Something really cool happened when we visited Paris. Before I reveal the awesomeness…. remember when we toured the Vatican and were able to visit the Sistine Chapel before it was open to the general public with Walks of Italy? No? Well click here first to see how awesome our experience was, then come back here. I will wait.
Walks of Italy recently expanded to France with various tours around the sites in Paris. I was lucky enough to be a guinea pig on the first ever Walks of France Tour before it officially launched for customers. When choosing what tours I wanted to try out, the first one that caught my eye was “Closing time at the Louvre: See Mona Lisa at her most peaceful.”
I HATE crowds and being able to witness one of Paris’ most famous pieces of art without people bumping into me was a huge turn on. I am so not a big art person; I often get bored and my mind drifts. Don’t get me wrong- I can appreciate a beautiful painting; but I need some hand holding when it comes to art.
As I mention in my Vatican recap, in addition to being able to enjoy the Sistine Chapel before the herds of people arrive, our tour guide did a fabulous job making the art and history at the Vatican fun, interesting and captivating.
Tackling the world’s largest museum in the world (The Louvre) with one of the most famous paintings (The Mona Lisa) seemed way too over whelming to do alone, so I signed right up for the tour!
The Louvre is absolutely HUGE. And by Huge I mean you could spend 3 seconds at each piece and it would take you 3 months to see everything. And that time frame is without stopping to sleep, eat or do anything else. There are approximately 70,000 pieces of art at the Louvre, so having a tour guide help navigate to the most important ones is a must.
Our tour took place on a Monday (note the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays and open Monday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 9-6pm, Wednesday and Friday 9-9:45pm*) on a sunny perfect Spring day. My Mother and I frolicked around in the Tullieries Garden prior to our tour (more on that later) before meeting our group and guide, Lilia, nearby the Arc du Triomphe du Carosel (aka the pink arch). This being a pre-launch press tour, I was surrounded by awesome writers, influencers and bloggers. One blogger I met and had an instant connection with was Erin from 10 Mile Behind Me. (she has been so many places!)
Lilia passed out headsets for us so we did not need to worry about not being able to hear her and could wander to different art pieces if need be. Some people hate headsets, I love them. It makes you feel like you are in your own little world and you forget the crowds to a certain extent.
Anywho, as we approached the entrance to the Louvre, Lilia told us about the crazy, modern glass pyramid art in front of the museum. Turns out many French people were not too happy about these when they were installed because of their modern look and large size. The area used to boast an ugly bus parking lot- so even though I am not usually a fan of modern type art, this is way better than a parking lot!
The largest pyramid acts as one of the museum’s entrances and was partly created to help funnel in the masses of visitors into the museum. From this entrance you descend into the underground shopping center (a bunch of cute shops and places to eat) and museum entrance.
After two security check points, we were in and ready to learn.
Lilia started off with a little medieval history of the Louvre, which actually has its own section. The Louvre is more than a big beautiful building. It was built on the 12th century as a palace fortress to protect Paris. We learned that unskilled laborers built the main part of the fortress and then skilled masons would do the cosmetic exterior portion. To measure how far they completed each day, the mason would mark their unique symbol into the stone, such as a heart. This is how it was known how much to pay them and some are still visible today. Pretty cool huh!?
Next it was time to see some beautiful statues. We saw the Sleeping Hermaphroditus (which looks like it is sleeping on a real mattress instead of stone!), Nike, Venus de Milo among many others. The two that really stuck out to me were Michelangelo’s ‘The Dying and Rebelling Slave.’ I was lucky enough to see Michelangelo’s other slave sculptures in Florence when visiting The David at the Galleria de Academia. These two pieces were never completed but are stunning nonetheless. Can you tell which one is giving up and accepting death, and which is rebelling? At first I was stumped, but Lilia was able to help us figure out which was which and why.
My other favorite sculpture was the statue of Cupid and Psyche… Mainly because of the dramatic love story behind it, which tells the myth of the goddess, Venus, being jealous of a beautiful mortal, Psyche. Venus sends Cupid to kill Psyche. Instead Cupid falls in love with Psyche and convinces her to marry him so he will not kill her, but she can never see him in the daylight.. the story continues and you can read about it here..
Now it was time for some paintings. Lilia picked out some of the most interesting ones to discuss. She did a wonderful job of explaining the differences between the different periods of art. (from byzantine to neoclassical to romanticism, etc) This is something I had NOT paid attention to in high school, but found so interesting when she explained it all.
Of the paintings we saw leading up to the Mona Lisa, my favorite had to be the ‘Raft of the Medusa’ by Théodore Géricault, painted in the early 19th century. The oil painting depicts the French shipwreck off the coast of Senegal around 1816. If you take a look at the painting it really sparks all ‘types of feels’. People dead, some giving up, people eating other people to survive and some showing hope for someone to come and save them. Apparently Géricault went to extreme lengths when researching for this painting and even looked to local morgues to study the human body, wounds, etc to make his painting seem as life like as possible.
After a pit stop at the crown jewels, it was time to meet Mona Lisa. As promised, the crowds seemed to be leaving the area of the Mona Lisa when we entered her room (well she actually shares a room with some other pretty cool pieces too!) Lilia let us enjoy and inspect her for a bit before congregating to listen to her story. Mona Lisa is supposedly Lisa Gherardini, of the prestigious Gherardini family in Italy. We visited the Gherardini estate (and where the Mona Lisa was painted) while visiting Tuscany at Vignamaggio Winery (recap here) last fall, so it was even cooler to see her!
Di Vinci was commissioned to paint Lisa’s portrait at their estate in Tuscany; however it is believed Lisa was not available to finish the painting or Di Vinci needed to leave Tuscany. Needing a model to complete the painting, Di Vinci turned to his male assistant for inspiration and that is why the Mona Lisa is thought to look a tad ‘manly’.
Her real fame came in the early 1900’s when a janitorial worker at the Louvre stole her after feeling that he was not paid enough. He literally walked out with the painting. This was back when the Louvre was open free of charge to the public without any sort of security. It took a bit for the Louvre to figure out she was missing as many people figured she had been taken to have preservation work done, etc.
When it was realized she was stolen, the media went bananas as the Louvre begged for her return. The outcry for her return reached newspapers all across the globe. It created such a buzz around the world, everyone wanted to see her. In the meantime, people were just walking into the Louvre and stealing precious pieces of art in plain sight. Long story short, the Janitor returned her after a few years and she is now one of the most famous pieces of art in the world. Worth over $900 million and un-insurable, the Louvre has taken extreme measures to ensure her safety and that she is not stolen again!
Her room is fire proof, with vault like surrounding emergency doors and she is covered by bullet proof glass. (yes some people threw food, etc at her back in the day!) The Mona Lisa is one protected lady!
*note the museum starts to have visitors exit the room 30 mins prior to closing.
I had such an amazing time on this tour and highly recommend it! Whether you are an art guru or have zero clue you will enjoy this tour and learn a ton… all with having a blast! Thank you Walks of France for having us!
Walks of France is currently offering 6 new tours. Here is the scoop:
Paris Catacomb Tour (and Catacomb Tour with Pere Lachaise Cemetery): Save hours of waiting in line at the Paris Catacombs and enjoy a special access visit; then explore famous graves and fascinating histories at Père Lachaise cemetery.