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Tucked away on the eastern end of Paris just north of the Seine there is an area not often mentioned when discussing places to visit in the City of Light. The neighborhood, known as Bercy, is located in the 12th arrondissement and is home to the AccorHotels Arena and the La Cinémathèque française which both surround the Parc de Bercy. The Cinémathèque is a fairly well known attraction in Paris as it houses the world’s foremost film history museum. It also regularly screens classic films, often showcasing a particular era or filmmaker. The Arena, which is less well known, is host to several sporting events including Judo, basketball, and handball championships as well as concerts from some of the world’s biggest touring acts.
However, while making your way among the concert goers and cinephiles wandering the area, it is well worth the very slight detour to visit the Jardin Yitzhak Rabin located within the park. The first thing about it that draws attention is the name. Rabin, a two-time Israeli prime minister, was assassinated in office for his role in the Oslo Accords which sought to bring reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. The garden was named in his honor in 1999, four years after his death, by then mayor Jean Tiberi. Rabin was awarded the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize along with fellow Israeli Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the other key players in Oslo.
It is in the spirit of working toward peace that the garden bears his name. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, along with France’s complex relationship with anti-semitism, are not exactly subjects easily connected to tranquil strolls in Parisian gardens. Although perhaps such hotly contested issues would be more readily solved if that connection were made more often. Happily, the association is apt as the words peace and tranquility will come to mind as you stroll the garden. The lawn of the Parc de Bercy is fairly minimalist in design and it is essentially an open green space cut off from the street by the Cinémathèque and the Arena. Continuing toward the east, as the crowds dwindle and the noise fades, is where you will encounter the series of green spaces that make up the Jardin Yitzhak Rabin. (The Parc de Bercy is quite expansive, and stretches all the way to the Cour Saint-Émilion, featuring vineyards, water features, bridges, vegetable potagers and more.)
Crossing through the gate, it is immediately clear that the garden has been carefully manicured and maintained. An impressive feature is the variety of styles that have been seamlessly blended together. There are areas that are akin to the open green space of the lawn where people can picnic or lay in the grass. There are perfectly cut hedges that line floral displays. There are pathways ducking into shaded groves. Two long richly decorated pergolas held up by concrete pillars frame a small reflecting pool. Each of these areas is presented as though it’s a hidden treasure waiting to be a stumbled upon.
In such a small area the density of the design runs the risk of being overly busy or distracting and yet the cumulative effect of all of it is more zen-like and contemplative than anything else. A covered dock looking out over a pond encircled by tall grass and pathways firmly solidifies the meditative aspirations of the layout. Deeper into the Jardin the design becomes slightly less intricate and the feeling becomes more isolated and quiet. As you catch people walking along or sitting on the benches in the shade, you might get the sense that quite a few first “Je t’aime”s are said here. It is sort of a shock when you realize the Jardin leads to a highway overpass as the sound has been so effectively buffered.
The Jardin Yitzhak Rabin, and indeed the entire Parc de Bercy, combine several of the best traits of Parisian culture. The setting is politically conscious, civic minded, but with a knack for aesthetic beauty and urban integration. It is yet another example of how Paris has found a way to physically manifest the rich French cultural tradition in a modern setting. The Jardin and its surrounding attractions are a worthwhile destination for any number of reasons, but it can also suit those who want nothing more than to find a quiet spot to sit and think. In fact, you might stumble upon one of the meditation groups who choose the Jardin Yitzhak Rabin for their sessions.
Photo credits: Roses in the Jardin Yitzhak Rabin. Photo: Dinkum/ Public Domain; La Cinémathèque française by Yann Droneaud/ Flickr; Parc de Bercy by Christophe Noël / Mairie de Paris; Jardin Yitzhak Rabin by (WT-en) Mark/ Wikivoyage
Lead photo credit : Jardin Yitzhak Rabin. Photo: (WT-en) Mark/ Wikivoyage