The Jardin du Luxembourg is probably the most popular park in Paris. The park, situated near the Latin Quarter, offers a lot of variety and attracts all kinds of people, from students and parents with children to tourists.
The 22.45 hectare large park (about 55 acres) can get pretty crowded when the sun comes out. Students come here to rehearse their courses, neighbors come here for a stroll and like with all great places in Paris, there are always plenty of tourists. But despite its popularity, the Jardin du Luxembourg is plenty enjoyable and a welcome relief from the crowded Parisian streets.
The park was originally owned by the duke of Luxembourg, hence the name. The domain was purchased in 1612 by Marie de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry IV. After the king was murdered in 1610 she decided to move out from the Louvre to a new residence.
Marie de’ Medici was of Italian descent and had spent her youth in Florence at the Pitti Palace. The Boboli garden at this palace was the inspiration for the Jardin du Luxembourg.
She commissioned Salomon de Brosse with the construction of a new palace and had the garden laid out in Italian fashion. At the time, the garden was quite small due to the existence of a Carthusian monastery to the south of the palace. Despite the insistence of Marie de’ Medici, the Carthusians refused to leave, and the garden stretched no further than the current octagonal pond.
Almost two hundred years later, during the French Revolution, the Carthusians were forced to leave when revolutionaries confiscated the monastery. This paved the way for a significant expansion of the gardens and a redesign in a more French style. Baron Haussmann, during his massive urban renewal of Paris in the mid-nineteenth century, nibbled at the edges of the park, but it is still one of the largest green spaces in the center of Paris.
In the middle of the park is a large octagonal pond, known as the Grand Bassin. Here, children can rent small boats. The Jardin du Luxembourg boasts many other attractions for children such as a puppet theater, pony rides, a merry-go-round and a large playground.
Around the pond are nice lawns, paths, and some of Paris’s most beautiful flower beds, all laid out in a geometrical pattern and enclosed by a balustrade. Numerous statues adorn the park. This is also one of the parks where you can simply get hold of one of the many chairs and take it to the exact spot where you want to sit. The park is also popular with chess players and jeu de boules players. There’s also a tennis court, a music pavilion and an orangery in the park. Right behind the orangery is the Musée du Luxembourg, a museum that is only open for temporary exhibitions.
The Jardin du Luxembourg features several noteworthy fountains. The most famous one is the Fontaine Médicis, a romantic Baroque fountain designed in the early seventeenth century.
It is located at the end of a small pond at the northeast side of the park. A central sculpture group shows the Greek mythological figure of Polyphemus, who observes the lovers Acis and Galatea. It is flanked by allegorical figures depicting the rivers Seine and Rhône.
Very few people realize that there’s another fountain, the Fontaine de Léda, at the back of the Fontaine Médicis. This fountain was created in 1806. A relief shows a mythical scene with Leda and Zeus disguised as a swan.
There’s a third fountain on the other, west side of the palace. It honors the French painter Eugène Delacroix and consists of a rectangular basin with six jets. At the center is a tall pedestal with a bust of the painter. Sensual allegorical statues of Time, Glory and Genius stretch from a plinth towards the bust.
At the southern end of the park, in an extension known as the Jardins de l’Observatoire, is yet another fountain, the Fontaine de l’Observatoire. The monumental fountain was created in 1873 by Davioud, Carpaux and Frémiet. The centerpiece of the fountain shows a globe supported by four women, each representing a continent.
There are almost seventy statues and monuments scattered around the park. Among them are twenty statues of French Queens, including Marie de’ Medici. The patroness of Paris, Sainte-Geneviève, is another woman whose effigy you can find here. Many of the statues in the Jardin du Luxembourg honor famous (mostly French) people, from politicians and scientists over sculptors and painters to poets and composers like Chopin and Beethoven. Other statues depict animals or are inspired by mythology, such as the Dancing Faun.
Many visitors will be surprised to see La Liberté, a miniature version of the Statue of Liberty created by Auguste-Bartholdi himself. And there’s also a bit of Rome in the Jardin du Luxembourg thanks to the Bocca della Verità monument, which depicts a woman who puts her hand in the Mouth of Truth.
Between 1615 and 1627 the Palais du Luxembourg (Luxembourg Palace) was constructed at the northern end of the Jardin du Luxembourg.
The palace was built for Marie de’ Medici, who was nostalgic about her youth at the Pitti Palace in Florence, so she asked the architect, Salomon de Brosse, to look at the Pitti Palace for inspiration, hence the Florentine style of the palace. The widowed queen did not get the time to enjoy her new palace and gardens for long, as she was banished by Richelieu in 1625, before the palace was completed.
In 1794, during the French Revolution, the palace served as a prison. It also served as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. The building currently houses the French Senate.