Paris…September 23rd…Garden Reverie
After, finally, a really good night’s sleep, we decided that it was ok to start the day a bit later as it was going to be a day of garden exploration and discovery. Out we went at 10A for a bit of petit dejeuner at a local café – Le Fountain Sully. The reality of the weather, sunny but breezy, drove us back to the hotel to pick up our scarves and then off we went.
For our last full day in Paris we decided to take in as many of the gardens of the Marais as possible since it was our area of residence, temporary though it may be. It is interesting to note that most of the garden locations around Paris and in particular the Marais are the sites of vicious and violent events. I’ll try to note any specifics as we move through Les Jardins de Marais.
Our first and most obvious garden of the day was the Place des Voges. This main place of the Marais exists mainly because of Henri IV (one of France’s beloved monarchs and urban planner). 36 mansions of red brick and white limestone border the park with fountains dotting the four corners. Arches and linden trees grace the edges of the park.
The site was originally the royal grounds of the Chateau des Tournelles for Henri II and his wife, the infamous Catherine de Medicis. Henri was killed accidentally in a jousting tournament and Catherine was so incensed that she razed the Chateau and sent Henri’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to the Loire. Then Catherine built another palace in the Tuileries (and that is another story to be discussed later). But in 1605, Henry of Navarre (Henri IV) wanted to vest himself of the taint of Catherine and her line so he looked east to medieval Marais. The Marais was a quarter of watered gardens (maraichers) not marshes as one would surmise. He started, but never lived to see the result of his Place des Voges.
The Place has been graced by the likes of Moliere, Victor Hugo, as well the owner of the most famous Paris salon in the 1600’s, Ninon de l’Enclos. Her salon was known far and wide for its literati visitors, but also for her skills as a courtesan. Yes, the Place des Voges has had a varied and exciting existence. But now the main square holds a variety of people, reading, writing, sleeping, children running everywhere, and parents indulging their exuberance. It is a joyous spot combining locals and tourists alike. Bring your baguette and a book and join the throng…it’s worth the time.
As we wandered along we found the gardens at the Hotel Sully next. The residence of Henri IV’s finance minister it’s a pretty garden with orange trees punctuating the greenery. Le Pavillion de la Reine was a surprise find. Small and compact, it holds a few benches under a canopy of trees. The Square Leopold-Achille is a large lawn with a huge children’s playground. Since this was Sunday, we were treated with a view of Parisian parents playing with their children on a warm afternoon.
Boulevard Beaumarchais was one of the roads on our path to another garden and we were treated to an antique market that ran the length of this major boulevard. But on we went to find more gardens. Along the way we noted the Jardin de l’Hotel Lamoignan – a garden of lights. Small bulbs were placed every 3 to 4 ft and at night it appeared to have no ground only a golden bed of light. The Jardin de Musee Carnavalet is surrounded by the most formidable historic structure in all the Marais. It was built in 1546 under the influence of the Italian renaissance. Some of the sculptures were so loved by Bernini that he carved the decorations on the southwest corner of the square courtyard.
We continued to wander heading into the Jewish Quarter with the Temple Square as our final destination in the Marais. As we sauntered along we came upon one of my favorite gardens of the walk, the Square George Cain. Not only is it a lovely square but it is also the depository for many old stone fragments from older gardens. The garden is laid out in a circular pattern with benches rounding a center statue. On every bench Parisian families, older Parisians and a few Americans lounged. As we sat and enjoyed the warmth of the sun, listened to the breeze through the trees, we watched a little boy chase and annoy pigeons. George Cain was a painter and writer in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s. He was also the first curator at the Musee Carnavalet.
More walking, trying seemingly in vain, to find the Square du Temple. But always on the hunt we find the Jardin de L’Hotel Donon with its Christmas tree shaped boxwoods with lovely flower bed centered among them. Further on we find the Jardin del Le Archives Nationale du France. Finally after what feels like and has been hours, we find the Square du Temple.
Remember when I mentioned earlier that many of the squares and gardens have been the side of violent and vicious events, well then, welcome to the Square du Temple. Eight centuries of carnage, torture, regicide, genocide are buried here. In 1140, this was the site of the castle of the Knights Templar, a religious and wildly wealthy and propertied Christian order. The Templars loaned money to many financially stressed kings as well as hiding them from rampaging mobs. In 1307 Philip le Bel (handsome Philip) decided to declare war on the Templars. He charged them with all sorts of awful behaviors. He charged the Templar castle, torturing and burning alive any monk-soldier who failed to confess to those horrific charges. Indeed he hung the Father General, Jacques Molay, from a scaffold and burned him alive.
In that same Temple keep, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and the dauphin and his sister were imprisoned prior to the king and queen’s beheading. The Dauphin was held for another 3 years after his parents lost their heads. He ultimately passed away and Napoleon razed the keep to make sure royalists would not make a pilgrimage destination. One would have thought that would have been the end of the sadness for this maligned square, but no. Today there is a plaque bearing the names of the youngest children – unrecorded yet in school records – who were deported by the Nazis from homes in the Marais bordering the square.
Today this lovely garden shows no signs (other than the plaque) of its horrendous history. Along the paths are planted spirea, lilacs, and flowering fruit trees. There is a bird sanctuary, a lovely pond and waterfall, and benches everywhere. It is a far cry from its past, let us hope it stays that way.
A day of garden discovery would be incomplete without a visit to the largest and most stunning of Paris gardens – the Tuileries. It is also a place with a history of violence that you would never imagine while viewing the perfectly groomed flower beds and treescapes. Once the private reserve of the royals, it displays that formal design – gleaming white sculptures; more than 1000 trees including linden, sycamore, clipped horse chestnut, pine, maple, palm, and boxed maple; and, flower beds, lawns, and white graveled “grand axis” paths.
Originally it was owned and operated by the city’s tile manufacturers. However, in 1517 Francois I, with his daughter-in-law, Catherine de Medicis (remember her?) bought the property then Catherine claimed it as her own. As the niece of a Pope and the daughter of a Florentine banker, Catherine had always admired the extravagant gardens popular in 16th century Florence. And although there have been different iterations of the garden, it was the grieving Catherine that established the lavish garden.
While she established the garden, she also used it to devise one of the worst massacre’s in early history. Wandering under those linden trees on a warm August afternoon in 1572, Catholic fanatic Catherine is believed to have planned, discussed, and given the signal for the Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre for August 24th. On that day as she rested in the garden, while over 15,000 Protestants were slaughtered, hacked to death in a religious frenzy.
In 1871 the Paris Commune burned the palace to the ground and it was never rebuilt. But the gardens, the oldest and largest in Paris, have survived for five centuries. Bounded by the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe at one end and the Place de la Concorde at the other, it is a garden wanderer’s dream…join me?
It was clear that we needed to add another of the great gardens to end the day so off we went to the gardens of the Eiffel Tower. A large lawn punctuated by streets was a mass of humanity. Not only driven by the Tower itself, but also the Fete de Jardin, and a huge street fair (or perhaps park fair). It was quite crazy and after such a long day of walking, we were both not ready to handle such a crush of people, so we left the park for the quiet of the Rue Cler neighborhood. We grabbed the Metro at Ecole Militaire and headed back to the Marais.
Before we settled in for the night, we needed a light meal. So off to the Café Hugo on the Place des Voges. Salade Italienne for me and Salade Dalou for Betty accompanied by a 2011 Demoiselle sans Gene rosé from the Mediterranean (pale, peach on the nose, mineral on palate).
Back to the hotel, too tired to pack, off to bed.
So ends the last full day in Paris…off to Colmar in Alsace in the AM…good night.