After exploring the city’s attractions, those who want to relax can find tranquillity at Jardin du Luxembourg – the second largest public park in Paris which is famed for its peaceful atmosphere and amusing facilities, such as fountains, sculptures, ponds, flowerbeds, tennis courts, pony rides, playgrounds, a marionette theatre, and open-air cafes.
The Luxembourg gardens, built by Marie de Medicis, the widow of Henry IV, were completed in 1625, and the park has been open to the public since the 17th century. In the late 19th century the park contained numerous public amenities and was a well-known gathering point.
In 1611, Marie de Medicis, the widow of Henry IV decided to build a palace that would imitate her childhood home- Pitti Palace in her native Florence. She purchased the hotel du Luxembourg and began the construction of the new palace. The Luxembourg Gardens were completed in 1625, but did not reach their present form until 1790. Later monarchs largely neglected the garden. Following the French Revolution, however, the leaders of the French Directory expanded the garden to forty hectares by confiscating the land of the neighbouring religious order of the Carthusian monks. The construction of nearby streets and avenues during the Second Empire reduced its size, but not its general appearance. In 1865 the director of parks and promenades of Paris, Gabriel Davioud, built new ornamental gates and fences around the park, as well as brick garden houses. He also transformed what remained of the old Chartreux nursery garden into an English garden with winding paths, and planted a fruit garden in the southwest corner. He kept the regular geometric pattern of the paths and alleys, but also created one diagonal alley near the Medici fountain which opened a view of the Pantheon. In the late nineteenth century the garden contained a marionette theatre, a music kiosk, greenhouses, a bee-house; an orangery that was also used for displaying sculptures and modern art (used until the 1930s), a rose garden, the fruit orchard, and about seventy works of sculpture.
The garden with its numerous facilities is known for being a gathering point, engaging people of all ages and cultural backgrounds.
In the park there are numerous statues and the whole area is centred on a large octagonal basin of water, where children sail model boats. Around the basin on the raised terraces one can see a series of statues of former French queens, saints and copies after the antique. In the southwest corner, there is an orchard of apple and pear trees and the puppet theatre. The gardens include a large fenced-in playground for young children and their parents and a vintage carousel. In addition, free musical performances are presented in a gazebo and there is a small cafe restaurant nearby, under the trees, with both indoor and outdoor seating where people enjoy the music over a glass of wine. Some of the most notable features of the park include the Medicis Fountain, built in 1861, and a bronze replica of the Statue of Liberty. The park, which closes at sunset, also has a multitude of strolling paths, and it is filled with hundreds of movable chairs, which can be rented.
The park provides its visitors with numerous options of spending free time: people come to stroll, play chess, sit and read, watch people, to sit at one of the cafes or to bring their children or grandchildren to one of the many attractions for kids.
Organised activities include tennis, pony rides, puppet theatres, and toy sailboat rental (children float them in the large central fountain). Additionally, all interested may attend a hearing of the French Senate, which is open to the public. The Gardens also host innovative exhibits, such as the one of aerial photographs from around the world, encased in plastic and displayed on the fence surrounding the garden. Outdoor concerts also take place in the Luxembourg Gardens.
The garden contains just over a hundred statues, monuments, and fountains, scattered throughout the grounds. Surrounding the central green space are about twenty figures of historical French queens and female saints.
The gardens are featured prominently in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Misérables. It is here that the principal love story of the novel unfolds, as the characters Marius Pontmercy and Cosette first meet.