How Paris’ overcrowded Louvre is struggling to cope with the tourist tide

Like a human wave every few minutes, two hundred or so tourists surge towards the "Mona Lisa," mobile phones in hand to make the best of every second of their time in front of the world's most famous painting.

How Paris' overcrowded Louvre is struggling to cope with the tourist tide
Crowds at the Louvre. Photo: AFP

Hundreds of other hearts sink as museum attendants swiftly draw the rope across to hold back the next wave of the queue that snakes round the vast gallery in the Louvre in Paris.

Nobody seems to notice the superb Rubens that line the walls of this monumental corner of the Richelieu wing – everyone is focussed on the end of the queue and their big selfie moment.


The queing begins several hundred metres away under the museum's glass pyramid where tourists join the first of a series of staggered lines that will slowly lead them to their brief audience with Leonardo Di Vinci's masterpiece. 

Last month, officials had to restrict access to the world's most visited museum for three days because of the chaos caused by queues to see the Mona Lisa in her new temporary home in the Medici gallery.

She will be returned to her traditional spot in the adjoining States Room – which is being refurbished – just before a blockbuster Leonardo exhibition opens at the Louvre in October.

But the disruption – exacerbated by an influx of tourists escaping the fierce heat in the French capital in July – has pushed the Louvre to introduce obligatory advance booking by the end of the year to try to control numbers.

Already angry staff closed the museum for a day in May to protest about being overwhelmed by the spiralling numbers.

More than 10 million people visited the museum in 2018, with that record likely to be smashed again this year.

With between 75 and 80 percent of them – particularly Chinese and Americans – coming to see the Mona Lisa, the museum's vice managing director Vincent Pomarede insisted that booking a time slot was now essential.

“A tourist who comes without a reservation runs the risk of waiting a long time and maybe even not getting in,” he told AFP.

“It's the only way to guarantee entry.”


Pomarede said many other major museums already require people to book ahead.

“Before the end of the year, all visitors will have to make reservations,” he said. 

For Evelyn and Tai, tourists from Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur, advanced booking made seeing the Mona Lisa “fairly painless”.

“The line is pretty long… but we bought the ticket online so we got a designated time.”

“It is much better organised than when I last came in 2000,” said Stan, a Taiwanese-American visitor from San Jose in California.

Finally seeing the painting was “pretty cool”, said his 17-year-old son Andy, though he “wasn't blown away by it”.

New Yorkers Frank and Jennifer, however, thought the whole experience was “amazing”.

“It's beautiful… and better than I expected I was expecting a really old building but it's a really modern (setting) for old artifacts and art,” Frank added.

Visitors numbers usually peak at the Louvre at Easter.

But this year they have continued to soar over the summer, with government advice to seek shelter in air-conditioned spaces like museums during two record heatwaves in the French capital further complicating matters.

With queues worst in the peak early afternoon period, Pomarede is worried that the 30,000 people who pass in front of the Mona Lisa daily will stop visitors seeing some of Louvre's many other treasures such as the Venus de Milo, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, and its staggering collection of 18th- and 19th-century French art.

Until the Mona Lisa returns to her home in her more controllable side gallery, “we are promoting other itineraries for visitors to see other work by Leonardo, as well as our Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities,” he added.

In the meantime, the Louvre has borrowed some tricks from the French capital's road traffic management system, including screens at the entrance warning that the museum is full or crowded, as well as warning on its website.

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Asterix: Five things to know about France’s favourite character

Asterix is hitting the box offices again, so to celebrate here's a look at France's most treasured hero.

Asterix: Five things to know about France's favourite character

If you have walked past a bus stop anywhere in France in recent weeks, then you have likely run into film posters advertising Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom.

Starring high-profile French actors Marion Cotillard and Vincent Cassel, France’s film industry is hoping that this film, capitalising on France’s nostalgic relationship with the comic series “Asterix” will bring box office success.

The Asterix comic book series was first published in 1959, and tells the story of a small Gallic village on the coast of France that is attempting to defend itself from invaders, namely the Romans. Asterix, the hero of the series, manages to always save the day, helping his fellow Gauls keep the conquerors at bay.

As the beloved Gaulish hero makes his way back onto the big screen, here are five things you should know about France’s cherished series:

Asterix is seen as the ‘every day’ Frenchman

“Asterix brings together all of the identity-based clichés that form the basis of French culture”, Nicolas Rouvière, researcher at the University of Grenoble-Alps and expert in French comics, told AFP in an interview in 2015.

READ MORE: Bande dessinée: Why do the French love comic books so much?

The expert wrote in his 2014 book “Obelix Complex” that “the French like to look at themselves in this mirror [of the Asterix series], which reflects their qualities and shortcomings in a caricatured and complacent way”.

Oftentimes, the French will invoke Asterix – the man who protected France from the Roman invaders – when expressing their resistance toward something, whether that is imported, American fast food or an unpopular government reform.

The front page of French leftwing newspaper Libération shows President Emmanuel Macron as a Roman while Asterix and his team are the French people protesting against pension reform.

The figure of ‘a Gaul’ is a popular mascot for French sports teams, and you’ll even see people dressed up as Asterix on demos. 

A man dressed as Asterix the Gaul with a placard reading “Gaul, Borne breaks our balls” during a protest over the government’s proposed pension reform, in Paris on January 31, 2023. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

Asterix is the second best-selling comic series

The series has had great success in France since it was first launched in 1959, originally as Astérix le Gaulois. It has also been popular across much of Europe, as the series often traffics in tongue-in-cheek stereotypes of other European nations – for example, caricaturing the English as fans of lukewarm beer and tasteless foods.

Over the years, Asterix has been translated into more than 100 languages, with at least 375 million copies sold worldwide.

It remains the second best-selling comic series in the world, after the popular manga “One Piece”.

There is an Asterix theme park 

The French love Asterix so much that they created a theme park, located just 22 miles north of Paris, in the comic series’ honour in 1989.

The park receives up to two million visitors a year, making it the second most visited theme park in France, after Disneyland Paris. With over 40 attractions and six themed sections, inspired by the comic books, the park brings both young and old visitors each year. 

READ MORE: Six French ‘bandes dessinées’ to start with

The first French satellite was named after Asterix

As Asterix comes from the Greek word for ‘little star’, the French though it would be apt to name their first satellite, launched in 1965 after the Gaulish warrior.

As of 2023, the satellite was still orbiting the earth and will likely continue to do so for centuries to come.

Asterix’ co-authors were from immigrant backgrounds

Here’s become the ‘ultimate Frenchman’, but both creators of the Asterix series were second-generation French nationals, born in France in the 1920s to immigrant parents.

René Goscinny created the Asterix comic series alongside illustrator Albert Uderzo. Goscinny’s parents were Jewish immigrants from Poland. Born in Paris, René’s family moved to Argentina when he was young and he was raised there for the majority of his childhood. As for Albert Uderzo, his parents were Italian immigrants who settled in the Paris region.

Goscinny unexpectedly died at the age of 51, while writing Asterix in Belgium. From then on, Uderzo took over both writing and illustrating the series on his own, marking Goscinny’s death in the comic by illustrating dark skies for the remainder of the book.

In 1985, Uderzo received one of the highest distinctions in France – the Legion of Honour. Uderzo retired in 2011, but briefly came out of retirement in 2015 to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered in a terror attack by drawing two Asterix pictures honouring their memories.