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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

A Brief History of Bois de Boulogne in Paris

What is Bois de Boulogne?

Bois de Boulogne is a large 2000+ acre public park to the West of Paris which was donated to the city by Emperor Napoleon III

Bois de Boulogne lake

Bois de Boulogne History

Bois de Boulogne owes its inception to Napoleon III, the nephew of the rather more famous Napoleon I. While he was in exile in London, Napoleon III had been inspired by Hyde Park. He was particularly impressed with its lakes and streams, and decided that he wanted to create something similar in his home city.

In 1852, he ceded some land to the city to be turned into a public park. Prior to this, it was the remnant of the oak forest of Rouvray, which itself had a rich and varied history. The forest was used at one time by the monarchy as a hunting ground, and during the Hundred Years’ War, in the 14th century, it had provided sanctuary to robbers and bandits. Eventually it was enclosed, during the reign of Henry II, and Henry IV planted 15,000 mulberry trees in the forest, in the hope of starting a silk industry. When Napoleon was defeated, the English and Russian armies used it as a camping ground, destroying most of the natural beauty by traipsing over the meadows and cutting down the trees for firewood.

Bois de Boulogne geese

After a number of attempts to landscape the park, with varying degrees of success, Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand was hired by Baron Haussmann, who’d been tasked with renovating Paris, in 1853. Alphand’s vision was radically different to anything that had come before. Rather than a reproduction, he wanted to create an idealization of nature in the Bois de Boulogne. With swooping, bending paths over undulating hills, and lakes and waterfalls with groves and streams, the park was so well received that it became the prototype for others across the city and even around the world.

Bois de Boulogne skyline

The Bois de Boulogne is the second largest park in Paris, covering 845 hectares, which is roughly two and a half times larger than Central Park in New York. Within it, you’ll find the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a small zoo and pleasure garden founded by Napoleon III in 1860, a children’s amusement park, a science museum, and a puppet theatre. There’s also the Louis Vuitton Foundation, an art museum housed in a building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. Whilst the Neoclassical Château de Bagatelle, originally owned by the Bourbon family, houses the rose garden, home to over 9,000 plants and the site of a major annual new rose competition every June.

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