An international scholarly online history journal on First and Second Empire subjects: articles, bibliographies, book reviews, in english and in french




 Back to the Homepage

 Back to section page

 Back to the heading homepage

Parc Monceau


On this site purchased by the Duke of Chartres in 1789, Carmontelle planted a "garden of dreams" . A green haven, it was later redesigned in the English style by the landscape gardener Blaikie. During Napoleon's reign, the Emperor's interest in the site grew and he considered giving it new life as a zoological park or even a private garden for the King of Rome. It was during the Second Empire that the spot came to resemble the present-day Parc Monceau. In 1860, upon completion of the newly-built Boulevard Malesherbes, the city of Paris acquired 50 acres (20 hectares) of the old park through a compulsory purchase order. Pereire bought half of that land for eight million francs and launched a vast real estate project, while Haussmann and his team of landscapers turned the other half into gardens. Inaugurated on August 13, 1861 by Napoleon III, the park met with immediate success owing to its masterful beauty as well as the surrounding housing estates, since the successful bourgeoisie of the imperial period chose to build their mansions here on the Monceau plateau. Houses built adjacent to the park had to follow certain rules outlined by Haussmann: 15 metres of greenery were required in front of the property as well as gates marking the barrier between public and private space.


Davioud designed the wrought-iron gates with the neighbourhood's new wealth in mind, and of all the gates built for Parisian parks and gardens during the Second Empire, these are the most magnificent. The whole park was gracefully restructured by to Alphand who used his favourite visual devices, such as rocks, waterfalls, small footbridges over streams, ornamental ponds, and winding paths, to create the illusion of a harmonious landscape. Ledoux built the rotunda known as the Pavillon de Chartres, which served as a toll house until it was restored by Davioud and made into a pavilion for park attendants. Davioud also preserved the "fabriques," decorative elements typical of XVIIIth century landscape art which were scattered throughout the previous park, the Duke of Chartres' folly. Their charm still pervades this Parisian haven, as demonstrated by the Naumachie, a colonnade that was initially part of Henri II's unfinished tomb in Saint-Denis. The Parc Monceau houses the capital's biggest tree: an Oriental plane tree which measures seven metres in diameter at one metre from the ground.

Parc Montsouris - 39 acres (15.5 hectares)


An 1865 imperial decree announced the creation of the Parc Montsouris, both to counterbalance the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont erected in the north and to provide open space for people living in the southern neighbourhoods of the capital. Begun in 1867, the park was not completed until 1878 due to delays caused by the war in 1870. The allotted land proved exceedingly difficult to divide into sections due to the passage of two railway lines. Yet Alphand succeeded in transforming the uneven ground adjacent to the Thiers fortifications into a genuine English landscape garden. The architect planted three extensive lawns with bushes and added small paths crossing the lawns to create a trapezoidal garden. The north-eastern tip of the park includes an ornamental pond with thriving aquatic fauna.


Three bridges connect the various areas and the railways are hidden by tree-laden ravines. Individual trees attract visitors' admiration such as a Virginia poplar (north entrance), a Lebanese cedar (north of the lake) and an American sequoia (west of the meteorological weather station). Aside from sculptures made after the Second Empire, the park boasts a monument over fifteen feet high - used as a measuring landmark by the observatory - which was completed by Vaudoyer in 1806. The Bardo, a replica of the bey of Tunis' summer palace, was placed in the park after being displayed at the 1867 World Fair. A meteorological service was established in 1869 in a fragile but beautiful wooden building, but this unfortunately burned down in 1991.

Parc du Ranelagh - 15 acres (6 hectares)

Laid out by Haussmann, the park was opened in 1860 on a site known as La Pelouse (The Lawn). This elegant meeting place hosted the Ranelagh Ball, whose guests included Lucien Bonaparte, Barras, Tallien and the lovely Juliette Récamier. The park faces the Marmottan Museum, a museum housing works acquired by a passionate art collector of the First Empire.

Parc des Buttes-chaumont


Before becoming a limestone quarry in the XVIIIth century, the Buttes-Chaumont was for four centuries a hated place, home to the Montfaucon gallows . In 1814 the Buttes-Chaumont were the scene of violent conflicts between French and Allied troops, and during the Restoration it became a garbage dump for surrounding neighbourhoods, with a knackers yard and sewage dumps arriving soon afterwards. So it would be an understatement to say the Buttes-Chaumont were not really destined to become a haven of greenery! Yet Haussmann and Alphand decided to convert the Buttes-Chaumont into a park for those living in the northern reaches of Paris - no small feat considering the soil was primarily clay and thus inhospitable to any form of vegetation. In 1860 Napoleon III planned to offer this huge garden to the inhabitants of the newly-annexed communes of Belleville and La Villette. Three years of work were necessary, from 1864 to 1867, to create the extraordinary landscape still there today.


To build the park, the site had to be excavated, terraces had to be built with imported soil, and three miles of road had to be laid ­ all this before the planting and designing could begin. To this day the park boasts the following marvels: a 92 foot tall hill of jutting rocks, formed from the quarry excavations, overlooking a five-acre lake; a rotunda built on the rocky summit as a temple of love called the "Temple de la Sybille", reminiscent of Davioud's Tivoli Rotunda; a grotto and waterfall with water pumped in from the Saint-Martin Canal; two bridges including the "Suspension Bridge" and the "Suicide Bridge"; eight pavilions for park attendants; restaurants; a bandstand... The park was inaugurated and received a warm welcome amidst the general enthusiasm of the 1867 World Fair. Today this wondrous park remains the Second Empire's greatest urban planning success story.



Bulletin | My | Site Map | Contact us | Add to your favourites | Legal | ISSN 2272-1800