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A Brief History of La Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes in Paris

Updated: Nov 9

What is La Ménagerie?


La Ménagerie is a charming zoo in the centre of Paris that was established in the late 18th century.


La Ménagerie du Jardin des plantes


La Ménagerie History


One of the oldest zoos in the world, the Ménagerie opened in 1794 and for over two centuries has been home to a huge range of animals, all living in the heart of Paris. Today, the zoo shelters around 150 species of mammals, reptiles and birds, a third of which are threatened with extinction.


The Ménagerie is located in the Jardin des Plantes, a 400-year-old garden originally known as the Royal Garden and used by the French Royal Family. After its creation, the Ménagerie housed animals from the previous Ménagerie Royale de Versailles. During the revolution these animals were initially released, due to revolutionaries’ distaste at the fact they were being given large amounts of food whilst people went hungry, and solely existed for regal observation and enjoyment.


Following their release, there was uncertainty as to whether these animals would be able to stay in Paris, due to the lack of human and financial resources available to provide for them. However, in June 1793, the Jardin des Plantes, along with the Ménagerie zoological facilities, were granted official status as the national Muséum d’Histoire Naturelle by the ‘Convention Nationale’ (the parliament of the French Revolution), therefore securing the future of the animals. Over the years the number of animals in the Ménagerie swelled in size, in part due to a large number rescued from travelling fairgrounds.


The Ménagerie has expanded significantly over the years. During the early part of the 19th century, the bear pits and rotunda were added, followed by a monkey house, reptile hall and aviary. These buildings, which gathered species from around the globe, were viewed as an expression of the imperial power of France in the 19th century.


Between the First and Second World Wars further constructions were built in the contemporary Art Deco style, such as the vivarium, the monkey house and the big cat house. All these separate additional buildings offer a unique architectural heritage, and the zoo, as well as the rest of the Jardin des Plantes, have now been classified and protected as historical Parisian monuments.


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