Paris has always been a city of many types of public recreations. Among these recreational places were three Paris gardens in the late 1700 and early 1800s that were more popular than others. These gardens — Tuileries Garden (Jardin des Tuileries), the Garden of the Plants (Jardin des Plantes), and the Garden at the Palais-Royal (Jardin du Palais-Royal) — were easily available to all Parisians and visitors, particularly in the warmer months of the year.
Visitors in the late 1700 and early 1800s reported that the Tuileries Garden was extremely beautiful, and after the French Revolution, it was always open and available to the public in every season. Moreover, like Kensington’s Garden in London, the garden of Tuileries attracted the most fashionable and elite of Paris. There were plenty of pathways for promenading and lots of nature’s beauty for visitors to feast their eyes upon.
One Englishman noted that it was the type of garden that drew people to it. There were small food stands throughout the park and chairs could be rented for a small fee. Moreover, by 1780 public toilets were added. Thus, every day, at any time, hundreds of people could be found sitting, resting, or lounging throughout the gardens. However, everyone was likely engaged in some activity, whether it was conversation, contemplation, or reading newspapers, journals, or books.
The Tuileries Garden was also the spot where people celebrated certain holidays, such as 25 August, the feast day of Saint Louis, which was celebrated with concerts, fireworks, and illuminations. A visitor to France during the Peace of Amiens was Frances Elizabeth King who was married to Reverend Richard King, the vicar of Steeple Morden in Cambridgeshire. Their trip to France was an eight-month event during which Mrs. King kept a journal. It later became A Tour in France and was first published in 1808. In addition, in a February edition of La Belle Assemblee in 1806, it was noted that the couple attended some the events held in the Tuileries Garden, and supposedly it was the Reverend who stated:
“I could not help believing this to be some large public garden, such as their Tivoli, or our Vauxhall, so much did this resemble them in point of the multitude being at home.”
However, when Napoleon Bonaparte made an unexpected appearance on the Tuileries balcony at one event, it reminded the Kings that the gardens were actually situated before a national palace.
The Tuileries Garden was also once the site of an early balloon ascent. It happened on 1 December 1783 when the first manned hydrogen flight occurred. The balloon lifted off from the garden with Jacques Charles and Nicolas-Louis Robert (who was one of two engineering brothers known collectively as Les Frères Robert) aboard. After landing, Nicolas-Louis descended from the balloon, but Charles decided to ascend again. The balloon had lost some hydrogen and unfortunately ascended too rapidly. It caused Charles to suffer severe pain in his ear, and, so, he quickly descended and never flew again, but the Robert brothers did. In fact, they also ascended from the Tuileries Garden again.
Of course to be seen in the Tuileries Garden, the most fashionable women wore the latest millinery fashions, which were publicized in newspapers like these hat fashions for 1788:
“A New Cap, called le bonnet turban, in compliment to the Ambassadors from Tippoo Saib, is now all the Rage. The Head or Cawl of this Cap is very high, and made of sky blue Taffaty round which is very broad white Taffaty Ribbon, with Butterflies stamped on it. The Butterflies are formed in the following Manner; the Bodies silver, Wings Gold, and Heads and Tails shaded with black. A very large Knot formed of this Ribbon is also placed on the Right Side of the cap, out of which issue six large fine white feathers. A large Gauze Veil, which rises in a Point from the Front of the Cap, goes over the middle of it, and falls down very low behind.”
After King Louis XVI and his family were brought to the Tuileries Palace in 1789, there were fewer visitors to the garden because part of the garden was given to the Queen and the Dauphin for their private use. It was also closed to the public except in the afternoon. However, once the royal family attempted to escape from France surveillance of them was increased and their movements in the garden was limited, thereby making the garden more available to the public.
When insurgents stormed the Tuileries Palace on 10 August 1792, one witness went the following day and reported on the insurrection stating:
“I went this morning to see the places where the action of yesterday happened. The naked bodies of the Swiss, for they were already stripped, lay exposed on the ground. I saw a great number on the terrace immediately opposite the palace of the Tuileries; some lying singly in different parts of the gardens, and some in heaps, one above another, particularly near the terrace of the Fuillans.
The garden and adjacent courts were crowded with spectators, among whom there was a considerable portion of women, whose curiosity it was evident, was fully equal to their modesty.
The bodies of the National Guards, of the Citizens of the Fauxbourgs, and of the Foederes, have been already removed by their friends; those of the Swiss only lied exposed in this shocking manner. Of about 800 or 1000 of these, who were yesterday mustered in the Tuileries, I am told there are not 200 left alive.”
After the insurrection, the garden became the National Garden ( of the new French Republic and changes to it were undertaken. There were plans to renew it with the help of the famous painter Jacques-Louis David and his brother-in-law, architect August Cheval de Saint-Hubert. They imagined a garden decorated with classic touches that included porticos, porches, and columns, but it was never completed. However, many statues from royal residences were brought to the garden and put on display.
The garden also played a role after Maximilien Robespierre came to power. When the Cult of the Supreme Being was organized by him, a ceremony was held on 8 June 1794 in the garden, with the sets and costumes designed by David. The public was invited to the festival and the famous wax sculptor Madame Tussaud attended. She noted that after Robespierre’s opening speech and a hymn, in front of his chair stood three emblematic figures – atheism, discord, and selfishness – which had been created by David from combustible materials. The idea was to set fire to them so that they would be reduced to ashes. Robespierre took a torch and lit the emblems and from the ashes emerged a statue of Wisdom. Unfortunately, according to Madame Tussaud, the dramatic effect was lost as the statue was obscured by a lot of black smoke.
When not strolling through the Tuileries Garden people could be found visiting the Jardin des Plantes. It was founded in 1626 but not planted until 1635 when Louis III’s physician, Guy de La Brosse planted it as medicinal herb garden, which was then known as the Jardin du Roi. Five years later it was opened to the public. After a period of decline, Jean-Baptiste Colbert took administrative control, and Dr. Guy-Crescent Fagon was appointed in 1693, and, in 1793, the Comte de Buffon became the curator. He expanded the gardens and added a maze. Of this garden, Mrs. King wrote in 1806:
“It is filled with the most rare and scarce flowers, plants and shrubs, and trees of every description; and is a complete epitome of the vegetable world. … No pains or expence have been spared by the government in the embellishment and support of this place, which like all other national establishments, is freely open to the public.”
In 1792, the Royal Menagerie was moved to the gardens from Versailles, and with the move there were bound to be some interesting stories. One interesting story was about an old hyena who had broken its leg. Supposedly, “one night, before the bone was united, the creature actually bit off his own leg, and it was discovered in the morning that he had eaten it up, bone and all.” Another unusual incident happened in 1821 when an electric eel arrived from Surinam. Everyone was curious about this new addition and people flocked to the garden to see it. There were also several brave souls who decided to touch it:
“[B]ut one Doctor, either urged by a great zeal for science, or governed by a more insatiable curiosity, resolved to try the utmost extent of the animals powers, and seized it with both his hands, but had quickly reason to repent … for he immediately felt a rapidly repeated series of the most violent and successively increasing shocks, which forced him to caper in the most extraordinary manner, and to utter the most piercing screams from the agony that he felt. He then fell into convulsions, in consequence of which his muscles became so contracted or from some strange property in the fish, it became impossible to detach the animal from his grasp. In this situation he remained a considerable time, and would in all probability have expired … if some one of the persons present had not suggested the plunging of his hands in water, when the eel immediately dropped off.”
The Jardin des Plantes always astounded visitors partly because there also existed within it the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle, which was founded in 1793. One visitor, Edward Herbert, 2nd Earl of Powis, styled Viscount Clive, was a British peer and Tory politician who visited Paris in 1814. After his visit to the Jardin des Plantes, he wrote on Monday, 9 May:
“We have just returned from the Jardin des Plantes, the most delightful scene of which we have hitherto been spectators. There is a collection of minerals, probably unique; a collection of shells, fossils, of birds, and beasts stuffed, of all descriptions and from all countries.”
Viscount Clive then continued to relate all that he had seen. He noted that he had never seen such an owl collection and that the collection of eagles was also “very great.” There were also human skeletons of which he remarked “anything more curious or more disgusting than these specimens of the decay of the human frame, I never saw.”
One anonymous visitor to the garden a year or so later in the winter of 1815-1816 noted what he saw when walking through the garden:
“[W]e came to a considerable eminence, entirely covered with every species of fir, cedar, pine, and cypress; a winding path conducts you by two or three circumvolutions to the summit, on which is a very elegant circular brass temple, consisting of eight slender pillars, supporting an armillary sphere and dial. … From this temple you have a superb view of Paris; almost every public building is distinctly visible, as well as the surround villages.”
Another garden that visitors could also stroll through was the garden at the Palais-Royal. Beginning in 1780 the Palais was controlled by Louis Philippe II d’Orléans (known as the Duke d’Orléans) who succeeded his father as the head of the House of Orléans. The Duke had moved there with his wife, Louise Marie Adélaïde de Bourbon, the daughter of the wealthy Louis Jean Marie de Bourbon, Duke of Penthièvre. She would eventually give birth to their son, Louis-Philippe III d’Orléans, who would go to become Louis Philippe I, King of the French.
The Duke d’Orléans expanded and redesigned the complex of buildings and the gardens of the Palais between 1781 and 1784. It happened because he decided in 1780 to commercialize the Palais-Royal by letting out portions of it to retail and service providers. The Palais then became one of the first of a new style of shopping complex and entertainment arcade where the most fashionable and wealthy could congregate, socialize, and spend leisure time.
The Palais-Royal was an oblong square with piazzas on all sides. In the middle was established a square garden that was ornamented with various shrubs, flowers, and orange trees. Because of its layout and character, people noted that it served as a never-ending promenade for visitors. Moreover, after it had been turned into a stupendous money-making site, some said the Palais rivaled what could be seen in “Cairo or Isphan.”
The Marquis de Sade referred to the area in front of the Palais in his 1795 in his Philosophy in the Bedroom. He described it as a place where progressive pamphlets were sold. He also noted that it became the resort for political discourse and for those thinking of revolution, and with all the progressive and political activity swirling in and around it, the Palais was soon referred to as some sort of “public palace.” One nineteenth-century writer commented:
“In the troubled days preceding the first revolution it was thither that anxious politicians hurried to obtain a first sight of the morning and evening papers, at the various cafes and cabinets de lecture; when one of the trees of the garden, the resort of the emigrant Poles, assumed a name dear to the lovers of liberty as l’Arbre de Craco-vie. It was from under this tree that Camille Desmoulins harangued the multitude in the first outbreak of the revolution; and leaves plucked from its branches and stuck in the hats of the insurgents, became the acknowledged ensign of the revolutionists.”
By the 19th century, the Palais-Royal was known not just for sophisticated conversations and political rallying but also for shameless debauchery and promiscuity. By night, women of easy virtue, prostitutes, and off-duty soldiers haunted the area having rented apartments there. Moreover, the garden that was supposedly built by the Duke d’Orléans during the French Revolution for his “adherents and followers” began to be used for a variety of purposes including functioning as a “hotbed” of French masonic activity. In the early 1800s, the garden was also cited as always being full of “loungers.”
When the Kings undertook their tour of France in 1802, Mrs. King gave the following assessment of the place:
“[T]he Palais Royal … now converted into a most extraordinary scene of vice and dissipation; it is a world of itself, and as wicked a world as any in existence; many of the inhabitants never stir beyond the gates: for within them they have everything they can want, eating, drinking, and lodging, in the highest style, elegant shops of every sort of article, every kind of amusement and dissipation, and every species of folly and extravagance. The buildings of the first court are converted into the Palais of the Tribunate, one of the legislative bodies, and from thence is a passage, through an arch, into the inner court, which is a handsome garden, in the French style, in the form of a parallelogram, surrounded by buildings of a rectangular and beautiful appearance; the two long sides consist of seventy-six windows, and the ends of thirty-six. Considering this as a single palace, its length and extent is immense, equal to some of our largest squares.”
Mrs. King continued to provide more details about her visit to the Palais Royal stating:
“[T]he under-ground buildings, which were formerly cellars, are fitted up very neatly into ball-rooms, theatres, music-rooms, and for other public spectacles. … The ground-floor is a range of piazzas, all round the square, full of elegant shops, and these piazzas, as well as the gardens, are constantly full of company. The first floor above this, consists of lodging-houses, restaurateurs, coffee-houses, and circulating libraries; and the second story of gaming-houses, billiard-rooms, &c.”
By the early 1800s, the Palais was not just for the elite and fashionable. In fact, it seemed as if it had lost its cachet as one description states in 1806:
“The Palais Royal is well calculated for those who do not think; for those who would spend money; and for those who will kill time. But the higher classes of society would as little think of the promenade of the Palais Royal, as people of fashion in London of the Piazza of Covent Garden.
The Palais Royal is a world within itself, and may just be declared the public focus of folly and dissipation.”
The Palais’ reputation was repaired somewhat when Napoleon fell form power as it became the site where foreigners assembled and strolled through the gardens. They also visited one of the many retail shops to purchase the trinkets that Paris became so well-known for. In addition, visitors could watch the latest theatrical entertainments performed and they could dine at the excellent restaurants at the Palais Royal.
One popular restaurant was the Trois Frères Provençaux that was founded in 1786 by three young men born in Provence named Barthélemy, Manneilles, and Simon. Supposedly, the restaurant had been patronized in the late 1700s by General Napoleon Bonaparte and the French politician Paul Barras. However, the restaurant did not take off financially until Napoleon decided to invade Spain and troops passed through Paris in 1808.
Another popular restaurant at the Palais-Royal in the early 1800s was Véfour, which was named for its founder Jean Véfour. He was intent on beating out his competition, the Véry, and Véfour was able to achieve astronomical success against Véry to the point that he retired after three years in business. He then sold his restaurant to his friend Louis Boissier, who maintained Véfour’s stellar reputation and then sold the business to the Hamel brothers in 1827 before it was sold again. As to Véry’s, it was eventually purchased by Véfour’s, which itself waned in popularity for time, but then regained its popularity during the end of the Second Empire. To learn more about these restaurants, click here.
As people dined, they could also enjoy the numerous scenes that played out in the garden. Sunday was cited as the day when the garden was in its highest glory. Some of the fashionable women seen at the Palais in the garden in April of 1820 were also likely wearing the latest hat fashion, it being the à la Marie Stuart that was described thusly:
“The brims of these hats are large, inclining downwards in front, and going off at the temples; there is blond trimming goes all round the edge, and a bunch of flowers is worn on one side; a broad coloured ribbon is sometimes worn round the crown, tied in a large bow on one side; in that case the flowers must be assorted to match with it; or, in London we should say, the ribbon to match with the flowers.”
Besides seeing the latest hat fashions, there was also a cannon reported on in 1822:
“Every one who has been at, or has heard of Paris, knows that in the garden of the Palais Royal there is a little cannon primed and loaded every day, covered by a ‘lens,’ which ignites the priming at the very moment when the sun attains its meridian. This attracts ‘beaucoup du monde.’ When the explosion takes place all watches are drawn forth, and regulated by this mid-day oracle.”
During the Bourbon Restoration, the Duke d’Orléans’ son, Louis-Philippe III d’Orléans gained control of the Palais-Royal. He then returned to live in his old family’s residence until 1832 when he moved from the Palais-Royal to the Tuileries Palace. However, during the Revolution of 1848 that ended the Orléans monarchy, the Palais was trashed and looted by a Paris mob.
Nevertheless, the Palais-Royal and its garden have stood the test of time and they still exist as do the Tuileries Garden and the Jardin des Plantes. All three remain sites of interest for today’s visitors of the twenty-first century, and, it is likely all three will remain spots of interest for Parisian visitors of the future.
-  La Belle Assemblée, Or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine, Addressed Particularly to the Ladies (London: Bell, 1806), p. 39.
-  Derby Mercury, “New Fashions from Paris,” September 18, 1788, p. 3,
-  Derby Mercury, “Moore’s Journal during a Residence in France just Published,” July 4, 1793, p. 3.
-  La Belle Assemblée, Or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine, Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, p. 39–40,
-  The Quarterly Review v. 27 (London: John Murray, 1822), p. 467.
-  Perthshire Courier, “Paris, Aug. 29,” September 13, 1821, p. 2.
-  E. Hebert, Lord Clive’s Journal, 1814-1815 (London: Harrison, 1858), p. 10.
-  Ibid., p. 11.
-  Memorandums of a Residence in France (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1816), p. 74.
-  Waldie’s Select Circulating Library v. 16 (Philadelphia: A. Waldie, 1841), p. 297.
-  A Tour in France, 1802 (London: John Booth, 1814), p. 43.
-  Ibid., p. 44.
-  La Belle Assemblée, Or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine, Addressed Particularly to the Ladies, p. 40.
-  Morning Post, “Parisian Fashions,” April 21, 1820, p. 3.
-  Bell’s Weekly Messenger, “Miscellany,” December 30, 1822, p. 3.