Posts Tagged ‘Haussmann’

Here’s a couple of slightly off-the-beaten-track places to enjoy Paris in the springtime.

First, the Square des Batignolles, which was one of twenty-four gardens created in the mid-1800s as part of the modernisation of Paris by Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann. It is a park à l’anglaise (that is, laid out naturalistically) with undulating lawns and a fine array of old trees, including four of the biggest plane trees in the city. The planting is generally slightly unusual for a public park – walnuts, elms, a twisted willow, purple beech, Turkish hazels, a hardy bitter orange, and a giant sequoia.Ducks among the daffs

With its rustic concrete bridges, grottoes, cascades, false rocks and meandering waterways, the whole thing has a delightful nineteenth century feel. The flower beds are maintained in the same spirit, particularly so in spring, when the city parks department plants out tulips and massed spring bedding.

The park also boasts a rather lovely round glasshouse installed in the 1990s, hundreds of ducks of a variety of breeds, flocks of chaffinches with their distinctive song, and a range of activities for kids, including a carousel, pony and trap rides, and two very popular playgrounds.

In these photos you can see the park as it was planted a couple of years ago. I was there again yesterday (in a major downpour) and the flowerbeds this spring are a mass of yellow tulips among purple bedding.

Square des Batignolles is rather hidden away in the 17th arrondissement, near Porte de Clichy, and not very easy to reach on public transport, so it tends not to be on the typical tourist trail. As an added attraction to visit, all this week until Sunday (3 April) there is a brocante (a vintage market) immediately outside the park in Place du Docteurs Félix-Lobligeois, with a tempting range of furniture, linen, china and jewellery for sale. Also in the neighbourhood, every Saturday morning, is a wonderful organic market, with bio-dynamically grown vegetables and fruit, cheeses, breads, fresh fish, herbs, cut flowers and home-made produce.

Batignolles brocante, Paris I’ll post the second suggestion for a springtime park tomorrow.

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A friend who sells vintage accessories has just sent me an old postcard of parc Monceau that she bought in the northeast of England. Postmarked 1905, it shows the rotunda designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the 1780s as a tollgate for a deeply unpopular customs duty. Now, as in 1905, the splendid neoclassical building sits at the main entrance to the park.


Parc Monceau 1905


Parc Monceau 2011

Comparing the postcard with a photograph taken this morning in much the same spot, what is interesting is the similarities between the two. Apart from the obvious seasonal differences, not much has changed at this grand Paris park in 106 years. The fine ladies promenading with their children have become scurrying commuters dashing across the park. The building looks rather cleaner, and there are the distracting features of a modern city parks department, including wheelbarrow, empty terracotta pot and bright green rubbish sacks. But the essential layout and feel remain the same: a wide, inviting pathway, shaded by large trees, leading to the rotunda and the gilded entrance gates, backed by two stately Haussmannian apartment blocks.

You would need to go back another fifty years to see real change at Monceau, and indeed throughout the capital. In the 1850s and 1860s Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann thrust grand boulevards through the old medieval city, in the first example of major urban planning. Haussmann is frequently reviled today as a destroyer of the charming byways and old buildings of Paris, and it is easy to forget that one of his aims was to introduce light and air into filthy slum districts.

book jacketA new book, Paris avant – après: 19e siècle, 21è siècle by Charles Marville and Patrice de Moncan (Editions du Mécène, 2010), shows the impact of Haussmann’s work, taking nearly four hundred photographs of the city from 1865, which capture old Paris in the midst of its transformation, and pairing each one with a photograph taken from the same place today. It is fascinating. Fellow blogger Adam has an interview with author Patrice de Moncan, who defends Haussmann’s legacy and wonders what future Parisians will think of today’s city.

As well as new boulevards, sewage systems, aqueducts, grand civic buildings and uniform apartment blocks, Haussmann also created a network of public parks and squares around the city ‘where the working classes could beneficially spend their leisure time… and all families, whether rich or poor, could reliably find healthy places for their children to play.’

For me, one of the most fascinating images from the book is a site in the 19th arrondissement. Previously a limestone and gypsum quarry, a rubbish dump, an outlet for the city’s sewage and – for many centuries – a gallows, the place had become a barren industrial scar until Haussmann and his team turned it into the city’s most dramatic park, Buttes-Chaumont. You can see from the two photos here that the steep, entirely artificial topography of the quarry was retained, but softened with extensive vegetation, including fine trees such as beech, chestnut and cedar of Lebanon. The arched viaduct is also still present (now known as the ‘suicide bridge’) and leads to the romantic Temple of Sybille, added in 1869. It was designed by Gabriel Davioud, who also created the beautiful gilded entrance gates at Monceau, visible in the postcard above.

Paris avant - après

Buttes Chaumont, 1865, photograph by Charles Marville

Paris avant - après

Buttes Chaumont, 2010, photograph by Patrice de Moncan

The mairie has some of the book’s images on its website and there is an exhibition to accompany its publication at the Académie d’architecture (in place des Vosges), from 4 to 24 February.

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parc Monceau path

Monceau rotunda

Parc Monceau in the 8th arrondissement of Paris is our local park, a five minute walk from our apartment. Our daughter’s school is based in one of the access roads, and she plays there every day. At weekends, we often walk there as a family for picnics on the undulating lawns, or for a stroll around the perimeter path with its ancient trees and jazzy flowerbeds. It is almost always full of joggers and children and thousands of other apartment-dwellers making the most of its eight hectares of green space.

It is easy to overlook the history of Monceau. First created in the 1770s as a flamboyant, theatrical garden for the future Duc d’Orléans (cousin of Louis XVI), it contained a series of follies, including a Dutch windmill, Egyptian pyramid, minaret, ruined watermill and a naumachia – an oval pond for sea jousting. A new city wall was built along its northern edge in the late 1780s, with a rotunda designed by Ledoux that served as a toll-gate.

Egyptian pyramid

In the 1860s, the site was bought by the city of Paris, and half was sold for development. The remaining area was laid out as a public park as part of the transformation of Paris undertaken by Baron Haussmann.  New features, such as the monumental gilded entrance gates and the cascade and grotto, were added to those that remained from the original garden.

Naumachie and columns in Spring

I am currently doing some work with the Friends of Parc Monceau, a group of local people trying to maintain the park’s historical character, and will post again later in the summer about developments at this special place.

Spring picnickers

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