Getting a glimpse of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre during tourist season is like witnessing a wild feeding frenzy at the zoo. Actually on second thoughts, perhaps likening it to a zoo is a little harsh – zoo animals are a lot more orderly. I kid you not, this is not far from the truth! The Mona Lisa experience – that’s what I’m calling it – is one not for the faint hearted. I am quite sure that anyone who has ever tried to visit the Mona Lisa in summer will know exactly what I am talking about and for those of you who don’t then I suggest you read on to find out why.
The Mona Lisa experience
When I first visited the Louvre in the height of summer, I knew that it would be busy but I had come with a clever plan. I was going to get there early and head straight to the Mona Lisa before all the crowds and calmly contemplate this magnificent work of art and to get my photo. The problem with this plan was that everyone else had the same idea and my plan, as you can guess, pretty much went out the window the moment I got there.
Firstly because there was already a queue outside the glass pyramid entry, secondly once inside, the queues to buy your ticket were moving slower than a month of Sundays and thirdly I became so distracted on the way to finding the Mona Lisa (by the many other magnificent pieces of art and sculpture) that I lost track of time. I know – what was I thinking! Of course I was going to stop and look at things, how could you not when you’re in one of the world’s most amazing art museums.
After wandering around and some two hours later, I decided that I better go and look for the lady in question. I followed the signs and with my trusty map, I finally came upon the entrance to the room displaying the Mona Lisa. When I walked in and looked at the crowd, I was stunned – you could have knocked me down with a feather. The amount of people pushing, shoving and snapping away with their cameras could have rivalled the paparazzi on a Hollywood red carpet event. You couldn’t even see the painting for the crowd, this was sure enough a nightmare.
Enter the dilemma – I had to make a decision to either turn back or take my life into my hands and push on. I chose the latter and I dived into that mosh pit like I had a death wish at a Marilyn Manson concert. Come hell or high water I was going to get a look at the Mona Lisa, even if it meant I came away with a collapsed lung! Yes a collapsed lung would be worth it – I had good travel insurance and I wasn’t coming half way across the world to the Louvre and fail to see the Mona Lisa.
So whilst I was caught up in this suffocating crowd, I began wondering what’s so special about the Mona Lisa? Why are the crowds whipped into a frenzy? Well she is Leonardo Da Vinci’s most famous painting and what has fascinated the public for centuries is the unanswered question of what was she is smiling at. The Mona Lisa is also no stranger to controversy and in 1911 the painting was stolen from the Louvre. What’s even more bizarre is that the Louvre’s most famous painting was missing for a full 24 hours before anyone even realised the art work had been stolen! Oh how tragic that would be if I got to the front only to discover the painting was gone.
Okay, so I didn’t end up with a collapsed lung and eventually I got to the front of the crowd for my precious minute of seeing the rather small and a somewhat disappointing Mona Lisa.
It was disappointing because as you pass through the Louvre you are surrounded by so many grand paintings, some that can take up a whole wall but when you finally make it through the crowd and what you get to gaze upon is a tiny painting behind a glass case that is around five meters away. It’s disappointing because of the unpleasant crowd that literally swallows you up and threatens to suffocate you. It’s disappointing for all the rude people who are trying to push you out the way or force their way in front of you. The horrible body odours and sweaty people you are shoved up against. Yes it’s a fairly unpleasant experience in summer and it’s a relief to finally get out of that room and catch your breath. The Mona Lisa experience is over, you’ve left the room and you may be wondering was that struggle worth it?
The next time I visited the Louvre I came during winter and it couldn’t have been any more poles apart from summer. There was none of the above mentioned unpleasantness and I was able to simply walk up to the painting, take my time and just gaze as long as I liked. Yes winter is the time to go – far from the madding crowd.
Visiting the Louvre
- The Louvre is open everyday of the year, except Tuesdays, 1st May, 11th November and 25th December
- The first Sunday of the month the Louvre offers free entry (a day to avoid if you hate crowds anytime of year)
- Wednesday’s and Fridays the Louvre is open until 9.45 p.m
- Standard adult entry is 12 euro