the Grand Arch, some 10 kilometres away, in the La Defense district. In the early eighties Mitterand accepted that there was a need for a central entrance to the rabbit warren of passages in the Louvre museum. In 1983, Chinese-American architect, I.M. Pei, came up with an original idea that would be worthy of an evolving and contemporary City.
Pyramids at the Louvre
Pei’s was a controversial and brave proposal. He suggested that a collection of ultra-modern glass pyramids could be designed to not only provide the museum entry point but also to compliment other features of the Capital City. His idea was a profound move from the surrounding Renaissance architecture and regarded by many as a clashing and maverick carbuncle to enforce on the capital. There was much opposition from traditionalists and there still is, 30 years on. Despite this, the programme went ahead and today is an impressively enigmatic feature for Paris. They are known to this day as the ‘Pei Pyramids’.
The pyramid structures were completed in 1989, the bi-centenary of the ending of the French Revolution. There are four pyramids built in front of the Royal Palaces in the central Napoleon Courtyard. The largest provides the main entrance to the Louvre Museum and is modelled exactly to the same proportions as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. The other three pyramids surround the larger one and their axes are all in precise alignment. The positioning fits in precisely with the far stretching plane of the Triumphal Way and they have become a part of it, right in the centre of Paris.
Louvre Pyramids connection to Egypt
The large pyramid is 116 feet wide and 70 feet high. It is constructed of 95 tons of steel and 105 tons of aluminium. The pyramid presentations reflect the important permanent exhibition of Egyptian history and artefacts in the Louvre museum below. This great structure provides shelter from the elements outside and generates its own micro temperate climate inside. It is as a vast greenhouse.
The pyramid, apparently, is composed of 793 diamond and triangular shaped glass panels. I am assured that simple arithmetic, knowing the dimensions, will confirm this but here lies a little mystery. Shortly after the completion, press reports and others stated that the number of panels was 666, the sign of the Devil. It was said that this foretold the death of ancient Egypt and the associated exhibition below. Someone should count them all exactly. I make it 673 when the museum entrance is taken into account. Dan Brown, in his novel ‘The Da Vinci Code’, makes much of this controversy. After all, the Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo, smiles just beneath.
The pyramid shape has always been linked with somewhat mythical properties. ‘ Pyra’ comes from the Greek word for fire and ‘mid’ from middle. Pyramids are said to align themselves with the earth’s magnetic field to create energy and provide protection from electro-magnetic waves. The wearing of a pyramid shaped hat, allegedly, improves brain power, relaxation and contemplation. I also read once that blunt knife blades would recover their sharpness if placed under a pyramid for a long period!
More Pyramids in Paris
The large Pyramid in Paris with its smaller siblings provides the perfect entrance to the submerged galleries of the Louvre museum. The art and mystery begins for visitors before they even descend to the base of the vast museum itself. Externally, the four pyramids are complimented by sparkling pools and fountains. And, they are not alone. There are two other pyramids underground nearby, they are part of the original plan and complete the assembly. Underneath the ground and close to the Arch de Carrousel is a rather smart shopping centre. In there is a similar but smaller pyramid suspended as an inverted feature and beneath it is a stone pyramid.
Visitors to Paris cannot help but notice the pyramids, massive and contemporary features of the capital which celebrate the culture of artistic Paris.
Bob Lyons is an ex pilot turned travel writer whose favourite place is France.