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  • Writer's pictureTer Hollmann

A Brief History of Jardin des Tuileries in Paris

What is the Jardin des Tuileries?

Jardin des Tuileries, or Tuileries Garden in English, is a public garden in Paris that was built by Catherine de’ Medici (widow of King Henry II) in the 16th century, designed in Italianate style reminiscent of her native Florence.

The Tuileries Garden

Jardin des Tuileries History

The Jardin des Tuileries owes its existence to a tragic accident. In the 16th century, King Henry II was fatally lanced in a jousting tournament. His widow, Catherine de’ Medici, built a new royal estate in his memory, next to the Louvre palace. The new Tuileries estate was named after the tile industry (tuiles in French) which occupied this site in the 12th century.

Considered against the unhappy nature of Catherine and Henry’s marriage, this extravagant memorial seems perplexing. Catherine was loyal to her husband, but he favoured his mistress Diane de Poitiers, 20 years his senior, and acknowledged their relationship in public. Diane was Henry’s queen in all but name; she wielded political influence and even co-signed Henry’s letters. Upon Henry’s death, Catherine banished Diane to the provinces and ruled France on behalf of her young sons. After years of being ignored, she overtook her rivals to claim a position as one of Europe’s most powerful rulers. An argument plainly asks to be made that Catherine’s true motive for commissioning the Tuileries estate was less to do with memorialising Henry, and more about consolidating power for herself and her children.

The Italianate Tuileries garden was designed to remind Catherine of her native Florence. Catherine celebrated the marriage of her daughter here and her husband, Henry IV, made his own mark when he became king. He added lakes and fountains and planted mulberry trees to foster his ambition of starting a silk business (silk worms feed on mulberry leaves).

A little later down the line, upon the assassination of his father in 1610, Louis XIII was crowned king at the tender age of nine. As any nine-year-old would in his position, he longed for the garden to be converted into his own private playground, complete with a menagerie and hunting facilities – and his wish came true. His son, Louis XIV, commissioned the landscape architect André Le Nôtre to redesign the gardens in a more formal, symmetrical style. Le Nôtre was the best man for the job, as he was born in the Tuileries garden! His father and grandfather had both worked here as gardeners, and he grew up accordingly in a cottage on the estate.

In the mid-17th century Charles Perrault, the author of fairy tales including Sleeping Beauty, successfully lobbied for the garden to be opened to the public – except for beggars, servants, and soldiers. This was pre-revolutionary France, after all.

During the Paris Commune in 1871, the Tuileries Palace, a symbol of royal power, was burned to the ground and the ruins were demolished eleven years later. Yet the garden survived. Remarkably, it has survived three revolutions and two world wars, but not without seeing its fair share of action. During the Second World War, the Nazis stored so-called degenerate stolen art in the Jeu de Paume (the 19th-century tennis court that’s now an arts centre), while the garden itself became a battleground during the liberation of Paris in 1944.

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