The Luxembourg Palace, or Palais du Luxembourg, was built in the early 1600’s for Marie de Médici, King Louis Xlll’s mother. It was an imitation of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence. In 1622-24 the Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens, decorated its galleries with 21 paintings portraying the events of her life which rank among his finest work. The exterior is largely as it was when it was first built. The palace was used for a short time in 1794, during the French Revolution, as a prison. It also served as the headquarters of the Luftwaffe during the Second World War. Napoleon later called it home and it was during this time that the Luxembourg Palace first became the place where the French Senate met and continues to do so today.
In 1612 Marie de Médici planted 2,000 elm trees and directed a series of gardeners to build a park in the style she had known as a child in Florence. The original garden was just eight hectares in size. The park, which presently covers 23 hectares, is known for its lawns, tree-lined promenades, immaculate flowerbeds, model sailboats on its large octagonal basin (known as Grand Bassin) with a central jet of water, and for the picturesque Medici Fountain built in 1620. The formally laid out garden, with trees planted in patterns, contains just over one hundred statues on pedestals, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds. Among the many parks and gardens of Paris, the Luxembourg Garden is certainly one of the favourite green spaces of Parisians, students and tourists. It is an area famed for its calm atmosphere. The elegantly manicured lawns are off limits apart from a small section on the southern boundary so Parisians and visitors relax in the iconic 1923-designed sage-green metal chairs in their own favourite part of the park.
Dozens of apple varieties grow in the orchards in the southern end of the garden, while bees have produced honey in the nearby Rucher du Luxembourg since the 19th century. There has been both a bee house (apiary) and a beekeeping school permanently situated in the garden since 1856.
There is a wooden carousel from the 19th century. It is the oldest one in Paris, dating back to 1879, and the weather-worn animals that have been ridden by millions of children over centuries were actually sketched by Charles Garnier, architect of the Opera House in Paris. The animals are carved from wood and their faded paint jobs speak to their age. This is a traditional “brass ring” carousel. Each child receives a small baton upon climbing on their favourite animal. As the carousel circles, they try to loop the baton through a ring held by the operator.
Who could visit Paris and not spend time in this peaceful, immaculate garden?