Jardin des Grands Explorateurs (Garden of the Great Explorers)
This garden pays homage to two explorers: Marco Polo (1254-1324), who according to legend, crossed Asia from where he brought back many riches; and Robert Cavelier-de-la-Salle (1643-1687) who traveled all over the countries of North America. It was de la Salle who claimed the Mississippi basin as French territory. La Salle is also much recognized and remembered in Chicago—-I live in Illinois now, so his name immediately caught my eye.
The gardens are also unofficially known as Les Jardins de l’Observatoire, as they are on the one end of the Avenue de l’Observatoire, which connects the Luxembourg Gardens with the Observatory of Paris. Most visitors to Paris wander around the famous Luxembourg Gardens, but few end up walking its further reaches to find this little gem.
Established in 1867 from designs by architect Jean Chalgrin, the gardens consist of expansive lawns, four rows of majestic chestnut trees (especially pruned), lovely flower beds and notable pieces of sculpture, showing allegorical figures meant to commemorate the adventures on the journeys of these two explorers.
It’s a pretty garden, but definitely the centerpiece is the imposing bronze fountain at the entrance gate. It has many names, including Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde(Fountain of the Four Parts of the World), the Fontaine de l’Observatoire, and the Fontaine Carpeaux, after the main sculptor.
This wonderful fountain was designed in 1873 and supervised by Gabriel Davioud. It represents Asia, Africa, Europe, and America. Asia is shown by the figure of a Chinese woman; Europe is represented by the figure of a white woman; Africa is depicted by the figure of a black woman; and America is represented by an American Indian woman. The four figures were created by Jean Baptiste Carpeaux and support a globe decorated with zodiac signs. Very realistic prancing sea horses, created by Emmanuel Frémiet, surround the central figures. Below those are statues of fish and turtles, spurting water.
If you stand by the fountain, there’s a clear view all the way to the Luxembourg Palace (now the seat of the French Senate).
With playgrounds for kids, and many benches to relax, this is another peaceful oasis in the city.
Opens 8am in the week and 9am weekends and holidays. Closes 9:30pm in summer (the board didn’t list the winter closing time).