Thusly I have found my parades in a city that is already filled with wonders; although every street is filled with insta worthy sights, and any promenade taken along the river Seine is an art gallery in the making, Le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont in the North-East of Paris has a unique charm in itself which has reminiscence paralleling the epic fantasy tales of our childhood.
The park has a simple history, with much work and toil in order to make it the 25 hectare garden paradise we see today. It is one of the largest green spaces inside the ring-road of Paris and in my opinion it is by far the most beautiful and romantic- if only the weather when I visited would have allowed it for longer! As you walk around the impressive summits that categorise the park, your breathe will be lost by the marvelous views over the capital, most notably of which is Montmartre. There are caves, waterfalls, exotic trees, various birds centered around the impressive lake and entertainment for all ages; a.k.a. a few bars/ restaurants and ice cream stands and pony rides.
Le Parc des Buttes-Chaumont by far is the steepest of the gardens managed by the City of Paris. It is a landscaped park, an evolutionary form of the Anglo-Chinese garden, whose irregular design is in direct contrast to the oh so familiar genre of so-called “French-style” formal gardens. Here, it easy to get lost with the curves and different levels, with the picturesque and suspended bridges standing sentinel over the blissful labyrinth.
The name of the park is derived from the French words of ‘Monts Chauves’, meaning bald hills; a rather apt description of the two hills which protruded from the west of Belleville. It was originally a dumping ground and also the location of the infamous Montfaucon Gibbet (public execution via hanging), immortalised by François Villon in his Ballade des pendus, as well as being a gypsum quarry- the key ingredient for plaster and one of the reasons why Paris is so pretty. With centuries of mining this valuable resource on the outskirts, the city soon caught up and was being built around it; however, by this point it was just slag and hollowed out rock which served as crude shelters for the poor.
Napoleon III desired to give larger amounts of green spaces to the working class, instead of allowing them to choke on the industry of city life at the present. Thus, from between 1864 to 1867 Jean Charles Alphand assisted by architect Davioud, by gardener Barillet-Deschamps and by engineer Belgrand took on this enormous task, which required a light railway to be constructed in order to take away the crud and bring in soil. They also dug a five acre lake, the centre of which was a rocky peak crowned with a classic style temple and a 200 step Aiguilles path to reach it; a cave decorated with artificial stalactites and fed by a 90ft waterfall cascading through the rocks and path.
The park was finally inaugurated on April 1, 1867- the same time as the Universal Exhibition of Champ-de-Mars
Le temple de la Sybille des Buttes Chaumont was heavily inspired by the Temple of the Vesta in Tivoli, near Rome, Italy. It is composed of a circle surmounted by the classically beautiful Corinthian columns with proud lion masks surrounding.
Gabriel Davioud, the architect, also was the man overseeing the Ile de Reuilly in the Bois de Vincennes- a post of this woods will come, for you must see it!
In ancient Greece, the sybil was a woman who would preform divinations, although they were the priestesses of Apollo. She was often expressed in an unclear way, as is the way of the spirituals, to create the possibilities for dispute. Hence the expression “to be sybillin” when someone is unclear- just like the people in my adolescence when they tried to prove a point. Often older women, the Sybils were also consulted by the Romans.
From the top, there is the stunning view over the surrounding city, and a brilliant view of the Montmartre cathedral.
What to do?
First and foremost get lost around the park, with its enchanting beauty which beckons you to walk this way or hither; slowly ascend the spiral paths to the top of the first mount, or take a Coffee and an ice cream along the immense lake in the shadow of the temple.
Coffeee…. there are many restaurants and small boutiques nestled nicely into the landscape, many of which you will not even be aware of until you nearly have the foot on their doorstep- so go and have lunch or sit with a good book in hand.
While walking around you will see many different sporting activities, and children’s parties, which to me come under the same category- oof, a lot of energy required there. Since the sit is of an arcane archaic beauty, there are many who go to also meditate and do Tai Chi, as well as the more conventional badminton or jogging- be warned for the last as the hills are even steeper than what they appear.
Just take your own provisions to have a picnic or a chilled and rejuvenating walking around the mythical landscape.
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