Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Parc de Monceau

This park was established by Phillippe d'Orléans, the richest man in France and a cousin of King Louis XVI. He adored everything English and thus established an English-style garden in Paris; by the mid 1770s his garden had grown to 30 acres. Leading features of the park are a curved row of faux-ruin Corinthian columns and an artificial waterfall. Phillippe d'Orléans was a leading freemason, and some of the elements found in the park (a pyramid, etc.) are masonic references.


In 1797 the first silk parachute jump was made from a Montgolfier hot air balloon 3,000 feet down into the park, to the delight of a large assembly of spectators.

There are statues of Frederic Chopin, wealthy writer Guy de Maupassant (he died of syphilis, insane at 42, having written his own epitaph: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing") and composer Charles Gounod (famous for "Funeral March for a Marionette," used as the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the religious aria "Repentir" (O, Divine Redeemer), not to mention the operas Faust and Romeo and Juliette.


At the entrance is one of the few remaining Rotundas, a remnant from the old toll walls that completely encircled central Paris in the 1780s. Taxes on salt and wine were collected at these toll gates as goods entered the city. However here, in lieu of the usual 10-ft. high toll wall, there was an enormous moat, so as not to spoil the view for Phillippe d'Orléans (the wealthy enjoyed privilege then, as now). Parisians hated these toll walls, as they felt like prisoners in their own city, completely encircled by 16 miles of masonry and 60 toll gates. Two days before we mark the beginning of the revolution, on July 12, 1789, the citizens of Paris vented their anger by attacking these toll booths, damaging some and setting fire to others. Within 48 hours the Bastille had been breached, and the population had its hands on a large supply of firearms. They rest, as they say, is history.

Phillippe d'Orléans did not survive this turmoil, and after his death by guillotine during the revolution, the city of Paris obtained the garden and opened it as a public park. The Parc de Monceau was dramatically reduced in size during the late 1800s, when half its acreage was sold as lots for building elegant homes, most of which survive to the present time.

Today this neighborhood is one of the most exclusive and desirable in all of Paris. Avenue Hoche leads from the elaborate park gates directly to the nearby Arc de Triomphe. There is a large ex-pat Russian presence in this neighborhood, as well; the Russian Orthodox Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevsky sits just southwest of the park.

Métro: Monceau

Pyramid - a masonic emblem ordered by Phillippe d'OrléansGuy de Maupassant statue in Parc de Monceau

The spectacularly kitschy statue of Chopin by Jacques Froment-Meurice (1864-1948). The bas-relief angel represents “music,” while “harmony” swoons at Chopin’s feet.

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