- 1860 - 1870A revolutionary Jardin in a time of discovery
- 1870 - 1871An extraordinary Jardin amidst the turmoil of war
- 1872 - 1875The Jardin reborn
- 1877 - 1931Ethnic performances and popular culture during the colonial era
- 1920 - 1951A playground for Parisians
- 1952 - 2016From years of decline to a return to its roots
- 2017 - 20189 months of major works
- 2nd of June 2018Inauguration of the new Jardin d'Acclimatation by Bernard Arnault and Anne Hildalgo
1860 - 1870 : A revolutionary Jardin in a time of discovery
A French-style English garden... When the Jardin d’Acclimatation was officially inaugurated by Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie on 6th October 1860, the Bois de Boulogne had already undergone 10 years of turmoil. This visionary Emperor wanted to create a park modelled on the English garden along its entire boundary. After 15 months of work, the “restructuring” project on the capital's edge produced the Jardin Zoologique d’Acclimatation. The inauguration was attended by well-known personalities such as Hector Berlioz, Alexandre Dumas, Prospère Mérimée and Théophile Gautier, and the Jardin proved a hit from the day it opened to the public, on 9th October 1860. People from every section of society rushed to the Jardin d’Acclimatation to be enraptured by the giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, cheetahs and antelopes.
To achieve their dream, the imperial couple turned to the Second Empire’s finest minds: the engineer Jean-Charles Alphand, the architect Gabriel Davioud and the landscape gardener Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, working under Baron Georges Eugène Haussmann, the iconic creator of modern Paris. The Jardin owes its origins to a grant of 15 hectares (37 acres) given to the Société Impériale Zoologique d'Acclimatation (Imperial Zoological Acclimatisation Society) by the City of Paris. Founded in 1854 by the zoologist Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and several of his friends, its objective was clear: to encourage the introduction, adaptation and domestication of animal and plants species from distant civilisations by artificially recreating their natural environment. This immense leisure space had a triple role – science, entertainment and education – and became a jewel in the city’s crown.
1870 - 1871 : An extraordinary Jardin amidst the turmoil of war
The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 brought a halt to the Jardin d’Acclimatation’s boom years and interrupted the leisure activities of Paris’s residents. Enemy forces encircled the city and placed it under siege, and the city suffered 135 days without telegraph lines. The most precious animals were sent to zoos in other regions of France and were replaced by livestock – 30,000 oxen and 180,000 sheep – intended to feed the citizens of Paris. But the length of the siege and the icy cold caused a terrible famine.
In December 1870, a lack of regular food supplies saw the slaughter of the exotic animals still in the Jardin d’Acclimatation. This is why each New Year's Eve menu appeared to outdo the next in terms of the bizarre and exotic delicacies on offer, from horns to camel kidneys.
The Siege of Paris also demonstrated the bravery and effectiveness of carrier pigeons as a means of communication. Ten days before the Siege began, the prefect of France's northern region took the precaution of sending 1,500 carrier pigeons to the Jardin d’Acclimatation. They could then return to their starting point with useful information on the capital’s situation. Some of these managed to transport the very first microfilm, a process invented by the photographer René Dragon (1813-1900). Also known as pigeonograms, these miniaturised photographs containing 3,000 messages. Finally, the Jardin d’Acclimatation, still bruised and battered, was recognised as a “public body”.
1872 - 1875 : The Jardin reborn
Revamped and refreshed, the Jardin d’Acclimatation reopened in 1872 with a host of improvements and new attractions to delight visitors. An extra sheepfold, animal stalls, a new silkworm farm, duck-breeding pens, a vast kennel, a buffet, a “panorama”, a gymnasium for children who could also take a ride on the back of a zebra, camel, goat or ostrich, and much more. The park regained its flamboyance, with more than 10,000 visitors recorded on some Sundays.
In 1878, the Jardin offered its visitors the pleasure of a picturesque ride when it acquired an ingenious railway system: the Petit Train (Small Train), invented by the industrialist Paul Decauville (1846-1922). The line originally started at the Place de l'Étoile and crossed the Bois de Boulogne, but its route was soon modified, and Porte Maillot became – and remains to this day – the departure station. The Petit Train was drawn by two ponies, but was fitted with a combustion engine in the 20th century, before switching to electric motors in the 21st century.
The Jardin d’Acclimatation also regained its status as a scientific and cultural centre. Weekly concerts on the great lawn and a series of scientific conferences featured on the park's annual programme of events. A Museum of Sport and Hunting also opened. With its diverse collections, attractions and events, the Jardin d’Acclimatation became the Parisians’ destination of choice.
After the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, the Ministry of War decided to equip France with a network of military dovecotes. The first one was built in 1875 at the Jardin d’Acclimatation, under the management of the French Post Office. The birds were subject to conscription and were registered in Paris, so that they could be requisitioned should the need arise. They also underwent regular training.
To that end, the Jardin sponsored pigeon racing and provided an impressive spectacle each year through the releasing of thousands of pigeons. Competitions bringing together participants from many countries are also crowned with success. The Jardin presents an exhibition of carrier pigeons to which eager spectators flock to admire the international winners for 1872, 1873 and 1874, and the representatives of the best English and Belgian breeds that have been acquired by the public body. A witness to that period, the dovecote still takes pride of place in the heart of the Jardin d’Acclimatation.
1877 - 1931 : Ethnic performances and popular culture during the colonial era
The Third Republic will be remembered for its unbridled passion for exoticism, travel and ethnology. Colonial expansion inspired many events. The first ethnological exposition of a specific ethnic group was held at the Jardin d’Acclimatation in 1877. For Albert Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, then the site’s director, this was a momentous occasion. A group of Nubians, brought by the German zoologist Carl Hagenbeck, was installed in front of the animal stalls between the llama and mammal pavilions. The attraction was an instant success and so lucrative that 22 similar exhibitions followed in its wake.
The ethnological exhibitions focused on encounters and discovery, as highlighted by the 1903 guide book: “The ethnological exhibitions, of which the Jardin d’Acclimatation holds a monopoly, have the dual benefit of arousing the curiosity of members of the public and educating them by bringing them into contact with different human races. ”
But the sensationalism sought by the Jardin’s senior management was strongly disowned by the Société d’Acclimatation (Society for Acclimatisation).
Annual visitor numbers doubled to reach 830,000 admissions. The following year, Parisians flocked to see singular individuals, Argentine Gauchos and Samis: the total number of visitors reaches close to one million! One of the Samis even gave birth to a baby girl, christened “Parisienne”. This series of exhibitions came to an end in 1931 with an unfortunate piece of deceit: a hundred or so Kanaks were housed in primitive boxes and presented to an unsuspecting public as “polygamous savages and cannibals”.
Today, it is on a footing of equality between peoples and the brotherhood of nations that, each spring, the Jardin d’Acclimatation invites a region of France or a country to settle along its paths and to peacefully invade its 18 hectares.
1920 - 1951 : A playground for Parisians
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Jardin d’Acclimatation moved away from its educational mission and gradually became more of an entertainment venue.
Against a backdrop of fierce competition, Voltaire’s words “we must cultivate our garden”, resonated strongly with its director during this period, Albert Hertel. Displaying animals and exotic plants was no longer enough to attract a mass audience looking for the thrills offered by new theme parks such as Luna Park, located at Porte Maillot since 1909, or Magic City, established in 1911 on the banks of the River Seine.
To attract families and children, the Jardin d’Acclimatation modelled itself on the Danish Tivoli theme park in Copenhagen and brought in modern rides. It increased the number of film screenings and circus performances. It also installed a puppet theatre, paddling pools and a slide, and created the children's zoo, complete with ponies, goats and little donkeys. The Jardin also attempted to present itself as a centre for sports, organising annual cyclist meets and planning the construction of a large swimming pool and a Stade de France (national stadium). But the Second World War brought the Jardin’s momentum to a halt. The site would have to wait until the 1950s to enter a new stage in its development and evolve into a “park for walks and open-air leisure pursuits, with attractions that must have an instructive, sporting and family-friendly character.” A puppet theatre was created in 1954, and proved to be a longstanding success.
Nowadays, the Jardin d’Acclimatation is in the main used for walks. It is a model park; a place of relaxation and enjoyment for visitors, and first and foremost for young people. The family, educational and instructive character of the Jardin d’Acclimatation is developed along four main lines: nature, culture, sport and games.
1952 - 2016 : From years of decline to a return to its roots
In 1952, the Boussac Group took over from the Société du Jardin Zoologique when it obtained the concession to the park from the City of Paris. The menagerie of wild animals disappeared. Although the Jardin acquired more domestic animals, on the roads of the Bois de Boulogne hardly a whistle could be heard from the Petit Train. Faced with the rise of new forms of leisure (televisions were commonplace and video games on the rise) and unprecedented competition (with Parc Astérix and Disneyland leading the way), the Jardin d’Acclimatation fell out of favour with the public due to a lack of refurbishment and investment. Visitor numbers fell to 600,000 a year.
Decline was inevitable. A new section of the site, behind the equestrian clubs, was removed from the concession’s perimeter by the Ministry of Culture and the City of Paris. The iconic Palmarium (Palm House), a masterpiece of glass and steel, was destroyed to make way for the Musée des Arts et Traditions populaires (Museum of Popular Arts and Traditions). At the same time, management of the park was transferred to sub-contractors who had neither vision nor ambition. The Jardin appeared to be on its last legs.
But deliverance arrived in 1995 when the LVMH Group acquired a new concession for a 20-year period. A clear mission was set out for the Jardin d’Acclimatation: “Its primary purpose is to serve as a place for the public to walk. It must be a model park, a place of relaxation and pleasure for its visitors, above all for children. The family-friendly and educational nature of the Jardin d’Acclimatation must be preserved and developed in accordance with four main themes: nature, culture, sport and games.” In partnership with the City of Paris, and with support from its shareholder LVMH, the Jardin d’Acclimatation began to emerge from the doldrums.
Concrete and cement became a thing of the past, making way for woods, miles of greenery and flower-lined pathways. Three hectares of landscape were redesigned and a wealth of entertainment and events organised throughout the year. The Jardin developed a varied programme, placing the emphasis on the diverse nature of the activities offered and the fact that they could be accessed free of charge. It increased the number of recreational areas with free admission. The park gradually recovered - to the point where it drew a record two million visitors in 2015. With its renewal, the Jardin d’Acclimatation has re-established links with its original aim, opening up to a different international clientele, whilst developing a policy to encourage its use by leisure centres and Paris’s not-for-profit organisations.