The little-known town of Lens, France, located about 137 mi/220 km north of Paris, became famous in late 2012 when the Louvre-Lens opened there as the sister to the Louvre, arguably the world's most famous art museum.

The Louvre, known for being the home to Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa and the I.M. Pei-designed glass-and-steel pyramid at the entrance, has been around since its establishment during the French Revolution in the late 1700s.

The nation decided about a decade ago to build a sister museum in another region of France. Lens was an unlikely choice to become the site of the next "museum of museums," as the Louvre is sometimes called.

Lens was chosen in part for how much it has suffered—through both World Wars, the demise of the mining industry and now as one of the poorest towns in France.

The region, the Nord-Pas de Calais, is reputed for its cultural vitality and the density of its museum networks, and is ideally situated at the crossroads of Europe, near Belgium, Great Britain and Germany.

Built on the site of a former coal mine, the building was designed by Japanese architects from Sanaa, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa. They created a low structure with five brushed steel wings shooting off a glass central entry point. http://www.louvrelens.fr/en.

With respect to reaching Lens, the TGV from Dunkirque to Paris has a stop at Lens, and there are regular buses that run from Lille. Currently there is a scarcity of hotels in the center of Lens, so it is best combined as a day trip from Lille or other parts of Normandy.

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