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Le Parc Monceau

The Duc de Chartres, the future Duc d’Orléans (1747-1793), bought the area known as Monceau in 1769, on the day after his marriage to the Princesse de Penthièvre, and asked Louis Carrogis, known as Carmontelle, to turn it into pleasure grounds suitable for celebrations and spectacles. Carmontelle (1717-1806), an engineer, surveyor, writer, painter and set-designer, created a picturesque garden by assembling scenes that suggested ‘all times and all places.’ The visitor could contemplate seventeen points of interest, among them a wood with tombs, a ruined watermill, Dutch windmill, white marble temple, obelisk, minaret, Egyptian pyramid and naumachia (an oval pond for mock nautical battles). The Chinese influence was everywhere, with brightly coloured structures such as gates, porticos, pavilions, and jeu de bague (a type of merry-go-round).

In 1783, the Scottish gardener Thomas Blaikie (1751-1838) took over the running of the garden and made many changes to simplify the layout and expand the planting. In 1785, the finance minister Calonne decided to raise custom duties by building a new city wall around Paris, punctuated by tollgates, which were designed by Claude Nicolas Ledoux. The tollgate at Monceau took the form of a little round temple surrounded with columns. The dome of the building housed a room where the Duc could enjoy the view of his garden.

Confiscated in 1793, along with all the other assets of the Duc, the garden became the property of the state. During the Restoration it was returned to the Orléans family. In 1860, the site was bought by the city of Paris, which a year later sold half to the banker Pereire for development.

In accordance with the wishes of emperor Napoleon III, the prefect Georges Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891) restructured Paris around a group of parks and woods, to provide a healthier environment for the city’s inhabitants. It was at this time that the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes were created, along with the parks of Montsouris and Buttes Chaumont. Parc Monceau was the only historical site remodelled by Haussmann.

Under the direction of Adolphe Alphand (1817-1891), engineer of the Corps of Bridges and Roads and the man in charge of the city’s new promenades, the public park at Monceau was laid out over 8.4 hectares and officially opened in 1861. Gabriel Davioud (1824-1881) was given the job of creating the monumental entrances with their imposing gilded wrought iron gates. Some of the old follies were kept, and new features added, including a stream crossed by a bridge, a cascade and a grotto. Moving water was used to evoke the idea of modernity, progress and health. In the grotto, the first artificial cement stalactites were installed by the designer Combaz.

Interspersed among the undulating lawns, the abundant flowerbeds created by the city’s head gardener Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps were an object of curiosity for visitors and astonishment for botanists. Monceau became the place where wealthy locals met up and took their walks. The families Pereire, Rothschild, Cernuschi, Ménier and Camondo had large private mansions built with gardens that opened onto the park.

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