In and around the Buttes-Chaumont

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Like an obvious choice to the stroll in the Montsouris park,  let’s explore the area around the Buttes Chaumont park, both developed by the same architect during the expansion of Paris in 1860.

Though obvious, it does not fit well with my principle of following Atget’s steps, as I was not able to find any photo taken by him in this area. This is not very surprising though: far from where he was living in the south of Paris, this area was difficult to reach and he was heavily loaded with his photographic equipment. Atget took few photographs of the 19th  arrondissement There are  essentially a few manholes, those little  stone buildings designed to watch over the flow of spring water (see the stroll in Belleville). He headed mainly for the periphery and the Canal de l’Ourcq, reason why I have chosen to end the stroll with the rotunda of La Villette. 

The Buttes Chaumont park is vast and would deserve a walk in itself. However, I rather chose to cross it, coming from the Mouzaïa district where it is quite pleasant to meander in the small alleyways lined with charming houses and gardens. Before reaching the Ourcq canal, I could not miss the Butte Bergeyre which offers one of the most beautiful views on Montmartre.

MOUZAIA DISTRICT

Arriving by the Danube metro station leads you directly in the centre of the Mouzaïa district. As soon as you emerge out to the place du Rhin et Danube, you are not in Paris anymore, with all narrow pedestrian streets lined with charming little houses. They were all built on former gypsum quarries and were occupied from the end of the 19th century by an essentially working class population.

I rather suggest strolling randomly along these flowery alleyways called Villas here and enjoy the tranquility of the neighbourhood, however I can provide the itinerary I followed:

From the place du Rhin et Danube, you can follow the rue de la Fraternité, which obviously leads to the rue de l'Egalité, per France's national motto.

 

Follow the opposite Villa du Progrès which leads to the rue de la Mouzaïa where you will find a maze of quiet green alleyways.

Villa des Lilas is quite attractive with the gardens along the terraced houses providing a quiet atmosphere.

 

 

Reaching rue de Bellevue, you can come back through the quiet Villa Sadi Carnot. You will reach this time rue de la Liberté, thus completing the national motto, where you should not miss the pretty Villa Amalia.

 

 

From rue du Général Brunet, you can continue onto Villa de Cronstadt.
From rue Miguel Hidalgo, you can come back through the Villa des Boers leading to the rue du Général Brunet. 

From rue du Général Brunet, you can now go to the nearby Buttes Chaumont park.

During my lunch at the small terrace of the café on the quiet place du Rhin et Danube, I vaguely paid attention to a curiously, twisted and lopsided sign pointing to the sky.
But, a recent article in a French newspaper caught all my attention. The sign, in fact was a hoax. It was just a cardboard sign pointing to a pedestrian path Chemin de Traverse, as the French translation of the Diagon Allay, presumably placed by a Harry Potter fan. And the owner of the café rather worried that the degraded sign could fall on his terrace called the City of Paris. Funny enough, not only the City of Paris removed it, but replaced it by a real one! The new one now indicates a real path toward the street Francis Ponge, a surralist poet, that can't be invented indeed. And there are bad tongues to say that the City of Paris does not manage properly the streets?

BUTTES CHAUMONT

I can't resist to post these scenes of the movie « Same old song » in which there is a guided tour in the Buttes Chaumont park.
As Camille tries to explain, the park was named from the desert like aspect of the former gypsum quarry : Chauve Mont (Bald Mount) - Chau mont. At the request of emperor Napoleon III, this superb park was designed by the inventive genius architect Alphand. He took advantage of the steep terrain to create a green landscape with high cliffs. The old quarry galleries were recycled to bring water from the lake to the artificial waterfalls and streams. A considerable work accomplished in three years from 1864 to 1867 to bring top soil, plant trees, create an artificial lake with its hydraulic pumps.

 

My last stroll in the park was in June, 2021 shortly before the closing of the round belvedere with the charming Temple de la Sybille from which one has a superb view on Paris and on Montmartre. I therefore feel a little frightened afterwards by realizing the fragility of the site threatened with collapse under the action of the time.

 

I have a photo of my grandfather, wearing a boater hat tilted on the side like Maurice Chevalier, taken at the Buttes-Chaumont in the late 20s. He is on the left on the suspended footbridge designed by Gustave Eiffel. You can see the Belvedere in the distance on the right.

 

 

The bridge known as the Bridge of Suicides is an other bridge. This is the small stone bridge connecting the island with the rest of the park. One arch short, but 27 meters high, it was once the suicide hot spot before the Eiffel Tower replaced it.

Along the Allee de la Cascade, the trendy terraces of Rosa Bonheur are always crowded. Indeed, what a better bucolic spot in Paris to enjoy the sunset with a glass of rosé? 

After the allée de la Cascade, continue walking and enjoying the park on the allée des Marnes.

Take the exit avenue Mathurin Moreau. You will see a steep public staircase  rue Georges Lardennois, leading to the top of the Butte Bergeyre. 
Would you miss the exit from the Buttes Chaumont, no worries, there are two other public staircases to the Butte Bergeyre either from the rue Manin or the rue Simon Bolivar.

BUTTES BERGEYRE

The name Bergeyre sounds almost like the French word bergère. However, the hill is not named from a nice shepherdess guarding once her sheep at the top of this well hidden mound. The story is sadder. The place is named after Robert Bergeyre, a twenty-year old rugby player killed during the First World War. In 1918, the Bergeyre stadium was built in his memory at the foot of the hill. The stadium was demolished later in 1926 and from this date town houses were built on this former gypsum quarry.

The five streets are all lined with different and charming houses, covered in ivy or roses like this house of rue Georges Lardennois all flowered with a splendid rosebush.

The prettiest corner of the Butte Bergeyre is the one near the community garden and the small vineyard, called the Clos des Chaufourniers. You will get a quite stunning view of the Sacré-Cœur, from here.

CANAL SAINT-MARTIN

If you wish, you can stop there and find a metro station further at Place du Colonel Fabien.

As for me, keeping my principles in mind, I decided to continue my way to the canal Saint-Martin where Atget took some photos. I headed up to the quai de Jemmapes and to the imposing rotunda of the Villette. Thus, braving somehow some alarming information about the gathering of crack smokers in the area of place de Stalingrad. That day of June, 2021, the area was rather quiet and I didn't feel unsafe.
I was able to admire Ledoux's Rotunda, telling myself that the world has always been crazy, indeed. The rotunda was one of the former tax collector buildings around the former perimetal wall, as all the goods entering Paris were taxed. The monument is one of the few vestige of the wall built between 1785 and 1789, just before the French Revolution.
Did we need the genius architect Ledoux, who also designed the Salt Works of Arc et Senans, to build a tax building?
Did we need luxurious monuments looking like monumental Greek Propylaea to collect taxes? No surprise that on the 12th of July 1789, at the beginning of the French Revolution, almost all of the sixty or so duty offices were attacked by the people.

  • Quai Jemmapes
    Atget
    (Musée Carnavalet)

  • Barrière de la Villette
    Boulevard de la Villette
    Atget
    (BnF)

I have also heard about this market on Saturday morning, selling local fruit and veg, all produced in Ile de France, brought by boat via the Ourcq canal. You can also find good cheeses, honey and beer, enough to make a good picnic ...

2021 - text and photos Martine Combes