In the 19th Arrondissement, we found a charming park: The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. It is not a naturally grown landscape, it was artificially created on the grounds of a slate mine next to a former landfill.
History of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
The Butte de Chaumont was used as a slate mine for marl, clay and gypsum until the late 18th century. It started out as an opencast mine but was later extended through tunnels that ran 61 meters deep into the ground. During the French Revolution, the facility dwindled down and was then used as a landfill, a boneyard and for grey water.
Under Napoleon III the grounds were bought back from their current owner in 1860. The terrain was mostly hollow and the surface steep. Neither residential nor commercial buildings could be built here. It was Baron Hausmann’s suggestion to improve the quality of living for those nearby by designing a “promenade public”. The park was supposed to be framed by luxurious buildings to cover the cost of the park by selling those.
Between 1864 and 1867 humungous amounts of soil were moved. First problems were encountered when tunnels collapsed and landslides occurred. This delayed the opening of the park considerably and the budget of the project skyrocketed. When the bridge at the entrance started sliding as well, Gustav Eiffel was called in to construct a more stable fixture.
In 1867 Paris hosted the World Exhibition and the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont was opened on the 1st of April the same year. It served as a fairground for the latest technical developments during the World Exhibition.
Over the years, a lot of maintenance work became necessary in the park. World War Two also left a great number of damages. 1956 the park was indeed so run down that the plan at the time was to completely destroy it. A governmental decree, however, was issued and declared the area to be under landscape protection. It was then gradually rebuilt.
A walk through a magnificent park in Paris
We were a little out of breath after the way up from the metro stop 30 meters below the park. Little did we know that we got off at one of the lowest metro stops in the whole of Paris. So we did not bother taking the elevator but climbed “a few steps” to the surface. Turned out that these were not only a few steps but in fact many steps.
We had a look at the map of the area when we reached the entrance. The park covers an area of 5 hectares. Highly branched paths lead through it. We wanted to have a good overview before we started. We saw a picture of a suspension bridge on the internet and we wanted it to be on our way through the park.
The whole park is very hilly and many bridges are cleverly used to connect the different elevations. Big lawns cover different parts of the park and are frequently used for recreational activities. Some streams cut through the hilly landscape.
The path we chose led us to the lake in the middle of the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Hills pierce through the water of the lake. Access to the hills is granted over the suspension bridge built by Gustav Eiffel. The bridge is almost 65 meters long and is made up of steel ropes. A superb bridge, that lightly swings as you take a further step on it.
At the other side of the bridge, the rocky cliffs of island Île du Belvédère rise up almost vertically. At first glance it felt like being in the Elbe Sandstone Highlands, but the Sybill Temple on the top of the hill gave it away that we were not. The view over Paris from the building at round about 30 meters over the lake is just lovely.
Another bridge, made out of stone this time and 22 meters high, give or take, takes you to the upper part of the park. As we crossed the bridge I got a little confused by the unsightly barb wire on the rails. Later, as I learned that people call the bridge “Pont des Suicidés” (suicide bridge), I understood. Seems to be a current topic.
We followed a path down to the lake. Our aim was a grotto, roughly 20 meters high. A waterfall falls 32 meters down. A special system of pumps brings water from the Canal del’Ourcq (a kilometre away) back to the park.
A photo shoot was happening in the grotto but we were still able to enter. Stalactite hung from the ceiling and an opening in the artificial grotto let water rush in. Unfortunately, most of the upper part of the grotto is secured with nets that disturb the picture. Other than that it is just loud in there. The falling water causes immense noise that is amplified by the walls of the grotto. I was happy to have left this bit of the park and to rather listen to songbirds again.
We liked the park a lot. A fantastic place to escape the business of Paris.
1 Rue Botzaris,
daily 7-21 clock
In the winter until 20 o'clock