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Bois de Vincennes - 2488 acres (995 hectares)


Once the hunting grounds for a long line of French royalty, the Bois de Vincennes is famous for having sheltered Saint Louis who, as the legend goes, dispensed justice under one of the oaks in the woods. Philippe VI and then Charles V built the Château de Vincennes, which was later changed from a military stronghold to a noble residence by Louis XIV. During the Revolution the estate was made national property. Napoleon I converted the castle into an arsenal in 1808 and had the eight towers along the castle wall torn down, leaving only that known as the "Village Tower". In 1857 Napoleon III entrusted Alphand with a vast development and renovation scheme. The shooting ranges and drill grounds requested by the Emperor for the military fortress proved particularly problematic since they were to be erected in the middle of the woods. Alphand retained the overall axes but transformed the lawns and empty spaces into an English landscape garden by connecting them with winding paths.


He dug and laid out three consecutive lakes: the Lac des Minimes with three islands, the Lac de Gravelle and the Lac de Saint-Mandé. In 1860 a senatus consultum gave 2335 acres (934 hectares) of the forest to the City of Paris along with the charge of pursuing construction projects. The Butte de Gravelle and the Lac de Daumesnil with the islands of Bercy and Reuilly were thus created and the Paris horticulture school, the Arboretum de Breuil, was founded in 1867. The Zoological Park and the Parc Floral, both built more recently, are today's most visited sites in the Bois de Vincennes.

Bois de Boulogne ( 845 hectares)


The Bois de Boulogne is the last surviving vestige of the immense Rouvray Forest where Isabelle de France, Saint Louis' sister, retired to found the Longchamp Abbey. A mill of the same name is all that remains of the abbey. XIVth century pilgrims returning from Boulogne-sur-Mer received permission to build a church in what was to become the Bois de Boulogne - thus accounting for the name Louis XI gave to the site. During the XVIth century François I erected the Château de Madrid - now no longer standing. In the XVIIth century Longchamp came to be considered a stylish place for a walk, and in the XVIIIth century impressive mansions sprang up there, notably the Château de la Muette and the Château de Neuilly, as well as the Saint-James Folly and the Bagatelle. During the Revolution the wooded park was almost entirely destroyed.


Thanks to Bonaparte the Bois de Boulogne was revived: the park was cleaned and reforested, and long alleys were created. However, Allied troops camping there in 1814 and 1815 left the site a wasteland. In 1848 the Bois became state property and in 1852 Napoleon III handed it over to the City of Paris, on the condition that a promenade open to the public be built and maintained. The Emperor hoped to create a Parisian version of London's Hyde Park. Landscape architects laid out winding paths, created the Lac Supérieur and the Lac Inférieur with two connected islands, designed the Grande Cascade waterfall using rocks from Fontainebleau and, thanks to impressive hydraulic work, fashioned three rivers and planted 400,000 trees along with countless clusters of flowers. In addition, the Longchamp Hippodrome was built to host horse races and plots of land were granted for various ventures such as the Jardin d'Acclimatation children's park and the self-contained park known as the Pré Catelan. Napoleon III closely supervised these projects, seeing in them the perfect fulfillment of his ideas and designs for green spaces in the capital.


In 1857 he commissioned Davioud to erect the Kiosque de l'Empereur, a small pavilion at the southern tip of the Lac Inférieur reserved for his personal use. Restored exactly according to the original plans in 1985, this charming pavilion is a perfect example of imperial society's love affair with the Bois de Boulogne. The park's success was such that the Bois soon became the requisite strolling grounds of the Second Empire's social elite, the stage on which every afternoon they showed themselves off to the world.



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