Parc Monceau is one of the Parisians’ favourite public parks, situated in the wealthy 8th arrondissement of Paris.
A bit of history
Parc Monceau was created in 1778 by Phillippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres who was a cousin of King Louis XVI. As a lover of all things English, he wanted the park to be in the style of the day, inspired by the romantic English and German gardens. The Duke of Chartres commissioned the painter-writer Carmontelle to lay out a beautiful English garden.
About his work, Carmontelle noted:
“It is not necessary for gardens or nature to be presented in the most agreeable forms.
It’s necessary instead to preserve the charm that one encounters entering the garden and to renew it with each step so that the visitor in his soul will have the desire to revisit the garden every day and to possess it for himself.
The true art is to know how to keep the visitors there, through a variety of objects, otherwise, they will go to the real countryside to find what should be found in this garden; the image of liberty.”
The Duke’s follies
The Duke of Chartres had follies placed throughout the park which were intended to surprise and amaze visitors:
- a small Egyptian pyramid,
- a Roman colonnade,
- antique statues,
- a water lily pond,
- a Tatar tent,
- a farmhouse,
- a Dutch windmill,
- a temple of Mars,
- a minaret,
- an Italian vineyard,
- an enchanted grotto,
- and a medieval ruin.
To add to the atmosphere of the place, servants were dressed in oriental and other exotic costumes, and unusual animals such as camels were brought in there.
The Wall of the Farmers-General
In 1787 the corporation of tax farmers had a new city wall erected all around Paris known as the Wall of the Farmers-General (Mur des Fermiers Généraux).
Part of the wall used to run along the northern edge of the park where a toll barrier was built. Designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, it takes the shape of a circular rotunda in neo-classic style.
It was known as the Pavilion de Chartres and resemble a Doric temple. The ground floor was used as a customs house and the upper floor served as an apartment for the Duke overlooking the garden.
The elegant dome was added to the structure by Gabriel Davioud in the 19th century.
An interesting fact: in 1797 Parc Monceau was the site of the first silk parachute jump performed by André-Jacques Garnerin.
Parc Monceau in the 19th century
After the Napoleonic era, the park was restored to the family of the Duke who lost his life during the French Revolution.
The size of the park was reduced by half during the Second Empire as lots within the park were sold to real estate developers who built elegant mansions.
Parc Monceau was purchased by the City of Paris in 1860 and was remade by Baron Haussmann as part of his great urban works of Paris.
He had two main alleys laid out north to south (Allée Ferdousi) and east to west (Allée de la Comtesse de Ségur) meeting in the centre of the garden.
They were made wide enough and paved to let carriages drive through the park.
The Baron also planted several exotic trees and flowers from around the world to embellish Parc Monceau.
Features of Parc Monceau
The area of the park covers 8.2 hectares and its circumference is approximately 1.1 km long.
Most of the original follies from the 18th century are now gone, except for the Egyptian pyramid. Nevertheless, the park contains a few structures that were added by Baron Haussmann in the 19th century, including statues and exotic trees.
The park features a rock topped by a beehive. A small waterfall adds to the enchantment of the place.
Next to it stands the miniature Egyptian pyramid, one of the few original follies still existing today.
Just a few meters off Allée de la Comtesse de Ségur, architect Gabriel Davioud added a small bridge modelled after the Rialto bridge in Venice.
A bit further on, the Renaissance arch is a relic from the Paris City-Hall which was burnt down during the Commune of Paris.
Nearby, the oval basin (la Naumachie) is bordered by a long Corinthian colonnade that once was part of a church in Saint-Denis which was dismantled in 1719.
Each of the four main entrances of the park has fine wrought-iron gates by Gabriel Davioud.
Today, the park features a play area for children, two sandpits, a merry-go-round, a candy store and a puppet show.
Parc Monceau in paintings
Claude Monet painted five pictures in the park (three in 1876 and two in 1878).
The park also appears in the paintings of many other artists: Georges Braque, Henri Brispot, Paul Michel Dupuy, Georges d’Espagnat and Roger Guit.