Glorious weather for the Easter Monday holiday. There were thousands of people out enjoying the sunshine in the Bois de Vincennes today but, as the park extends to 995 hectares, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Round lac Daumesnil the main paths were busy with joggers, strollers and children on bikes and scooters; narrow paths on the islands, winding among the rocks and trees, were remarkably peaceful. The willow trees are coming into leaf and ash trees are in flower; around the lakeside the reeds are starting to send up new green shoots and will soon offer welcome cover for the nesting swans and coots.
An ancient forest, managed as a royal hunting ground from the12th century, the wild Bois de Vincennes was tamed in the 17th century when Louis XIV ordered the cutting of rides and embellishment of grand focal points, to complement his enlargement of the adjoining chateau. Louis XV opened the park to the public as a pleasure ground, but hunting was still reserved for the king. The Revolution of 1789 led to a free for all in hunting game and cutting timber on former royal ground. By 1791 is was clear that this park, as others, needed to be managed and the Bois de Vincennes was declared national property.
Under Napoleon the chateau was transformed into an arsenal while barracks and military training grounds were established in the forest, still in use today. Although military developments continued throughout the 19th century, Napoleon III’s grand plan for Paris also included developing part of the Bois as a public park in the English Landscape style. Landscaping on a grand scale included the digging of four lakes, linked by a network of streams, with cascades and bridges. The park had it’s ups and downs through the twentieth century, but the basic landscape structure has worn and weathered well.