The Louvre Pyramids and The Da Vinci Code

May 12, 2006 · updated February 15, 2022

The Louvre Pyramids play a prominent role in The Da Vinci Code, both as a setting for important events and for their supposed symbolic characteristics.

The Louvre Pyramids in The Da Vinci Code and in Reality

In The Da Vinci Code

  1. The main pyramid has 666 windows.
  2. The pyramid was commissioned by former French president François Mitterand, who was obsessed with all things Egyptian and explicitly ordered the 666 windows on the pyramid.
  3. The inverted pyramid may be a chalice symbol.
  4. Mary Magdalene could be buried in a submerged stone pyramid beneath the inverted pyramid.

In Reality

  1. False. The pyramid does not have 666 windows (though the exact count isn't clear, either!).
  2. False. The pyramid was not specifically comissioned by Mitterand - he simply hired I.M. Pei to design a major restoration. The pyramid was Pei's idea. So he did not specify 666 windows either.
  3. Almost certainly false. Only the architect knows what it means to him, but the inverted pyramid is highly unlikely to be a chalice symbol given what we know about his other work.
  4. False. It works really well for the story, but there is actually no submerged stone pyramid. The small stone pyramid lies on top of the floor and can be moved aside for cleaning.

Documents and Evidence on the Louvre Pyramids

The official project profile on the Louvre restoration, published on I.M. Pei's official company website, includes the following information:

In 1983, President François Mitterrand requested that it be modernized, expanded and better integrated with the city — all without compromising the integrity of the historic building. The challenge was magnified by the fact that the Louvre was originally constructed, and used for most of its life, as a royal palace; it was fundamentally ill-suited to serve as a museum.

The two-phase solution involved the reorganization of the long linear building into a compact U-shaped museum around a focal courtyard. A centrally located glass pyramid forms the new main entrance and provides direct access to galleries in each of the museum's three wings. Critically, the pyramid also serves as a skylight for a very large expansion building constructed under the courtyard to provide all the public amenities and technical support required in a modern museum.

Following is an excerpt from an article published by The Washington Post about the history of the controversial Louvre Pyramid.

"The center of gravity of the museum had to be in the Cour Napoleon," Pei said. "That's where the public had to come. But what do you do when you arrive? Do you enter into an underground space, a kind of subway concourse? No. You need to be welcomed by some kind of great space. So you've got to have something of our period. That space must have volume, it must have light and it must have a surface identification. You have to be able to look at it and say, `Ah, this is the entrance.'"

Pei's solution was a 70-foot glass pyramid capable, in theory, of ingesting 15,000 visitors an hour. He based its proportions on the classic Egyptian pyramid at Giza and surrounded it with a trio of baby "pyramidons" and three triangular reflecting pools with fountains.

Pei offered his "luminous structure-symbol" as an ingenious way to avoid upstaging the Louvre. No solid addition imaginable could gracefully blend with the time-darkened old palace, he reasoned, but a translucent pyramid, frankly of its own time, would repectfully defer to the heavy presence of the sorrounding building by reflecting this tawny stone.

The pyramid is the geometric shape that encloses the greatest area within the smallest possible volume, so it would stand as unobtrusively as possible. It was, Pei assured them, "a natural solution." There was one more pleasing twist: the ancient form made of high-tech material would be at once much older and much newer than the Louvre.

This was not Pei's first pyramid. He had already used a cluster of glass pyramids to light an underground corridor connecting Washington's national Gallary with his modern addition Before that he had drafted a truncated glass pyramid for an abortive design for the Kennedy Libray in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "It would be very embarrassing," observed the architectural historian Robert Clark of Princeton, "if the French government found out that what they had was really a warmed-over JFK memorial."

Nonetheless, Pei's pyramid fit the strict geometric spirit of Le Notre. It would align with other abstract landmarks - the Arc de Triomphe and the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde - ornamenting the splended vista that sweeps from the Louvre through the Luileries and continues up the Champs-Elysees in one unbroken line to the Place de l'Etoile and, by implication, to the setting sun in the west.

Moreover, the pyramid appears through French history: in seventeenth-century topiaries, in the tip of the obelisk that stands in the Place de la Concorde and in the visionary gatewys, factories and crematoriums conjured up by eighteenth-century architects Etienne-Louis Boullee and Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. There is, in fact, a Place des Pyramides just off the Louvre's northern flank.

When Olivier Bernier asked if he had drawn inspiration from Ledoux's unbuilt designer, Pei looked at him "with great indignation," Bernier recalled "and he said, `That had nothing to do with it!'" Pei curously disavowed any debt to historical precedent. He selected the pyramid, he insisted, by sheer analysis. (Michael T. Cannell, "I.M. Pei: Mandarin of Modernism", 1995)

Comments on the Louvre Pyramids and The Da Vinci Code

From the Rough Guide to The Da Vinci Code:

The Pyramid has successfully acted as a giant glass beacon, encouraging millions of visitors into the Louvre and signalling the museum's ambitions as a cathedral of light and colour, rather than a dusty old stone warehouse. This was President Mitterand's aim when he authorized the Grand Louvre project: to revitalize Paris's heart. Mitterand may have had a dubious reputation - Brown includes an aside that he was "rumoured to move in mysterious circles" - but these rumours were more to do with his political or sexual peccadilloes than anything else.

The idea that there are 666 panes of glass in the Pyramid is based on an urban myth that did the rounds in Paris nearly 20 years ago; the Louvre officially states that there are 673, while the office of I.M. Pei (who is interested in light and geometric abstraction, rather than symbology) counted 698. It's not far off the Number of the Beast, but then a near miss is as good as mile with numerology. (p. 155)

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