What to do with a long weekend, when you did not book any citytrips abroad? Look for places worth visiting close to home! Brugge is close to the French Northern border, and we had never visited Lille before. So Lille it would be, and why not combine it with a visit to the new Louvre museum in Lens? After a morning in Lille, we took the car in the direction of Paris and half an hour later arrived in Lens. The town itself is rather dreary and drab, and it was a rainy day, that did not help. The directions for cars to the parking space of the museum is not very clear and you end up on the other side of the incoming road you were on. You pass a few huge parking lots that we first mistook for the parking area for the museum, as did some other visitors. Seeing a sign mentioning a 10 min walk to the museum we took our car and continued to the rightful parking lot. The museum is housed in a brand new huge glass complex. The area around the museum seems unfinished and a bit eery now.
You enter a huge welcoming area, with bagage checkpoints, ticket counters and boots, information counter, a large book shop, a cafeteria, a counter to pick up audio guides, a covered picnic area, and a multimedia room. Almost all walls are made of glass. Downstairs is a free cloakroom, next to the discovery area (l’Espace Decouverte) with large tables with built in touch screens where you can find information about the collection of the Louvre. You can also look into the storage room a floor lower.
Since the main exhibition of the Louvre is free until the end of 2014, we decided to visit the main collection this time. This is exhibited in one large room called La gallerie du temps (gallery of time). All pieces are built up in a chronological way from the oldest pieces towards the most recent works. It starts 3500 BC, and on the wall is mounted a huge timeline so you can keep track of where you are in history. It reminded my husband of the great book “A little history of the world” by E.H. Gombrich. You move through the different civilizations, Bronze and Iron age, Egypt, Iran, Roman empire, Greec civilization, China, Christian world, up to the 19th century Industrial revolution.
The audio guide uses an interactive map on which you can via a touch screen select the works you want more information about. This is beautifully designed and moves in a 3 D way.
On the blocks where the pieces are exhibited are also written explanations, if you do not want to listen to the audio guide. The audio guide gives mostly personal stories of the people living in that period. De pieces are mounted in glass cubes, so that you can walk all around a piece, the back side of a statue can be as fascinating as the front. There are some really beautiful very old pieces, stones with cuneiform writing, beautiful Egyptian burial statues, and paintings by Rubens, Raphael, La Goya, El Greco , Van Dyck and Boticello among others.
It is a very informative, beautiful and well designed exhibition, but also quite tiring, since it gives loads of information. At the end of the gallery you come into the Pavillion de verre (glass pavillion), which now has an exhibition of works collected in the region, with works by Matisse, Picasso and Durer among others.
There is for the moment also a temporary exhibition on the first world war, but one can only absorb so much information, so we will have to come back for the temporary exhibitions.
Louvre Lens, should you go? Of course! It is a beautiful museum, and for the moment IT IS FREE, and definitely not crowded yet, so you should take advantage now and visit before the end of 2014!
The Louvre Lens, 99, rue Paul Bert 62300 Lens, France
open every day from 10 AM to 6 PM (last admission at 5 PM)