Friday, July 11, 2008

Jardin des Tuileries

One of the largest parks in central Paris at 63 acres, the Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Gardens) was once part of a palace connected to the Louvre. The building was burned down to its masonry shell in 1871 during the violent Commune uprising. The resulting ruins were finally demolished in 1882, opening up an unbroken vista from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe (and now on to the Grand Arch of La Défense). The Jardin des Tuileries, which border the Right Bank of the Seine, offers numerous classic and modern sculptures, large water basins, flowerbeds, wild birds – and a good view of the Place de la Concorde at its western edge. Because of its strict rectangular shape and straight lines of city buildings along its perimeter, it is often called the "Central Park" of Paris.

In the early 16th century this area was a clay tile factory (tuileries = tiles). After the death of her husband Henri II in 1559, Catherine de Médicis had a palace built here, called le Palais de Tuileries, which featured a large garden in Italian style, reminding her of her native Tuscany. Note: she hated to cave to French tastes in any facet of her life; she ordered all of her clothes from Mantua.

Between 1660 and 1664 the garden was redesigned in French formal style by Le Nôtre, the celebrated gardener of King Louis XIV. Le Nôtre built a terrace along the riverbank and opened up a central axis which he extended three years later with the creation of the Champs-Elysées. Louis XIV and his court resided at the Tuileries Palace during the time that Versailles was still under construction.

The Jardin des Tuileries, opened to the public by Louis XIV upon his move to Versailles, quickly became a place to see and be seen. Even in the 18th century the park featured amenities such as cafés, kiosks, deck chairs and public toilets. These days temporary exhibits of sculpture contrast to the classic ones installed centuries ago, some of them quite risqué and even erotic. Henry Miller used to walk the paths of the Tuileries frequently during the 1920s, and he was particularly fond of the statues of sensual females. He claimed he got an erection every time he walked past them.

Experienced traveler tip: The paths throughout the expanse of gardens will leave a white dusty coating all over your shoes. Every time. Be prepared and bring a Handi-Wipe to do a little cosmetic clean up after your walk. Go ahead - thank me.

Experienced traveler tip #2: There are caf
és in the middle of the gardens, but tourists have to truck all the way to the Place de la Concorde exit to find toilets (bring coins). Gentlemen on the left as you face the Place de la Concorde. Don't ask me how I know this.

Model boat rental at the great basin

At the western edge of the gardens are two museums, the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume and the Musée de l'Orangerie. Those two buildings are the only remains of the original Palais de Tuileries building complex. The Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, a former royal tennis court, now displays contemporary art and photographs. The Musée de l’Orangerie is home to Claude Monet's enormous impressionist paintings, "Les Nymphéas" (water lilies).

Since 2003 there has been a serious proposal to rebuild the Tuileries Palace. The Tuileries Gardens would then recover their original purpose, which was to be a palace garden. Also, it is emphasized that the Louvre Museum needs to expand its ground plan to properly display all its collections, and if the Tuileries Palace is rebuilt, the Louvre Museum could expand into the reconstructed palace. All the plans of the palace and many photographs are still stored in French archives. Furthermore, all the furniture and paintings from the palace survived the 1871 fire, because they had been removed from the palace in 1870 at the start of the Franco-Prussian War and stored in secure locations. Today, the furniture and paintings are still deposited in storehouses and not on public display, due to lack of space in the Louvre Museum. It is argued that recreating the state apartments of the Tuileries Palace would allow the display of these treasures of the Second Empire style, which are currently hidden. Cost estimates are about 350 million euros (about $550 million U.S.). Yikes!

The following plan of the Louvre shows the original location of the Tuileries Palace in white. Its reconstruction would enclose the Arc du Carousel and Pei's glass pyramid in a huge square, as in former times. Click image to enlarge.
Historic photo below: Pre-1871 view from the Louvre courtyard, showing the joining of the Louvre (foreground) and the Tuileries Palace (background), now a large landscaped space beyond the Arc du Carousel (shown just left of center). I. M. Pei's glass pyramid now stands in the foreground, instead of trees.

Eduard Manet's "Music in the Tuileries" (1862)
This painting was Manet's first major work depicting modern city life. The band is playing and a fashionable crowd has gathered to listen. The picture includes portraits of Manet's friends and family, including Manet himself, the poet Baudelaire, poet and novelist Théophile Gautier, composer Jacques Offenbach and the artist's brother Eugène.

Métro: Tuileries (Rue de Rivoli entrance) or Concorde
Open 7:00a-9:00p April to September; 7:30a-7:30p October to March

Photo: Tuileries tourists looking for toilets (in vain)

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