PARIS — In the midst of a historic flood, a host of French cultural institutions, including the Louvre and Orsay museums, began evacuating artwork from galleries susceptible to flooding.
After days of historic rainfall, the storied Seine, the languorous river that winds through the French capital, swelled Friday to its highest level since 1982. Many of the capital’s most important buildings line the river.
Curators at the Louvre, the largest art museum in the world and the most visited in Europe, began working Thursday night to relocate a reported 250,000 artworks from flood-risk areas, typically basement storerooms.
The Louvre has rarely undergone as dramatic an emergency precaution in its modern history, a museum official told the Associated Press on Friday.
Exempting museum renovations, the last time as many works of art were transported as quickly and as frantically may have been the years leading up to the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, when the museum leadership sent the collection’s masterpieces to a slew of safe locations across France.
The Mona Lisa, the iconic centerpiece of the museum’s collection, is already displayed on a higher floor, out of harm’s way.
At the same time, according to the magazine Le Point, the French government made contingency plans to evacuate the nearby Elysée Palace, the seat of the French government, to the Chateau de Vincennes outside the city.
The plan will take effect only should the water reach 21.3 feet above its normal height.
By early Friday evening, the Seine is expected to crest at approximately 21 feet, nearly 17 feet above its normal level. Authorities anticipate the water to remain high throughout the weekend but to gradually recede next week.