The Louvre Museum in Paris occupies more than 650,000 square feet, has 403 rooms and exhibits more than 38,000 items. But some of the 10 million visitors each year are more interested in the number of glass panes in its entry pyramid.
The Louvre, a former fortress, was renovated in 1546 as a residence of King Francis I. Francis, a patron of the arts, summoned to Paris a number of Italian artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who brought with him an unfinished Mona Lisa. Francis eventually acquired the completed Mona Lisa, which hung on the palace walls of a succession of French rulers until 1800, when it was placed in the Louvre, which became a national museum during the French Revolution. The Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911. When it was finally recovered in 1914, the previously little-known painting was an international sensation. Millions of people began coming to the Louvre just to get a glimpse of Da Vinci’s now famous work.
By the early 1980s, the Louvre’s crowds were overwhelming its traditional doorways, so President Mitterrand commissioned the design of a new entrance. The winning idea, submitted by American architect I. M. Pei, was a 69-foot-high glass and metal pyramid in the center of the courtyard, allowing visitors to enter through a large underground lobby. Critics immediately pounced on the pyramid design as incongruous with the Renaissance style of the building. Rumors began circulating that Mitterrand had ordered that the pyramid, a shape long associated with the occult, include exactly 666 glass panes, a number often connected to Satan. Dan Brown perpetuated this claim in “The Da Vinci Code.”
Today, the Louvre’s pyramid has become as much a symbol of Paris as the Eiffel Tower, itself lambasted when new. Visitors who carefully count the glass panes consistently come to 673.