Louvre Offers to Harbor War-Torn Antiquities

LENS, FRANCE.- French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday said the Louvre could house threatened treasures from Iraq, Syria and other war-torn countries at a secure site in northern France.

The precious items could be placed in safe keeping at a conservation facility due to open in 2019 in Lievin, 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Paris, he said.

"The prime mission of the Lievin site will be to house the Louvre Museum's stored collection," Hollande said at a ceremony to unveil a plaque marking the site.

But, Hollande said, it will have "another role, sadly linked to the events, dramas and tragedies which may unfold in the world, wherever works of art are in danger because terrorists, because barbarians have decided to destroy them... (especially) in Syria and Iraq."

Hollande said France will make the proposal at a December conference in Abu Dhabi on endangered heritage. Representatives from around 40 countries are expected to take part.

"We are going to suggest that the Lievin conservation site is where these works can be protected," Hollande said.

The Abu Dhabi conference will also launch a fund, suggested by Hollande in September, which will aim to gather $100 million (91 million euros) to help save endangered art.

The Louvre -- the world's most-frequented museum, with 8.6 million visitors in 2015 -- has a vast collection of paintings, sculptures, Egyptian mummies and other treasures lying in its basement out of public view.

Rehabilitating Lievin

The Lievin site, located near a satellite Louvre museum at Lens, has been in the works since 2013. The 60-million-euro site will be both a storage site and facility to study the Louvre's collection.

The need for Lievin was highlighted in June this year when rising floodwaters in Paris prompted the Louvre to evacuate artworks from its basement deemed at possible risk.

Liévin, town, Pas-de-Calais département, Nord-Pas-de-Calais région, northern France, near the source of the Deûle River, southwest of Lille.

Mentioned as Laid-win (Laivin) in 1104, it developed as a coal-mining center of the Lens area. Many of the former miners’ houses have been restored, and lighter industries have been attracted to the town.

Liévin is architecturally modern, its older buildings having been largely destroyed in World War I. Vimy Ridge, site of heavy fighting in World War I, is just to the south. Pop. (1999) 33,427; (2005 est.) 32,200.

The decision to locate a Louvre satellite museum on a Lens’ mining wasteland demonstrates an undertaking to rehabilitate and reverse the fortune of the depressed mining community, which grieved through devastation from both World Wars, was subjected to Nazi occupation, and played victim to multiple mining catastrophes including the 1974 Courrières mine disaster, the worst such disaster in European history which killed 42 workers.

Photo above: French president François Hollande (L) and French Culture minister Audrey Azoulay visit on November 1, 2016 at the Louvre Lens museum in Lens, northern France during the inauguration of the "History begins in Mesopotamia" exhibition. DENIS CHARLET / AFP.