|The Buttes Chaumont Park - Paris Gardens
By Anne Rohan
D uring the Second Empire, Napoleon III decided to provide the North of Paris with a large park which would please the Parisians but above all, would improve the appearance of the district. He therefore asked for the help of Baron Haussmann, then the Prefect of the Seine. He intended to use the Buttes-Chaumont site which was given up to the Ville de Paris in 1863. Since the French Revolution, there was a gypsum (mineral used in the making of plaster) quarry on the Buttes-Chaumont, but also a stone quarry of which stones were used for some buildings of the capital city. Then, the Buttes-Chaumont was turned into a rubbish dump.
Gigantic works began in 1864 and lasted three years. The fitting-out of such a luxurious park on the Buttes-Chaumont seemed unexpected according to the fact that the name "Chaumont" actually means "mont chauve" (bald mount); this place was a clay ground on which nothing could grow.
The transformation of the disused former quarries into an immense romantic park was lead by Haussmann, helped by specialists like the gardener Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps (who had already taken part in the fitting-out of the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes), the architect Gabriel Davioud, the engineers Eugène Belgrand (who was earlier in charge of the carrying-out of the sewer of Paris) and Jean-Charles Alphand. More than 1000 workers were put on this titanic project, using horses, dynamite and steam engines in order to realize the various excavation works and landscape fitting-outs.
The Park of the Buttes-Chaumont was inaugurated in April 1867, at the time the World Fair was at its height. Behind a 2500 meter long iron gate, the Parisians discovered a sumptuous landscape, with small cliffs and picturesque hills of a romantic inspiration. The new park amazed the public, as its style was totally opposed to this of the normal "French" parks, usually fitted-out with straight lines. The Park of the Buttes-Chaumont was indeed the Haussmannian Park ‘par excellence’; it gave the strollers the feeling of being in a wild and ideal nature, while this nature had been carefully designed, improved and brought out with romantic details by meticulous architects like Gabriel Davioud. There also are a two hectare wide lake and two artificial streams, and one of them ends up above a grotto in a thirty-two meter high waterfall. The vault of this grotto is twenty meters high and is adorned with fake stalactites. Strollers feel adventurous as they explore the park and cross the bridges such as the "pont suspendu" or the stone bridge called the "pont des suicidés". Other infrastructures, characteristic of the haussmannian parks such as pavilions, benches and fountains, make this reconstituted nature even more pleasant to Parisians.
The Park of the Buttes-Chaumont is nowadays the third largest park in Paris, after the Jardin des Tuileries and the Parc de la Villette. It is certainly one of the most beautiful green spaces in the capital city. The six hectares of plantation are surely what makes the park so beautiful; the nature lovers may recognize, apart from the superb flowerbeds, some exotic trees such as ginkgos bilobas, a Siberian elm, a cedar from the Lebanon and an Oriental plane tree of the nineteenth century which has an impressive six meter circumference.
The walkers will undoubtedly be fascinated by some of the numerous birds, such as seagulls, hens or ducks which live in the park and on the lake.
There is a rocky island in the middle of the lake, with a thirty meter high cliff. One can find the "Temple de la Sibylle" on top of this island, which dominates the whole park. This temple is a replica of a Greco-Romano temple situated in Tivoli and was carried out by Gabriel Davioud in 1869. A small hanging footbridge or a brick bridge gives access to the island which gives an unobstructed view of Montmartre and Saint Denis.
The stroller can also benefit from the twelve hectares of lawn of which access is free; it is therefore possible to lie down or to have a picnic on the lawn. It is pleasant as well to walk along the large paths or to pace up and down the smaller and winding paths which come across the undergrowth, go through the hills and skirt around the rocks. The Park of the Buttes-Chaumont is approximately twenty-five hectares of various surprises and change of scene that will please the entire family. Children will enjoy the carrousel, the playgrounds and swings and even attend to a "Guignol" puppet show. They can also go round the park on a pony. And there are of course several places where you can buy something to eat.
With its unexpected and pleasant landscape that gives it a peculiar charm, the Park of the Buttes-Chaumont attracts more than three million visitors each year.