The palace of the Louvre cuts a magnificent classical swathe right through the centre of the city – a fitting setting for one of the world’s grandest art galleries. Originally little more than a feudal fortress, the castle was rebuilt in the new Renaissance style from 1546, under François I. Over the next century and a half, France’s rulers steadily aggrandized their palace without significantly altering its style, and the result is an amazingly harmonious building. Admittedly, Napoleon’s pink marble Arc du Carrousel, standing at the western end of the main courtyard, looks a bit out of place, but it wasn’t until the building of IM Pei’s controversial Pyramide in 1989, followed by the new Islamic arts department in 2012, with its sinuous glass and gold roof, that the museum saw any significant architectural departure.
The origins of the art gallery, the Musée du Louvre, lie in the French kings’ personal art collections. The royal academy mounted exhibitions, known as salons, in the palace as early as 1725, but the Louvre was only opened as a public art gallery in 1793, in the midst of the Revolution. Within a decade, Napoleon’s wagonloads of war booty transformed the Louvre’s art collection into the world’s largest – and not all the loot has been returned.