Adam, with the blog “Invisible Paris” (and some other blogs), had joined a global event called “Obscura Day”, proposing to see some odd, obscure, places around the world on the very same day, April 9. Adam invited us to visit a forgotten part of the Bois de Vincennes (see previous posts), one of the Paris "lungs" - together with the Bois de Boulogne. The place we visited is referred to as the “Jardin Tropical de Paris” (Paris Tropical Garden), originally created around 1900. France had then still a great number of colonies in Africa, the Far East…, and, with the aim to develop colonial production, different agronomic experiences were actively performed here in the beginning of the 20th century. Such activities have disappeared or moved to other places and the Garden has more or less since decades been forgotten, abandoned. We were some 30 people who joined a extremely well prepared Adam.
A very special event took place here during some summer months in 1907; a Colonial Exhibition, very popular and with some two million visitors. A number of pavilions, more or less temporary, were built in a style which should remind about the different colonies. Some of them are still there, but more or less as ruins, a few have burnt down... Some, pieces of, statues are lying around. The tropical plants have disappeared and the natural vegetation has taken (more than) over.
To attract visitors in 1907, some animals were shown, like camels and also elephants (gliding into water on a toboggan)… and it was also what you may describe as a “human zoo”. Hundreds of natives from the colonies were “exhibited”, living in huts, supposed to live as when they were at home, and this was probably then what most attracted the public. Times have changed … at least to some extent. Here are some illustrations I found on the net including comparisons with today’s entrance and the burnt down Congo pavilion.
Later, during and just after WWI, some of the buildings were used as hospitals for wounded colonial soldiers and several war memorials were erected. At some of them annual ceremonies still take place and a few have been partly restored.
In 1937 another Colonial Exhibition took place in the Bois de Vincennes, but not here and without a “human zoo”. Some very imposing – again temporary - buildings included a mosque and a copy of the Angkor Temple; part of the entrance to the temple garden was obviously later transferred to this part of the park.
Although we are here somehow outside Paris we should remember that the Bois de Vincennes is part of the 12th Paris arrondissement (like the Bois de Boulogne of the 16th arrondissement) and the City of Paris seems now to have started some very limited restoration work.
Here you can see where to find the Garden and a plan of the 1907 exhibition. The best way to go here is to use the RER metro, destination Nogent-sur-Marne; you have then some two minutes walk to the entrance. When there is no visiting group as ours, you can expect to be rather alone.
As you may imagine from the above photos, we have since a couple of days, full summer in Paris with blue sky and some 22-23°C (73-74°F). This can also be seen in the parks close to where I live.