The Palais du Luxembourg and the surrounding Jardin de Luxembourg are located in the 6th arrondissement of Paris on the border between Saint-Germaine-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter. The park grounds cover 25 hectares of land and includes both French and English gardens. It also contains a museum (the Musée du Luxembourg), a large pond, an orchard with different varieties of apples, an apiary, greenhouses containing roses and orchids, trees laid out in a geometric pattern, the Medici fountain, an orangery, an apiary, and lots of statues. There are tennis courts, a concert bandstand, tables for people to play chess and bridge, toy boats can be floated on the large pond, and there is a puppet theatre that puts on shows for children.
It is a truly delightful public space that is greatly enjoyed by Parisians and tourists alike. Neil and I visited the garden early on a weekday morning so it was a little empty while we were exploring it, but I could definitely see how it would be a popular gathering place in the late afternoon/early evening and on weekends.
The Palais du Luxembourg.
Part of the Jardin du Luxembourg, shown below. The statue, The Greek Actor, was made by Charles-Arthur Bourgeois in 1868. He is reading a manuscript in his left hand, wears a mask on his forehead, and has a sheepskin wrapped around his waist. Along the sides of the long lawn, you can see that there are plenty of tables available for people to enjoy.
The palace and its garden were created by Marie de Medici (1575-1642), the wife of Henri IV (1553-1610). She was born in Florence, a member of the powerful Italian Medici family¹. Marie did not like living at the Louvre Palace, which was semi-medieval and seemed to her horridly out of date. When Henri IV was assassinated in 1610, Marie became regent for their nine-year old son Louis XIII. In 1611, she decided to embark upon the development of a new royal residence for herself. She wanted to build a palace and grounds that were similar to the Florentine Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
Marie de Medici purchased a 16th-century hôtel particulier, known as the Hôtel de Luxembourg, and the property surrounding it. She then had the Palais du Luxembourg built right next to it to serve as her royal residence; she called it her “Palais du Medicis.” The palace was built between 1615-1645 by architect Saloman de Brosse. Marie de Medici moved into the palace in 1625 even as interior construction work continued.
The Palais du Luxembourg and the large pond.
Marie de Medici offered the Hôtel de Luxembourg to Cardinal Armand de Richelieu, her son’s chief minister. The Hôtel de Luxembourg became known as the Petit Luxembourg to distinguish it from the larger building beside it. The two buildings have remained at the centre of French politics ever since. Today, the French Senate meets at the Palais du Luxembourg and the Senate President lives at the Petit Luxembourg.
The Petite Luxembourg.
Door leading to the Petite Luxembourg.
The French Senate chamber inside the Palais du Luxembourg, shown below.
Marie resented the influence that Cardinal Richelieu had on her son and, in 1630, tried to overthrow him. To her surprise, Louis XIII lent his support to the Cardinal and instead had his mother exiled. Marie spent the remaining twelve years of her life in and out of favour with Louis XIII (at one point supporting her second son, Gaston, in an aristocratic revolt against his elder brother that was ultimately unsuccessful). Marie traveled to Brussels, Amsterdam, London, and was in Cologne when she died in 1642. She bequeathed her palace to Gaston, Duke of Orléans (who, in addition to feuding with his brother, was also responsible for saving the Château de Chambord from total ruin through his restoration projects). Marie’s “Palais du Medicis” would now be known as the “Palais d’Orléans” until the French Revolution.
The palace passed through the hands of Gaston, his second wife Marguerite de Lorraine (whom he had initially married in secret, in defiance of his brother’s orders–Louis XIII later gave them permission to marry), and then his eldest daughter by his first marriage, Anne-Marie Louise d’Orléans, duchesse de Montpensier, La Grande Mademoiselle. Anne then sold it to her half-sister Élisabeth Marguerite d’Orléans, Duchess de Guise, in 1660. Élisabeth in turn gave the palace to Louis XIV in 1694.
Upon Louis XIV’s death in 1715, the palace became the property of his granddaughter, Marie-Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans, Duchess de Berry. Louise’s father, Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, acted as Regent on behalf of the five-year old Louis XV. Marie’s mother, Françoise-Marie de Bourbon, was the youngest illegitimate (later legitimized) daughter of Louis XIV and his official mistress Françoise-Athenaïse, marquise de Montespan. Already widowed by the age of 20, Marie-Louise was a colourful character in her own right. She was known for her gluttony, promiscuity, and the extravagant parties she threw at the Palais du Luxembourg. Marie-Louise closed the gardens of the Jardin du Luxembourg to the public, which didn’t do much to endear her with them. Voltaire was arrested and sent to the Bastille for eleven months from May 1717-April 1718 for suggesting that a child that Marie-Louise was carrying was the result of an incestuous relationship with her father. While imprisoned (in a windowless cell with ten-foot-thick walls), Voltaire wrote his play Oedipus. Both Marie-Louise and her father were present at the play’s premiere in mid-November 1718. The play was a hit, and made Voltaire a star. After Marie-Louise died in 1719, the Palais du Luxembourg was passed on to her younger sister, Louise Élisabeth d’Orléans. Louise Élisabeth died in 1742.
In 1750, the Director of the King’s Buildings opened the Royal Gallery of Painting in the east wing of the Palais du Luxembourg. This was the first art museum opened to the public in France, and acted as a forerunner to the Louvre’s current function as a museum and art gallery. The gallery at the Palais du Luxembourg remained open until 1779 when it was gifted by Louis XVI to his brother, Louis Comte de Provence (who had the gallery closed). Shortly after the French Revolution broke out in June 1791, the Comte managed to successfully flee France for the Austrian Netherlands. Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were captured during their simultaneous escape attempt. The Palais du Luxembourg was seized by revolutionaries and declared a national property. The building was converted into the Maison Nationale de Sûreté (National Prison) during the Reign of Terror, and held up to 1,000 prisoners. In 1795, the Palais began its role as a legislative building when it became the seat of the five-member French Directory. In 1799, the Directory was overthrown by Napoleon. The Palais then became home to the Senate. Napoleon had architect Jean Chalgrin officially transform the Palais from a royal residence to a legislative building; renovations took place between 1795-1799.
France in the 19th century was kind of like a variable weather joke: if you don’t like the current state of things, wait 2 hours. The function of the Palais du Luxembourg responded accordingly.
In 1814, Napoleon was forced to abdicate and he was exiled to Elba. Louis XVI’s brother, the Comte de Provence, returned from his exile and came into power as Louis XVIII from 1815-1824. His House of Lords set up shop in the Palais du Luxembourg during this period of time (known as the Bourbon Restoration). Upon Louis’ death in 1824, he was succeeded by his younger brother, Charles X. Charles X ruled until 1830, when he was forced to abdicate as a result of the July Revolution. Louis-Philippe I then reigned from 1830-1848. He had a second House of Lords established that consisted of a greater number of representatives (more than 270). The Palais du Luxembourg was enlarged in order to fit them. Louis-Philippe I was in turn encouraged to skip town in February 1848, continuing this French tradition of forced abdication (although monarchs had learned from Louis XVI that exile was better than the alternative). Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was elected President of the Second French Republic in December 1848. In 1851, he followed the example of his uncle before him and suspended the elected assembly, named himself Emperor (he was now titled Napoleon III), and established the Second French Empire. This empire collapsed in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War. What happened next (civil war, the Paris Commune, establishment of the Third French Republic) is way too complicated for me to summarize in a sentence or two. But the official website of the French Senate says that at the Palais du Luxembourg “members of the Commune were judged and the sentence was carried out in the gardens.”
It was a dark chapter in the history of a beautiful place, but there would be more to come.
During the German occupation of Paris in World War II, the Palais du Luxembourg became the headquarters for the West Luftwaffe in France. Herman Göering and his subordinate, Field Marshal Hugo Sperrle, claimed several of the luxurious apartment suites for their personal use. The palace was liberated along with the rest of Paris in August 1944; the building suffered only minor damage. From July 29-October 15, 1946, the Palais du Luxembourg hosted the Paris Peace Conference. The Paris Peace Treaties, which were the outcome of this conference, would be later signed on February 10, 1947.
As I mentioned in my post on Le Marais, there are countless layers of history to encounter when visiting Paris. I thought this post would just be a quick review of a beautiful garden that we explored that contained a few interesting statues. Instead, I got caught up in all of the French political turmoil of the 19th century. But I think that an understanding of those events, even just at the surface level, deepens the experience of seeing the Palais du Luxembourg and its surrounding garden. Now, with the history somewhat recapped, I’ll show you a few more photos.
The Medici Fountain, shown below. It was originally called “The Grotto of Luxembourg” and was commissioned by Marie de Medici in 1630. It was designed by Florentine engineer Thomas Francini.
The orangery (in the background) and the trees that are normally inside it. During the summer, when it’s hot enough to keep these trees outside, the orangery serves as a temporary exhibit space.
The apiary ( = bees!)
The central garden, featuring a statue dedicated to French/Alsatian chemist, industrialist, and politician Auguste Scheurer-Kestner (1833-1899). Note the green chairs, which are an iconic feature of the Luxembourg and Tuileries gardens.
The park features 20 statues of “Queens and Illustrious Women” who have made their mark on French history. The statues were commissioned during the time of Louis-Philippe I and, with the exception of one statue acquired in 1874 (that of Marguerite d’Anjou), were made between 1843-1846. They line the sides of the large flowerbeds. I was happy to find Mary, Queen of Scots, shown below. Other statues include Marie de Medici, Saint Clotilde (a 6th century Queen), French writer George Sand, Anne of Austria, Saint Bathilde (7th century Queen of Clovis II), Mathilda of Normandy, and Saint Geneviève (the Patron Saint of Paris).
Another famous (French-born) lady is present in the garden, although she is not included as part of the previous series: Lady Liberty. For the Exposition Universelle in 1900, sculptor Auguste Bartholdi (who designed the Statue of Liberty in 1875) offered the Musée de Luxembourg the bronze model that he used to make the statue. The bronze model was placed in the Jardin du Luxembourg in 1906. That model was retired from the garden in 2012 for conservation reasons, and a bronze replica (shown below) was put in its place.
A slightly sassy looking lion.
Lots of beautiful flowers.
We had a wonderful time strolling the garden. It made me with that we had one like this closer to where we live in Vancouver!
¹Marie de Medici is a relation of Catherine de Medici, although I can’t figure out how close–Marie’s parents were Francesco I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and Joanna of Austria.