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Paris' Parks and Gardens

In Paris the parks and gardens are the grandiose remains of her ostentatious aristocratic past. They are filled with follies, pyramids, statues, lakes and monuments. These were gardens made by nobles and princes primarily as a demonstration of power and they chose the most expensive and difficult to maintain designs that they possibly could. You can tell when you're walking in a renaissance park by the geometric patterns of the long paths that criss-cross seemingly on forever. Many of the Parks were never intended for the pleasure of the 'great unwashed' but Madame Guillotine eventually persuaded the nobility to become a little more accommodating.

For an example of a renaissance garden you can check out the Tuileries at the same time as doing The Louvre. Another example of the renaissance style is the Jardine de Luxembourg that lies in central Paris on the left bank.

A larger version of this ever so formal style of park can be found in the gardens of the palace of Versailles. Typically massive, the garden is spread across two hundred and fifty acres of land. And walking through it feels like stepping into a historical costume drama. There are long walkways edged by statues and land divided into patterns by meticulously organized flowerbeds and bodies of water. The full effect can tend to make one ponder the drama of Moliere and agonise over which mask one should wear to the next masquerade ball. Or at least pretend to.

After the revolution came and went the next great phase of building happened under the Rule of the Third Republic and Napoleon the third. The city planner Baron Haussman designed the Bois de Boulogne and made amendments to several other parks. The Bois de Boulogne lies in the sixteenth arrondisement and it is truly huge. It's two and a half times the size of New York's central park and over three times bigger than London's Hyde Park. It's known to the locals as the lungs of Paris but it has something of a seedy reputation after dark.

In the north of the Bois de Boulogne you can find the Jardin d'Acclimation which is a nineteenth century theme park. Now it's basically a 50 acre children's playground featuring a mini train, pony rides, a little zoo and more worryingly, archery and shooting ranges. There's even a mini street system where the young ones can drive cars around and real Gendarmes teach them to obey the traffic lights.

It wasn't always this much fun though. From 1877 to 1912 the site was a human zoo where members of various African tribes were displayed in cages like animals.

Parc Monceau lies in the seventeenth arrondisement of Paris on the east side of town. The development of the park was the hobby of the Duke of Chartres, a cousin of the King and lover of all things English. The Prince of Wales was his best mate. His dream was to create an English Garden in the heart of Paris and that meant he wanted a design considerably less formal than the typical French renaissance garden.

He chucked out the geometric walkways and put in meandering paths and randomly placed statues very much in the English style. And being a romantic, aesthetic type he also filled the park with eighteenth century style sculptures from all over the world. There are roman ruins, a pyramid, a windmill, a ruined fort and stuff from the east, the middle ages and even pre-history. This was intended to give the visitor the experience of visiting the whole world in one afternoon, like a very early theme park.

Back in 1797 the Park Monceau was the scene of the first ever parachute jump taken from a Montgolfier hot air balloon by Andre Jacques Garnerin. If you think it's scary to take a parachute jump then imagine having to take the first one ever! Fortunately the crowd below did not have to witness Andre become pizza and there was much jubilation.

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