Nothing is more certain to get up the nose of a hot-blooded Frenchman (or woman) than placing a modern, utilitarian structure in the middle of one of their classical icons.
Building a pyramid in the heart of the Musée du Louvre guaranteed to do just that.
The ensuing controversy indicated that respect for tradition was still intrinsically connected to the French identity.
And yet it was President Mitterrand’s brief of 1983 that the Musée du Louvre be modernised and expanded without compromising the classic integrity of the museum.
So it was that architect Ieoh Ming Pei, without changing any of the exterior architecture, built the Pyramide du Louvre. His design included a new main entrance and an underground shopping mall, cultural centre, auditorium, and parking.
Opened in March 1988, the Pyramide du Louvre is an imposing structure, standing 21 metres high on a square base with 35 metre sides and comprising a complex interlinked steel structure sheathed in thick translucent glass.
Its transparent nature was an ingenious way to avoid masking the traditional lines of the Louvre. Three smaller pyramids and three reflecting pools with fountains balance the larger structure.
While the intensity of the debate over Pei’s structure has lessened, critics can still be found whenever France dares to mix the new with the old.
Recent activities of the Louvre to expand its reach by building new museums in Abu Dhabi and Lens in northern France are currently generating further controversy among the French.
But, the pyramid also has it admirers as witnessed by the number of newly weds being photographed on the site, undeterred by the cold.
Add several bicycle tour groups per night and the French photographers and tour guides must be laughing all the way to the bank.
And getting a photograph without a tourist in the frame is nigh on impossible. But Ruth and I tried, along with numerous other happy snappers, at 11 pm in the freezing cold.
I think the only way to get a photograph of Pyramide du Louvre in all its glory with lights ablaze and no tourists in sight is to take it a 3 am.
Musée du Louvre
Musée du Louvre
+33 (0)1 40 20 53 17 (except Tuesday)
Open every day (except Tuesday) 9 am-6 pm (9:45 pm Wed & Fri). Closed Jan 1, May 1, dec 25.
Métro: Palais-Royal Musée du Louvre (lines 1 and 7)