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Parks and gardens: Parisian strolls of the Second Empire


Bois de Boulogne:the Emperor's kiosk © Fondation Napoléon

Bois de Boulogne:the Emperor's kiosk © Fondation Napoléon

These itineraries are aimed at nature-lovers as a guide to the perhaps unsuspected treasures the capital has to offer. Historians will also find it a particularly pleasant way of immersing themselves in the daily life of the Second Empire. Whatever your motivations, you're sure to be surprised and captivated - and to see the city in a whole new way.
The icons above offer access to various topics providing all the practical and historical information you will need for a smooth trip through your itinerary. First, an interactive map calculates the shortest path from one garden to another. Practical Information lists opening and closing times, addresses and details for activities mentioned throughout the itinerary. In drink, eat, sleep you'll find suggestions for rest stops. Escapades gives a brief history of Parisian gardens including those planted before the Second Empire and in recent years. Continuation is a panorama of imperial society's leisure time and entertainment in the lush green spaces of the city. And afterwards offers an abridged list of books on the topic.
Why a stroll through the Parisian squares, gardens, parks and woods of the Second Empire? The answer is simple: most of the capital's green spaces were designed during this period and many people remain unaware of this remarkable historical heritage. It is as a direct result of Napoleon III's drive and energy between 1850 and 1870 that Paris has the sumptuous gardens we still admire today.

Monument honouring Alphand, avenue Foch  © Fondation Napoléon

Monument honouring Alphand, avenue Foch © Fondation Napoléon

The Emperor had a passionate interest in botany. Early on, while imprisoned at the fort in Ham after the disastrous Boulogne expedition, Louis-Napoleon passed the time by gardening: "I succeeded in tilling," he wrote to a friend, "a small plot of land where I am busily engaged in planting seeds and bushes... Our natural surroundings offer unending resources and consolation to those whose happiness wanes". He later expressed serious interest for landscape art. During his exile in England the future Emperor studied and admired London's parks. He even participated in laying out the Duke of Hamilton's gardens and designed the Brodnick Park for him, eliciting the Duke's ironic comment, "Should he ever lose his rank, I would gladly appoint him head landscape gardener."
In his grand urban planning projects for Paris Napoleon III thus set aside special room for creating green spaces. For the first time in the capital's history, a sovereign's interest in gardens was not intended for his own pleasure or as a display of his magnificence and power, but as a means of satisfying his subjects. He aimed to develop places of respite throughout the dense urban and social fabric - "green spaces" essential in enabling the city to breathe. Like the human body Paris had its circulatory system - a geometrical grid of boulevards and avenues - and its waste disposal system - the network of sewers built under the city. All that was missing was a respiratory system. This novel concept of urban planning with a social bent led to the development or the creation of 24 squares (17 in the old city and seven in recently annexed neighbourhoods), four gardens, four parks and two woods - all for Parisians' well-being.

Two men brought the Emperor's vision to fruition : Haussmann, the Prefect of the Seine who went down in history for having laid out a new, modern Paris, and Adolphe Alphand, a less eminent engineer who was named Director of Promenades and Plantations for the city of Paris. These two men, with the help of the horticulturist Barillet-Deschamp, the architect Davioud, and Belgrand from the Water Department, created the most magnificent and beautiful array of public green spaces the capital has ever known. Follow us now along our path through Paris, starting in the heart of the city in the Jardin des Tuileries and spiralling out to the Bois de Boulogne.
Karine Huguenaud
(September 1997)
Photos © Fondation Napoléon - K.Huguenaud 









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