largest city square in 12th arrondissement, named after a 19th Century French writer, poet and essayist. Having reached the end of the Coulée Verte, we were tired after walking almost 5km. Accordingly, we did not do a good job exploring this square and missed out on seeing a pretty cascading fountain and some other park features. We did end up at a community garden area that apparently led to another 19km trail called the Petite Ceinture, but we never found that either and probably would not have had the energy to walk it even if we had. These will be areas we can plan to explore on our next visit to Paris. There seems to be an endless list of things to do and see in this beautiful city.
On another sunny day, we set out to visit two large parks in the 19th arrondissement, situated in the north-east end of Paris–the Parc des Buttes Chaumont and the Parc de la Villette.
The beauty of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont is even more impressive after hearing about the sordid history of its location. From the 13th through the 18th centuries, it was the location of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the main gallows where bodies were hung on display after execution. After the French Revolution of 1789, it became the dumping ground for horse carcasses, garbage and sewage. Finally in 1864, it was decided to turn this toxic, disease-infested area into a public park, designed by Jean-Charles Alphand who also created the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes. To revitalize the area and create the park, 200,000 cubic metres of top soil were used to landscape and create sloping lawns, hillsides and a 3.7 acre lake. The chief gardener of Paris planted flowers, shrubs and thousands of trees of both indigenous and exotic species.
Steep cliffs (buttes) were created using explosives, resulting in the small island "Île du Belvédère" with a 50-metres high mountain. Atop the mountain, a miniature Roman temple was erected, modeled after the Temple of Vesta near Tivoli, Italy. Named the "Temple de la Sibylle", you can see wonderful views of the Montparnasse district from its perch.
A 12-metre long stone bridge and a 63-metre long suspension bridge lead to the island from the south and the north sides of the park. The stone bridge was nicknamed the "Suicide Bridge" due to a number of highly publicized suicides that occurred from this location. Mesh wiring has since been installed to prevent further incidents. We accessed the island from the stone bridge, admired the views, then returned to the main park via the suspension bridge.
The third and most impressive chute was a massive cascade flowing down 20 metres from within an enormous grotto that was created out of an old gypsum and limestone quarry. This 14-metre wide cavern was decorated with artificial stalactites and giant stepping stones which guide the stream of water out of the grotto and back towards the lake.
Located a mere 20 minutes walk north-east of the Buttes Chaumont, the Parc de la Villette is an "urban park for the 21st century" that defies past preconceptions of what a park entails. Built in the early 1980s on top of former 19th century cattle slaughterhouses, the design by architect Bernard Tschumi incorporates traditional green space with buildings and architecture dedicated to arts, science, culture and entertainment. Located within the massive 55 acres of the Villette are multiple concert halls and venues for live music, sports facility, exhibition space, a science museum, a museum of historic musical instruments, several movie spaces including an IMAX dome, and a children's play area.
When we first reached the southern end of the park, we wondered whether there would be any green space at all. The sign said that we were in Parc de la Villette, but there was no sign of any trees or grass. We first passed by the Philharmonie de Paris concert hall designed by Jean Nouvel, whose innovative, sparkling metal façade could easily be mistaken for the work of Frank Gehry. Then we entered the Place de la Fontaine aux Lions, a large square featuring the 19th Century fountain with lion sculptures created by Pierre-Simon Girard. Temporary carnival rides are installed in the middle of the square during the summer months (July/August).
At the rear of the square is a large building called "La Grande Halle", which was originally called "La Grande Halle Aux Boeufs" due to its history as a beef tallow processing plant. Today, the 220,000 square foot space made of glass and cast iron is used as an event space for traveling exhibitions, fairs, festivals and cultural events. It was interesting to note that the current exhibition "James Bond: Fifty Years of Bond Style" was the same show that played in Toronto's TIFF Bell Lightbox a few years back. Also located in the Place de la Fontaine aux Lions square is the "Cité de la Musique", a museum of musical instruments as well as the restaurant "Café des Concerts" where we decided to stop for lunch.
After walking well into the early afternoon in the Buttes Chaumont, it felt good to sit down and get some rest and nourishment before continuing to explore the park. We were able to score a prime seat on the patio. I ordered an excellent "Croque Monsieur" with salad, while Rich ordered the "Croque Madame" which additionally included a fried egg on top. The Croque Monsieur is a "French toasted" ham and Gruyere cheese sandwich which is dipped in an egg batter and fried or grilled. The one at this restaurant was particularly generous on the Gruyere cheese and was one of the best versions that I've ever had.
Since we reached the Parc de la Villette so late in the day, we did not have time to give it a thorough exploration. We missed many of its featured attractions, including going into the museums and concert venues, or visiting the 10 different themed gardens such as the Garden of Mirrors or Garden of Bamboo. We even found out later that there is a submarine called "The Argonaut" that you can board for 3 Euros. We will have to spend more time in this beautiful park on our next visit.