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Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Palace, the Jardin du Luxembourg, and sailboats
One of the greatest regrets I have from all my travels is that I did not have enough time in Paris to see all I wanted. Moreover, the chances seem slim that I shall ever get to go back and take in the "leftovers" that didn't make it onto my schedule the first time around (2015). I could easily spend a second week in the city. However, my wife didn't much care for Paris. She complained that everyone spoke French, she didn't like most of the ingredients in French cooking, and in any case, there wasn't much that interested her in the city for which she would be willing to be on her feet long enough to take in. I sympathize somewhat with her last complaint but find the all of them easily worth dealing with. It is Paris, after all. At the top of my "wish I'd seen" list would be the Rodin Museum, the Petit Palace, the Versailles Gardens, and the Luxembourg Palace and Gardens. The gardens especially should be near the top of any "must see" list of anyone visiting Paris. This is about that lovely mid-city garden spot and what I missed.

The Jardin du Luxembourg from the air (top), from a map, and from a map of
the gardens (middle) of the many queens of France which grace the gardens (bottom).
This marks the first of a series of items I'll be doing during the next few weeks and months in highlighting the most beautiful gardens in the world. The Jardin du Luxembourg and all the others were created by artists, which means they are manmade in design. I won't be including "National" Parks such as the Grand Canyon in this country or the Swiss Alps in Europe. They are, in essence, God-made parks, their beauty the grace of God. I think it unfair to compare them to the meager, contrived, decorative efforts of the landscape design artist. Doing so would be like comparing fountains and waterfalls.

The Medici Fountain in spring, autumn, and summer.
Marie de' Medici, of the Florentine de' Medici family, and the widow of France's Henry IV, also the regent for the King Louis XIII, decided to build a palace in imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. In 1611 she purchased the hotel du Luxembourg (today the Petit Palace) then began construction of her new palace. She commissioned Salomon de Brosse to build the palace and a fountain (above), both of which still exist. Around 1612, as construction was coming along nicely, she had planted 2,000 elm trees, and directed Tommaso Francini, and a series of others, to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence. Francini planned two terraces with balustrades and parterres laid out along the axis of the chateau, aligned around a circular basin (top). He also built the Medici Fountain (above) to the east of the palace as a nympheum, an artificial grotto and fountain, minus its present reflecting pool and statuary. The original garden was just eight hectares (a little short of 20 acres) in size.

Jardin du Luxembourg, 1829, Christophe Civeton
Some twenty years later, the queen bought additional land and enlarged the garden to thirty hectares (about 74 acres), then entrusted the work to Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie, the head gardener of the royal gardens of the Tuileries and the Gardens of Versailles. He was one of the early theorists of the new and more formal jardin à la française (French Garden). He also laid out a series of squares along an east-west alley at the east end by the Medici Fountain, along with a rectangle of parterre de broderies of flowers and hedges in front of the palace. In the center he placed an octagonal basin with a fountain having a perspective toward what is now the Paris observatory. Having created all this, later monarchs largely neglected the gardens in favor of those at Versailles. In fact, around 1780, the Comte de Provence, the future Louis XVIII, sold the eastern part of the garden for real estate development.

The Luxembourg Palace and the grand vistas of the Jardin du Luxembourg
An original model of
the Statue of Liberty.
However, in the years after the French Revolution, the new government expanded the garden to forty hectares (almost 99 acres) by confiscating the land of the neighboring religious order. Jean Chalgrin, the architect of the Arc de Triomphe, took on the task of restoring the garden. He revamped the Medici Fountain and laid out a long perspective from the palace to the observatory. He preserved the famous pepiniere, (nursery garden) and the old vineyards, while keeping the garden in a formal French style. A few years later, during and after the July Monarchy of 1848, the park became home to a large population of statuary Queens and famous women of France, lining the terraces. Late in the 19th century, there were added, monuments to writers and artists, as well as a small-scale model of Bartholdi's Statue of Liberty. During the reconstruction, Gabriel Davioud, the Director of Parks and Promenades of Paris, built new ornamental gates and fences around the park. He also transformed what remained of the old nursery garden, at the south end of the park, into an English garden with winding paths, and a fruit orchard in the southwest corner.

A panoramic view of the Jardin du Luxembourg
Today, the garden is largely devoted to a green parterre of gravel and lawn enhanced by statues and centered on its large octagonal basin of water, with a central jet. There children sail model boats (top). The garden is famed for its calm atmosphere. Surrounding the basin on the raised balustrade terraces are a series of statues of former French queens, saints, and copies after the Antique. In the southwest corner, there is an orchard of apple and pear trees and the Theatre des Marionettes. The Orangerie displays art, photography and sculptures. The gardens include a large fenced-in playground for young children and a vintage carousel. In addition, there are free musical performances in a gazebo on the grounds next to a small café nearby, under the trees, with both indoor and outdoor seating where visitors may enjoy the music over a glass of wine.

A French sailor boy.


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