I love opportunities for an elevated view of Paris, which reinforces in my brain the location of landmarks and major routes. I wasn’t blessed with a reliable sense of direction, and the streets of Paris seem like a confusing tangle of starburst intersections and roundabouts that set my mental compass spinning out of control.
For sheer height and panoramic sweep, few vantage points can beat the 56th-floor Observation Deck of Tour Montparnasse. And the views have the merit of not including the tower itself . . .
But for the sheer pleasure of climbing to the top in the open air, you need a belvedere on a hill.
Parc de Belleville
One of my favourite places in the neighbourhood of Belleville is the park designed and built in 1988 on a hill. At the top is a viewing platform with a charming mosaic map of landmarks.
. . . not to mention views worthy of the pleasant climb.
Sunning decks and a wading pool — for me, the very image of summer in Paris.
Parc des Buttes-Chaumont
Just north of Parc de Bellville is the hillside Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Whereas the former is modern, the latter is very 19th century, designed by Adolphe Alphand, a prominent landscape gardener for Haussmann’s creation of parks throughout Paris.
In the Temple de la Sibylle, perched atop a craggy outcropping on an island, is enshrined the Romantic picturesque — a quality that would have appealed to Parisians of the late 19th century. Sibyl, the female prophet of ancient Greece, was the oracle to which one would travel to hear her tell the future, even if, as in Oedipus Rex, it didn’t do any good to know it.
But Alphand’s appeal to the sublime in his design for the park belies the land’s chequered past. For five-and-a-half centuries, until 1760, the bodies of executed persons were displayed at the top of the hill. What’s more, the park became a dumping ground for everything from garbage to sewage to animal carcasses from slaughterhouses. Pretty revolting material from which to hatch a charming reverie.
Perhaps the Temple de la Sibylle (seen in the distance below) symbolized a purification of the place through the sacred temple devoted to the future.
A suspension bridge designed by no less than Gustave Eiffel leads to the island belvedere.
The Temple de la Sibylle offers phenomenal views of Montmartre and Sacré-Cœur.
Parc Kellermann was born of the 1937 Paris Exposition. The primary pavilions were at the Place du Trocadéro, but the future Parc Kellerman also boasted several. Some features from 1937 still exist in the park.
At the entrance is a set of “boulders on sticks”–more properly known as Rocks in the Sky by Didier Marcel. In the background is the 1937 Exposition-era art moderne shelter built of concrete and bricks.
The shelter is decorated with plaques of athletes in bas-relief from the 1937 Exposition, in the style of the period:
A formal garden . . .
. . . leads to a parapet featuring a waterfall down a steep wall, and a bucolic view beyond.
The scene from the parapet is a bit easier on the eye than the crumbling and discoloured waterfall, which hasn’t aged well since 1937.
Parc Kellermann’s “functional faucets” cascade could use a re-imagining. Or at least a cleaning. Or is the discoloration part of its charm?
An aside about some 1930s Parisian sculptures
Garden of the Monument to French Mothers
Adjacent to Parc Kellermann is a Stalinesque monument to French mothers, who doubtless deserve better.
This low point of socialist realism is from the same period as the 1937 Paris Exposition. Compare the monument to the colossal waterfall at Parc Kellermann—both created in the style of art disenfranchised. The inscription glorifies the self-sacrifice and deprivation of mothers in bearing patriotic sons who will serve la patrie.
Below: A panoramic photo of the monument, in case you wish to see the adorants on either side:
Place Hubert Monmarché
Memorial to the War Dead (1934) is from the same general period and style as the Monument to French Mothers: symmetrical, allegorical, austere.
In the center of the monument: a poilu (affectionate nickname for World War I infantrymen). To the lower left, aristocrats from l’ancient regime, and above them, Revolutionary soldiers. To the right: a grieving mother and child.