Top 10 Facts about le Bois de Boulogne in Paris
Bois de Boulogne is a Park found in the west of Paris. It was once a forest reserve and a hunting place for the reigning monarchs.
The reserve was turned into a recreational space in 1852 and occupies 2,155 acres of land. This makes it the second-largest park in Paris.
Longchamp and Auteuil racetracks are found in this park. It is two times larger than Central Park in New York.
Within the Park are an English landscape garden and several lakes graced with a waterfall.
There are several other attractions like a zoo, an amusement park, a botanical garden, a tennis stadium just to name a few.
This Park is credited to Napoleon III who was the reigning Emperor. A lot happened before and after the park was created.
Here are the top 10 facts about Bois de Boulogne.
1. Le Bois de Boulogne used to be a hunting preserve
The park is a remnant of the ancient oak forest of Rouvray, which form part of Montmorency, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Chaville, and Meudon forests.
Bears, deer and other game were hunted in the forest by Dagobert I. Later on, his grandson gave the forest to monks from the Abbey of Saint-Denis.
Part of the forest was bought by Philip Augustus which he turned into a hunting preserve again.
Isabelle de France founded the Abbey of Longchamp in the 13th century.
The park, then a forest, was invaded by so many outlaws that it was burnt down to get rid of then in 1417.
This led to replanting in the mid-15th century by King Louis XI. He also ensured the forest had separate entrances.
2. Napoleon III commissioned for the waterfall to be built
Most trees in the forest were cut down after Napoleon I defeat to British and Russian soldiers. They used the trees to build shelter and also as firewood.
When Napoleon III took over, he commissioned the forest to be a park. He also instructed that there be large lawn areas with trees and plants, rivers, lakes and a waterfall.
Two large public parks were created on the outskirts of the city, Bois de Boulogne to the west and Bois de Vincennes to the east.
These green spaces were specially created for Parisians to escape the hectic city and relax in a peaceful park.
3. The park used to be a hiding place for robbers
During the Hundred Years War, the forest was a very dangerous place. Robbers made it their hideout.
A famous scientist and traveller, Pierre Belon, was murdered by robbers in the Bois de Boulogne in 1564
This led the Duke of Burgundy to order the forest to be burnt down. It was an attempt to crack down the gangs.
That was not all, ladies of the night also made it their office.
After they were removed, soldiers replanted tree and two roads were opened through the forest.
4. Le Bois de Boulogne was named after a chapel
The Bois got named after a chapel known as Notre Dame de Boulogne la Petite.
This church was built in the forest by Philip IV of France. He made a pilgrimage to Boulogne-sur-Mer, on the French coast in 1308.
Other than praying, he wanted to admire a statue of the Virgin Mary which was alleged to inspire miracles.
He, therefore, purposed to build a church with a similar statue in the forest not far from Paris, to attract pilgrims. The chapel was finished after his death in 1330.
5. The park is Napoleons’ brainchild
The idea of creating this park was though of by Napoleon III.
This was after he ousted the reigning regime and appointed himself as Emperor of the French in 1852.
When he took over power, there were only four public parks in the whole of France.
Napoleon III was impressed by Hyde Park in London and wanted the same for his country.
He, accordingly, created two large parks on the eastern and western edges of the city.
He intended to let people from all the social classes enjoy themselves in one place.
The park was funded by the state.
6. Jacques Hittorff designed the original plan of the park
The first plan for the Bois de Boulogne was done by architect Jacques Hittorff.
He had previously worked for King Louis Philippe when he designed French landscape gardens at his chateaux.
Napoleon III plan for Bois de Boulogne was to have straight alleys crisscrossing the park.
He also wanted it to have lakes and streams just like he had seen in Hyde Park.
His designer, Vare, failed to bring the idea to life. He did wrong estimates of the stream which, had it been implemented, would have left it empty.
Haussmann took over and worked on the lakes and streams. He divided the lake with a raised road which doubles as a dam. His design remains to date.
7. Le Bois de Boulogne is larger than central park in New York
Boulogne park covers an area of 846 hectares. This is 3 times larger than London’s Hyde Park and a 3 fold than Central Park in New York.
The park is so vast that you cannot see it all in a day, you would need a week to see it all.
It is a haven for strollers, cyclists, joggers, picnicking and horseback riding, there’s so much more that one can do at this park.
The two lakes in the park and eight ponds are all connected by three artificial streams. They were created in 1850 with its waters coming from Ourcq River.
Swans, ducks and other birds have made the lakes their home. Napoleon III’s only statue is on the island on one of the lakes in the park.
8. It took five years to complete the park
Creating the Park from start to finish took five years. The upper and lower lakes were dug, and the earth was used to create the islands and hills.
They brought rocks from Fontainebleau and mixed it with concrete to make the waterfall and an artificial grotto.
Water from Seine river was not enough so they got more from Ourcq River to fill the streams and the lakes.
They eventually dug an artesian well that was 586 meters deep. It produced 20,000 cubic meters of water a day. This well was in use until 1861.
9. The park was designed to be an amusement park
The initial plans of Boulogne park were to make it a place for amusement and outdoor leisure activities.
Cafes, bandstands, riding stables, shooting galleries, and boat rentals were installed in the park.
The northern end of the park had space for a zoo and botanical garden with rare birds, animals and plants. About 50 deer were brought to the forest.
270 hectares was reserved for lawns where thousands of fragrant flowers were planted.
Gabriel Davioud was commissioned to design 24 pavilions in the park.
They were built out of wood in Switzerland and transported to Paris, where they reassembled them on an island in the lake.
10. There is a private residence at the park
There is one private residence in the park. It was owned by the Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson.
They lived there between 1952 and 1986. After their death, the city of Paris took ownership of the house.
The owner of Ritz Hotel bought it from the city and was the last home Princess Diana visited before her tragic death in 1997.