Louvre Celebrates 200th With Ambitious Overhaul

IT'S been 200 years since French revolutionaries flung open the doors of the Louvre palace, displaying confiscated royal art like trophies of a bitter class war.

Today, after a 12-year, billion dollar overhaul - the most ambitious of President Francois Mitterrand's architectural projects - the former medieval fortress-turned-palace has turned into a grandiose, high-tech setting for its 30,000 treasures.

Once a cold, dusty elite preserve, the future Grand Louvre promises distinctive delights for the 5 million connoisseurs and casual tourists expected to stroll through next year. "The Louvre is unique because it's a museum in a palace," says Jean Lebrat, head of the Grand Louvre Building Authority.

Designed by I.M. Pei, a Chinese-American architect, the new Louvre will be twice as big as the old one, with 20 percent more works on display. The centerpiece of the bicentennial festivities is the opening of the Richelieu wing. Off limits to the public for more than a century, the wing will be a showcase for tapestries, objets d'art and sculpture, much of it on show for the first time.

"We built backwards, from top to bottom, using the support of the new structure to stabilize the facades during the demolition phase," said architect Stephen Rustow, head of Mr. Pei's Paris office. "This was revolutionary."

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