One feature of the park that you can’t help but notice as you stroll around is the Temple de la Sibylle. Inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli near Rome, a common fixture in Romantic landscape paintings from the 17th to the 19th century, it was designed by Gabriel Davioud, the city architect for Paris whose other notable works include the Fontaine Saint-Michel.
As picturesque and peaceful as it is now, the park has some pretty dark origins. The name derives from Chauve-mont, meaning bare hill, and it was called this because the chemical composition of the soil on the site could never support plant life. From the 13th century until 1760, it was also the home of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, where the bodies of hanged criminals were displayed.
After the 1789 Revolution, much of the site became a refuse heap and a place for dismembering dead horses. Other parts were put to more noble use, such as gypsum and limestone quarries. Their stone was used not only in Paris but in the major cities of the United States. The quarry also threw up mammalian fossils from the Eocene Epoch, including Palaeotherium, a kind of ancient tapir described for the first time by George Cuvier.
Despite the dodgy smells emanating from the butte, Napoleon III and his chief park planner, Jean-Charles Alphand, were determined to transform it into a spectacular garden in which 19th-century Parisians could spend their burgeoning leisure time. It was opened on April 1, 1987, to coincide with the start of that year’s Exposition Universelle.
As well as having three restaurant-bars – Le Pavillon du Lac, Pavillon Puebla, and Rosa Bonheur – two waffle stands, and two public halls, the park also has two Guignol theaters. These have been providing entertaining puppet shows for the park’s younger users since 1892.
In total, there are 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) of roads and 2.2 kilometers (1.4 miles) of paths within the park. Many of these offer a variety of gradients, not to mention fantastic views, and so are very popular with keen runners. For those who’d rather take it easy, there are also plenty of benches.
This is very much a Parisian park and so food is always high on people’s agenda. On a warm, dry day, locals come out in force to spread blankets on the grass and tuck into a delicious pic