Travels

Less is more in Louvre Lens

Posted

Wednesday 8 May 2019

Firstly, Joyeux Fête de la Victoire. It’s VE Day and a national holiday here in France.

Yes, I’ve left Belgium. Yesterday evening I attended the Last Post ceremony again after a ride around the walls of Ypres. The ride brought me to the top of the Menin Gate.

Though I could have gone down the steps to watch from within the arch, it was good to see and hear it from another perspective.

It was well attended again, the road was lined with coaches and there were several student groups.

And, yes, those are hot air balloons in the background.

I’m now just over an hour south, in Lens. No, I’d not heard of it either. (How presumptuous!) I had Lille listed to visit – I had heard of it – but searches for motorhome parking yielded nothing apart from other people saying they couldn’t find a site either. I also picked up that Lille has a high crime rate; perhaps the two things are related.

Returning to the map, I saw Lens was nearby. It had a couple of motorhome places, both free, with available services at a small charge from a vending station if you want water or power – 3€ gets half an hour of both. Dumping grey or black water is free. Very civilised, this is the French way!

I am sited by a huge park with many lakes.

Lovely. I digress.

Apart from the overnight, why Lens, I hear you ask? I googled ‘visit Lens’ and it has the highest slag heaps in Europe! What’s not to like? Seriously, the mining area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. No, seriously!

Appealing though the heaps may be, I’ll maybe have a look tomorrow. Today I went to Louvre-Lens. Now, who knew the Louvre had a gallery in Lens? Not me.

Because of criticism that French art and culture was limited to Paris, a plan was launched to build a Louvre satellite museum in one of the 22 regions. Only the Nord-Pas-de-Calais applied for the museum and Lens was chosen as the recipient city.

The museum site was chosen in hopes of reversing the fortunes of the depressed Lens mining community, which was devastated by both World Wars, the Nazi occupation, and suffered multiple mining catastrophes, including the Courrières mine disaster, which caused the death of 1,099 miners in 1906, the worst in European history. There was also a 1974 tragedy killing 42 miners. The last mine in Lens closed in 1986, which caused the unemployment rate to rise well above the French national average.

Officials took inspiration from the economic transformation of Bilbao, on my list, which was enabled by the Guggenheim Museum.

The area is evocative of both South Wales and Cornwall, and the loss of historic employment in mining. Like them, Lens has received EU support for development and infrastructure. This is something I know they appreciate the EU for back home. (Ungrits teeth!)

(At this point I’m thinking this was going to be a short and easy blog! Two hours later…)

On to Louvre-Lens. It’s about 40 minutes walk from the van. I should have cycled but I thought I’d get a flavour of the town. It’s bland and patchy, but like any place in the UK which has had its industrial heart ripped out and where pockets of investment are being put back in. The gallery is a lovely building.

It has a permanent exhibition, beautifully set up in chronological order, showing select items from the Louvre’s collection.

Rather than over facing visitors with quantity, they have selected the very best of an era or culture. The quality, craftsmanship and detail was remarkable.

After days immersed in human destruction it was a relief to enjoy human creativity at its finest.

This permanent exhibition is free to visit. They also have short term exhibitions. Currently there is one on Homer, featuring artists interpretations of his poems.

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It left me as cold as the marble, but each to their own. I’m glad I’ve a good grounding in the classics, but it’s not what gets my juices flowing.

The whole experience is beautifully presented. Lovely grounds and great coffee in the cafe. Well worth a visit.

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