The more I read about Victor Hugo, the more I find in common with him: our family heritage both originate in Alsace, France, we both have grandsons named George, and we both spent many hours in the Jardin des Plantes, located in the Latin Quarter of Paris. In the fall semester of 2012, during a graduate internship, I rented an apartment on rue Linné with the Arenes des Lutece in my backyard and the Jardin des Plantes across the street. I spent many afternoons and weekends walking the quiet, bucolic, flower-laden paths of this park taking in the heavenly aroma of God’s creation. One could spend an entire week in this incredible Jardin and not experience it all. Imagine my delight in discovering that Victor Hugo wrote about his experiences in the Jardin des Plantes as he took frequent strolls through the park with his grandchildren, Georges and Jeanne.
It is hard to visualize this rarity could be in the heart of Paris. Included on these twenty-eight hectares (about 70 acres) is a wonderland of: 4,500 different species of plants, an Alpine garden with 3,000 species of world-wide representation, a labyrinth from 1739, a Ménagerie of over 1,000 animals including an elephant and kangaroos, and five massive museums (Musée National d’Histoire, the Grand Galerie de l’Evolution, the Mineralogy Museum, the Paleontology Museum and the Entomology Museum).
Several of these museums originated in 1798, after Napoléon Bonaparte led a military expedition to Egypt in order to establish a French presence in the Middle East. This expedition included 50 savants of architects, scribes, geologists, naturalists, artists, musicologists, historians and the acclaimed scientist’s Georges Cuvier and Geoffrey Saint-Hilarie (Burleigh). Cuvier and Hilaire helped compile findings from their expedition into a 24-volume encyclopedia Description de l’Egypte and many of these species and artifacts can be found in the museums of the Jardin des Plantes. My favorite museum is the Galerie d’Evolution, a magnificent, two 1/2 century-old, treasury which contains massive dinosaur fossils that I plan to take my grandson George to see one day!
In the coming blogs, I will be posting my translations of Hugo’s poems to his grandchildren of their walks in this extraordinary Jardin des Plantes, the first being A Georges. So so so excited!!
Copyright 2017 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only with attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
- Napoleon Bonaparte’s Expedition : ** Nina Burleigh gives a thrilling account of Napoleon’s expedition in her book Mirage including the discoveries of the Rosetta Stone, The Pyramids, mummies, Cleopatra’s Needle in NY and the Luxor Obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, Paris. I highly recommend this book!
Burleigh, N. (2007). Mirage: Napoleon’s scientists and the unveiling of Egypt. New York: Harper.
- Les Miserables
[For those of you who are Les Miserables aficionado’s, you will remember that Jean Valjean is chased by Javier through the Jardin des Plantes (see my post My Parisian Journey: The Paris of Les Miserables https://frenchquest.com/2012/12/27/my-parisian-journey-week-14/)]
- History review of France, Napoleon Bonaparte