Louvre could house treasures from Iraq, Syria: Francois Hollande

French president François Hollande and French Culture minister Audrey Azoulay (right) unveil a plaque launching the Conservation centre of the Louvre on Nov 1, 2016 at the Louvre Lens museum in Lens, northern France.
French president François Hollande and French Culture minister Audrey Azoulay (right) unveil a plaque launching the Conservation centre of the Louvre on Nov 1, 2016 at the Louvre Lens museum in Lens, northern France.PHOTO: AFP

FRANCE (AFP) - French President Francois Hollande on Tuesday (Nov 1) 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 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 US$100 million (S$139 million) 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.

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.