Spring is the perfect time of year to visit the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, one of the most beautiful and extraordinary outdoor settings in all of Paris. Waterfalls, grottos, exotic plants and temples give the park a romantic, fantastical atmosphere; you half expect to find elves and fairies lurking in hidden corners and crannies. Strolling through the grounds, you’d never guess that the land beneath the Parc des Buttes Chaumont has a dark and unpleasant history. In the 18th century, Buttes Chaumont was home to the gibbet of the Royal Court. After the guillotine replaced the gallows in 1789, the land at Buttes Chaumont was used as a garbage dump that, according to the park’s lead architect, Jean-Charles Alphand, “spread infectious fumes not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city.”
In 1864, Baron Haussmann, the Prefect of Paris under Napoleon III, decided to transform the land at Buttes Chaumont into a park. The land was barren and smelly and yet, thanks to his team of inspired gardeners, engineers and landscape artists, Haussmann managed to create a beautiful outdoor spot where Parisians could relax and enjoy being in nature. It took the team three years to complete the park; they terraced the land, covered it with topsoil, and built a lake, a waterfall, a grotto and a cliff topped with a classical temple.
Discover the Parc des Buttes Chaumont in its earliest years by flipping through our slideshow of vintage photos and postcards.
The vintage postcards are courtesy of lartnouveau.com and the vintage photos are from Wikimedia Commons.
Spring has finally arrived. Birds chirp at the edge of the basins. A young woman has been waiting here for almost 30 minutes minutes and she’s getting numb. She squirms a little while always staring at her target. All her senses are awakened. She is ready to pounce at the slightest movement.
Because it’s all about speed when you want to get a comfortable lawn chair at the Jardin des Tuileries. It is indeed a rare commodity and you must know how to jostle not to be on one of these straight boring metal chairs where this specimen of Parisian woman we’ll call Paulette, is taking her troubles patiently. She won’t let this tempting prey get away so easily: the large round pond is really the ideal spot. And as soon as this Japanese tourist has folded the map of Paris she’s been consulting for hours with a magnifying glass, the approach maneuvers can begin. Above all, the perimeter must be secured, and Paulette ensures that no walker is close enough to grab the chair before her.
Many of today’s visitors who go to the Bois de Vincennes as an escape from Paris’s crowds and buildings would have trouble imagining it as it was in 1931, when dozens of buildings crowded around the Lac Daumesnil and thirty-three million people visited in a six month period. This is where the 1931 Paris Colonial Exposition, the apex of interwar political spectacle, was held, and while poster reproductions and old postcards aren’t hard to find today, almost all the buildings constructed for the event were quickly demolished or moved elsewhere.
The Palais de la Porte Dorée is a notable exception to this. Designed by Albert Laprade with bas-relief by Alfred Janniot, this structure at the entrance of the Bois de Vincennes was designed to be the exposition’s lasting monument, a built celebration of the French Empire.
Easter has just been celebrated with its usual flood of colorful eggs. But the best eggs are not hidden in gardens, waiting for children to come find them, but, as surprising as it may seem, in Parisian bistros.
As I was recently reading “Le dictionaire impertinent de la gastronomie” (Impertinent Dictionary of Gastronomy) written by food columnist Perico Légasse, I lingered on the word “zinc”, which means the counter of a bar. The perfect place to eat on the go! Here, eggs play a key role, and take all possible forms: oeuf mayonnaise, œuf à la coque, œuf cocotte, œuf sur le plat …
The Mona Lisa left its home in the Musée du Louvre during World War II and traveled all over France, moving from one hiding place to the next. Museum curators sent each other secret messages over the BBC; “La Jaconde a le sourire” (“The Mona Lisa is smiling”) meant that the painting had arrived at its clandestine destination safe and sound. In the fall of 1939, the painting rode from Chambord to Louvigny in an armored van flanked by two escort vehicles. A museum curator sat next to the Mona Lisa—which had been carefully packed onto an ambulance stretcher—and watched over her, the way a worried father might watch over his ailing daughter. At some point during the ride, the curator started to feel woozy, and he nearly fainted as he climbed out of the van in Louvigny. His prized companion, however, was still smiling her mysterious smile; she had made it through the trip unharmed.[i]