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.