Parc Montsouris: Nature and Artifice in the 14th Arrondissement

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Parc Montsouris: Nature and Artifice in the 14th Arrondissement
Most people are unaware that the City of Light offers treasures hidden in plain sight because of their remarkable integration into the warp and weft of daily city life, notably the parks and gardens of Paris. Unbelievable as it may seem in our current political climate of disdain for the well-being of ordinary citizens, one man stood heads above the rest for his ability to care for the well-being of the citizens of his country, the sagacious Emperor Napoléon III. Born April 20, 1808 at the Tuileries Palace in Paris, Charles Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte became the first president of the republic in 1848, then emperor in 1852, a title he retained until the fall of the Second Empire in 1870. As heir apparent to the imperial throne after the successive deaths of his older brother Napoleon-Louis in 1831, and of his cousin the Duke of Reichstadt (Napoleon II, King of Rome) in 1832, his attempts at at two coups d’états failed miserably. In 1836 he was exiled to the United States, then England. In 1840 after the second failed coup état attempt at Boulogne-sur-Mer, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at Fort Ham, in the Somme department, from which he eventually escaped in 1846. Portrait of Napoléon III by Hippolyte Flandrin. Public domain During his exiles the future emperor was imprisoned, but free to receive visitors, read, study, write, and garden. “I succeeded in tilling a small plot of land where I am busily engaged in tilling, planting seeds and bushes. Our natural surroundings offer unending resources and consolation to those whose happiness wanes.” Once he became emperor, he was the first sovereign whose interests in gardens were not intended to aggrandize his wealth and power. Parc Montsouris. Photo credit: Fanfwah/ Wikipedia Commons During his two decades’ reign as emperor, Napoléon III carried out the monumental transformation and modernization of Paris. With the help of four men in particular – George Eugène “Baron” Haussmann, Adolphe Alphand, Gabriel Davioud, and Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps – he established an overarching strategy for landscape development creating, among other urban spaces, four parks at the cardinal points of the capital: the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont to the north, the Bois de Vincennes to the east, the Bois de Boulougne to the west and Parc Montsouris to the south. Baron Haussmann (1809-1891), prefect of the Seine, and famous for his reorganization of almost 60 percent of Paris, hired a bridge and road engineer, Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891), to oversee his vision. Alphand brought on board Gabriel Davioud (1824-1881), a city architect, as well as the horticulturist and landscape architect, Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps (1824-1873). Together these four men created something extraordinary out of nothing. Less decorated than the Jardin des Tuileries, less visited than the Buttes-Chaumont, less central than the Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Montsouris is one of the loveliest parks in Paris, especially in the fall thanks to its 1400 trees most of which are now over 100 years old.
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Lead photo credit : Cèdre du Liban, The trees of Parc Montsouris. Photo credit: besopha/ Wikipedia commons

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Sue Aran lives in the Gers department of southwest France. She is the owner of French Country Adventures, which provides private, personally-guided, small-group food & wine adventures into Gascony, the Pays Basque and Provence. She writes a monthly blog about her life in France and is a contributor to Bonjour Paris and France Today magazines.