Paris: 8eme arrondissement

Place de la Concorde. Champs-Élysées. l’Arc de Triomphe. La Madeleine. These iconic sites in Paris are all located within the 8eme arrondissement. I could show you pictures of them in all their splendor and glory. But in the interest of sharing something perhaps a little lesser-known and broadening votre connaissance, I’d first like to introduce you to Parc Monceau.

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The 8th arrondissement can be a bit overbearing both in stature and wealth, as it is one of the most affluent districts of Paris. It is home to 4 of Paris’s 7 luxury hotels and 3 of the 9 three-star Michelin-rated restaurants in Paris. This arrondissement is really the pinnacle in terms of commerce and consumerism, so it was a refreshing surprise to turn a corner and approach the peaceful and gently-shaded Parc Monceau deep in the heart of a quieter neighborhood. This park, established by Philippe d’Orléans, Duke of Chartres, in 1779, was intended to surprise its visitors with an English-inspired design–one with structures which mimicked buildings of different eras and continents. The Duke employed writer and painter Louis Carrogis Carmontelle to design the gardens, and his opinion was that “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.”

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I can confidently say that this garden was indeed enchanting and I am sorry to have only had the chance to visit once. Carmontelle, good sir, you have succeeded.

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Paris makes me happy. Plain and simple.

Although The Duke had envisioned an English garden, Carmontelle saw Monceau as more of a mixture of all times and all places at once, with a miniature Egyptian pyramid, a Roman colonnade, antique statues, a pond of water lilies, a Dutch windmill, an Italian vineyard, an enchanted grotto, and many other homages to fantasy and adventure. Servants would even stroll about the grounds dressed in exotic costumes.

Though a supporter of the Revolution, the Reign of Terror did not spare The Duke, and in 1793 he was guillotined. At this point, the park was nationalized. Just a few years later in 1797, Parc Monceau was the site of the first silk parachute jump, performed by André Jacques Garnerin, who landed in the park after jumping from a hot air balloon.

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During the Second Empire, France saw the restoration of the monarchy. This meant the park was returned to the family of The Duke, who sold lots within the park to real estate developers. This brought the construction of luxury townhouses and cut the size of the park in half. The city purchased what remained, which at this point was only the water lily pond, the stream, and the “fantasy” tombs.

Like most of Paris, Parc Monceau did not escape the hands of Baron Haussmann. This was the first public park to be remade by his efforts after being commissioned by Emperor Louis Napoleon to enact a radical transformation of the city, breathing light and air into what was once dark and dingy. Parc Monceau saw two main alleys cut through from north to south, along with widening and paving to allow for carriages to pass through. Haussmann also imported exotic trees and plants to enrich the garden.

Other interesting tidbits:

– Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte both have paintings from this park

– Parc Monceau was the site of an uprising during the Paris Commune, when army troops massacred a group of Communards in 1871

– There are 6 private residences situated directly on the park with 24 hour access to the grounds

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After Parc Monceau, my partner in all things Paris and I walked back to Charles de Gaulle – Étoile to climb l’Arc de Triomphe. It was a blustery cold day but this is one of my absolute favorite views of the city.

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The Arc de Triomphe honors those who fought and died for France in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Inscribed on the inner and outer surfaces of the Arc are names of French victories and generals. Burning in memory of the unidentified dead, the eternal flame at the base of the Arc was the first to be lit in Western and Eastern Europe since the fourth century. It stands alongside the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, interred in 1920.

This monument took nearly 30 years to build, but after its completion it saw the passing of both Napoleon’s body in 1840 as it was taken to les Invalides and Victor Hugo’s body in 1885 before being laid to rest in the Panthéon.

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And this one’s for you, Emilie…

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