May 212010

Apparently the Louvre is one of those museums so enormous that trying to see even half of it would take months of full-time viewing – like the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The second you see the Louvre’s exterior you know this to be true. It’s absolutely gargantuan. Impossibly so. And even though I don’t really have a personal interest in art, going to Paris and skipping the Louvre would be like…I dunno…leaving without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. It just has to be done.

But since the skies have been generally pretty blue and photogenic I’ve been delaying it for a full rainy day – a day which never ended up coming, as the drizzles always began later in the afternoon. Now that it was my last day in Paris, the time had come. It was now or never.

But first I decided to try and cram in a quick visit to the catacombs. I’d already been to their entrance twice (once after they closed, which I mentioned, and once on Saturday when they were closed for the holiday, which I didn’t). This time they had a line two blocks long. Crap. I didn’t take that into consideration, and I only had about four hours to do both them and the Louvre.

The fact that the people in front of, next to, and behind me were all chain smoking didn’t make the line any less unpleasant.

But I finally made it in, and I have to say, what I saw was NOT what I expected. It was way cooler. I’d envisioned tunnels with slots cut into the walls where skeletons had been neatly placed – deliberate graves, individually labeled. What I found were endless hallways where the walls were literally crammed with hundreds of thousands of human bones. Countless sunken eyes peering out at you. “Creepy” does not do it justice.

According to my guidebook, the catacombs were created in 1785 to solve the hygiene problem posed by Paris’ overflowing cemeteries – they exhumed millions of bones and stored them in the tunnels of three disused rock queries. Apparently there are additional tunnels even lower down which remained sealed off and forgotten for decades until being rediscovered only recently; these catacombs contain complete mummified bodies, still wearing their original clothes. Now that would be creepy.

By the time I made it through the tunnels, back to the metro, and to the entrance of the Louvre I had only an hour and a half to spare until closing. Luckily the ticket lines were extremely short – which didn’t end up mattering anyway, because the moment I stepped in line a man walked up and offered, “I have a free ticket that I don’t need anymore – does anyone want it?”

“Yes!” 🙂

I ended up with just barely enough time to see the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and a few other particularly noteworthy pieces as well as take a quick stroll around.

Like the catacombs, it wasn’t what I expected. It was better.

Again, I’m not really that into art. However, even the building itself was nothing short of spectacular – not one continuous motif like the exterior, but countless sections styled beautifully around the art they’re meant to present: the area with Egyptian artifacts feels like a completely different museum than the one carrying French impressionist paintings.

From what I could tell, only one thing is true throughout the entire Louvre: it’s ornate to the extreme. Even if the building were empty it would still be worth seeing…just to see the building itself.

The next few hours I killed relaxing (ok, studying) on the grass in front of the Louvre, the huge glass pyramid to one side and the obelisk and Arch de Triumph to the other.

Since arriving in Paris I’ve been wanting to take some long-exposure night shots of the city, but since it doesn’t get dark until so late I’ve always had to return to my room and get ready to go out while the sun was still shining (i.e. 8pm). But tonight was my last night, so if I wanted those lit-up photos it would be my last chance.

…Right after a quick Pulp Fiction Special – Royale with Cheese and a glass of beer 😉

Yep, it really is true. Too bad the “glass” was actually a can…and too bad it cost like $10.

Ahh Paris, how hard on the wallet you are.

  5 Responses to “Skulls and Sculptures”

  1. Sounds awesome! I never made it to the catacombs when I was there (in fact, afaik it wasn’t even a known tourist spot back then), so I didn’t get to know about it until years later. It would be on the very top on my priority list if I return. I mean…WHEN I return 🙂

  2. Royale with Cheese and a beer…..HAHA!

  3. Yeah! I dunno if I’d quite say they’re “top priority material”, but definitely worth a look if you have the time.

    …Then again I suppose if you have already been to Paris and thus seen all the major sights…which *would* leave them at the top, huh? 😛

  4. I love the Louvre and I completely agree that it is a MUST see when you’re in Paris. Last time I was there I had to power walk just to see a quarter of it. I was surprised at how small the mona lisa was; a little disappointed I must add.

  5. That’s how I felt about the Sphinx in Egypt. I was like “Huh? That’s it?” 😛

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