Louvre Castle

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Louvre Castle
Part of Louvre Palace
Paris, France
Louvre chateau 1.jpg
The castle from the south and Seine river around the year 1200, as imagined on an etching from c. 1800.
Louvre Castle is located in Paris
Louvre Castle
Louvre Castle
CoordinatesCoordinates: 48°51′37″N 2°20′17″E / 48.860247°N 2.338002°E / 48.860247; 2.338002
TypeMedieval castle
Site information
Site history
Built byPhilip II of France

The Louvre Castle (French: Château du Louvre) was a castle built by King Philip II of France to reinforce the walls he had built around Paris and further protect the city. It was later demolished in stages to make way for the Louvre Palace. Its main location was on the right bank of the Seine river.

The fortress[edit]

Map of the Louvre castle under Charles V (reigned 1364–1380) as reconstructed in 1856. The map is inverted with the South (and Seine river) at the top of the image.
The Louvre in 1380 (under Charles V) as imagined in 1885.
Plan from around 1880 of the Louvre castle in 1380 after the construction of the Charles V wall.

Before his departure for the Third Crusade in 1190, King Philip II wanted to protect Paris, the capital of his Kingdom, against invasions. In particular, he wanted to defend Paris against English soldiers based in Normandy. Additionally and more specifically, King Phillip II wanted to build a place to keep his treasure and his archives safe. These archives were especially sacred to the King because they were lost during the Battle of Fréteval in 1194 against Richard the Lionheart, but he had since reconstructed and did not want to lose again.

He built the enclosure, which bears his name, around Paris between 1190 and 1209 for the right bank portion and between 1200 and 1215 for the left bank which was less exposed. The Louvre castle stands west, the most exposed side, as English soldiers were occupying Normandy less than 100 km away. This decision was also motivated by a previous Viking invasion in 845 that almost captured the city.[1]

The castle itself is composed of a squared fortress (78 m by 72 m), surrounded by a 10 m wide moat fed by the water of the nearby Seine river. The wall on the west side, which overlooks the countryside, is thicker and doorless when compared to the other walls, as it was appraised to be the most exposed side, and therefore the most vulnerable for an attack. The perimeter is reinforced by ten defensive towers, with extra emphasis on the corners of the castle. The space between towers never exceeds 25 m, which is the distance corresponding to the effective range of a bow (of that time). They are pierced with arrowslits to defend the ramparts. The castle has two entrances with the main one facing south and the Seine, while a secondary smaller one faces east and the city. These doors are protected by drawbridges and are framed between two twin towers. Two additional buildings housing the garrisons and the arsenals are located outside of the surrounding wall, to the west and south of the central courtyard, respectively.[1][2][3]

The set of curtains and walls are at a slight downward angle to hamper sapping attempts and to facilitate the rebound of projectiles thrown from the top against attacking soldiers.[2]

A keep named the Grosse Tour (Big Tower in French) was built in 1200 in the center of the courtyard. It is a circular keep with a diameter of 15.6 m and is enclosed by a 30 m tall wall that is 4.25 m thick at its base. It is surrounded by a 9 m wide ditch that is 6 m deep. This ditch is dry (i.e. not flooded) and paved with large irregular stones. It is crossed by a drawbridge. The interior arch was built in stone to limit the risk of fire. The keep has a conical roof slate over the machicolation. It features a well and a large tank for supporting long sieges, as well as a chapel.[1][3][4]

Philippe Auguste chose a round keep, instead of a squared or rectangular one, for military reasons. The reason being, enemy pioneers could more easily sap the wall at the angles of squared towers compared to circular towers, a smart tactic on the part of Auguste.[5]

The keep initially had a military function as the refuge of the king. However, it essentially housed the royal treasure and archives, at least until Philippe le Bel. It was also used as a prison until the 14th century. Notable prisoners included Ferdinand, Count of Flanders, who was defeated and captured at the Battle of Bouvines in 1214 and then spent thirteen years imprisoned in this dungeon.[4]

This castle is a typical example of Philippian architecture [fr].

Royal residence[edit]

The castle in the 15th century as illustrated in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

Under the orders of Louis IX of France, the castle was enlarged and new rooms were built without any real defensive purpose, an example would be the Salle Saint-Louis (Room Saint-Louis in French) in 1230–1240.

At the time of Charles V of France, who reigned from 1364 to 1380, Paris extended widely beyond the walls of Philippe-Auguste. The king built a new enclosure, which encompassed these new quarters, as well as the Louvre castle other wise known as: The Wall of Charles V. King Charles decided to sacrifice some military devices to make the Castle more habitable as a safe, enjoyable royal residence. He was especially worried about the safety of himself and his family after the riot of February 22, 1358, led by Étienne Marcel, the merchants' provost, that threatened the King inside the Palais de la Cité. This gradual change meant that the castle lost much of its original military purpose to the importance a safe royal residence.[6]

His architect Raymond du Temple [fr; de] added turrets, statues, and habitable surfaces; created many gardens; and pierced wider openings. King Charles V repurposed the northwest tower (tower of the Falconry) into the First Royal Library, containing nine hundred manuscripts.

The miniature illustrations of the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry show the Louvre castle during that time. They give a general idea of the layout of the fortress, although at that time aesthetic or comfort adjustments were made to the detriment of military concerns.

During the Hundred Years' War, English soldiers commanded by Henry V of England, allied to the Burgundians who controlled Paris, entered the city. In December 1420 the English occupied the Louvre castle without a fight. There they found the city ruined by civil war and scarcity and stayed there until 1436.

Progressive demolition to give place to the Cour Carrée[edit]

The Louvre in 1622. Half-medieval and half-Renaissance.

In 1525, Francis I of France was defeated in Pavia and held prisoner. During his captivity, the court interfered with the king's decisions using its droit de remontrance (right of remonstrance in French). In addition, the faculty of theology and the Parliament of Paris started to show some independence. The king held a lit de justice on July 24, 26 and 27, 1526 during which he demonstrated his authority and decided to take back his kingdom and make the Louvre castle his main residence in Paris. As a symbol of his authority, he ordered the demolition of the dungeon in 1528 in order to build an Italian style palace. In 1546, he charged the architect Pierre Lescot to build a modern palace in the spirit of the Renaissance architecture, with a large hôtel particulier and ceremonial rooms. After the death of Francis in 1547, his son Henry II of France continued the work by Pierre Lescot. Between December 1546 and March 1549, he had the west wall destroyed to build a ballroom and the south wall to erect the royal pavilion (1553–1556), which housed the royal apartments and the small gallery.

After the death of Henry II, his widow Catherine de' Medici continued the development of the south wing for her apartments. From 1564 onwards, she prioritised the construction of the new Tuileries Palace and the establishment of a large Renaissance garden.

Under Henri III of France, the Louvre became a space for the royalty, a place of entertainment and the theater of historical events such as the marriage of the future King Henri IV of France with Margaret of Valois which led to the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre in 1572.

During his reign, Henri IV destroyed the remaining elements on the south side, including the moat, in order to build the Grande galerie (Great Gallery in French) connecting the Louvre and the Tuileries. This was completed in 1610. He also began the construction of the Cour Carrée on the base of the existing Lescot wing. The surface was four times the size of the original medieval court. Some buildings between the two palaces were also destroyed. This project, named le Grand Dessein (the Grand Design in French), also had a military function by establishing a covered walkway between the Louvre and the Tuileries outside the city walls. Henry IV created this walkway in case he needed to flee on horseback during a riot.

In order to establish his power, on April 24, 1617, the young king Louis XIII of France murdered Concino Concini, the favorite of his mother Marie de' Medici, at the entrance gate connecting the castle to the city.

Louis XIII demolished the northern part of the medieval enclosure in order to extend the Lescot wing in this direction, providing symmetry. The eastern part was demolished by Louis XIV of France to allow for the construction of the Louvre Colonnade.


One of the walls of the castle preserved in the Medieval Louvre. This is the wall facing the city with the support pillar of the drawbridge, the main entrance to the Louvre.

During the 19th century, it was found that the dungeon, along with two of the four walls were not completely demolished, but instead the stones from the walls were taken down to fill ditches in preparation for construction of the Louvre palace. Many people don't realize that the medieval Louvre included a dungeon, however there are remains on display at the Louvre.

During the construction of the Musée du Louvre, the bases of the keep and the two walls were cleared. A major excavation campaign resulted in the discovery of hundreds of everyday life objects. They are now accessible to the public in a collection named Medieval Louvre which features the lower room (today known as the Salle Saint-Louis) and the objects found during the excavations (small games, jugs, flasks, ...).


  1. ^ a b c "Le Louvre de Philippe Auguste" (in French). Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Chateau du Louvres, XIIe, XIVe siecle – Description" (in French). Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b "Paris à l'époque de Philippe Auguste, Le Louvre de Philippe Auguste". Archived from the original on 19 January 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b "La Grosse Tour, premier donjon de Paris". Maison des Templiers (in French). 8 July 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  5. ^ "Donjon". Patrimoine de France. Retrieved 12 March 2019.
  6. ^ Soulié, Daniel (2010). Le Louvre pour les nuls. France: For Dummies. p. 444. ISBN 978-2-7540-1404-5.

External links[edit]