The Luxembourg Garden reserves only two long swathes for those wishing to relax or picnic on the grass. Yet, just across the rue Michelet that is the southern boundary of the Luxembourg, is the Garden of the Observatory or Garden of Great Explorers, offering the same view of the Senate and lots of grass for sitting.
This is in fact two gardens: the first is dedicated to Robert Cavelier de la Salle, the 17th century French explorer of North America, and the second, contiguous to it, Marco Polo, the legendary Italian merchant who chronicled his travels to China. They run along the Avenue de l’Obervatoire, bounded on the north by the rue Michelet, and on the south by the boulevard de Montparnasse.
The lawns of both gardens have double rows of trimmed chestnut trees, providing shade for the walkways and benches. Flowerbeds surround stone sculptures by two of the most famous sculptors of the Second Empire: Charles Alphonse Achilles Gurnery and Gustave Grauk. In addition to the lawns for relaxing, there are ping-pong tables and a play area for children.
At the end of the Marco Polo garden, bordered by the boulevard de Montparnasse, is a truly spectacular fountain. It has many names: Fontaine de l’Observatoire, Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde (Fountain of the Four Parts of the World), Fontaine Carpeaux (the fountain’s leading sculptor).
This fountain is the result of a group effort, and there is quite a lot going on. The project was directed by Gabriel Davioud, who, as Director of the Service of Parks and Plantations of the Prefecture of Paris was responsible for much of the city’s urban architecture during the French Second Empire. At the fountain’s center we see the figures of four women, in a fluid rather than static position, holding up a globe.
The women, representing four continents: Asia, Africa, Europe and America, were the work of the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. The globe, decorated with signs of the Zodiac, was done by Eugène Legrain. In the basin we find four couples of sea horses, surrounded by dolphins and turtles, done by the sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet.
And the pedestal on which the four women stand, is decorated with bronze garlands, composed of shells and aquatic plants, the work of Louis Villeminot.
The fountain is best seen when the water is turned on, as the horses leap through the spray shooting out from the eight turtles at the basin’s edge, and water arches out of the dolphins’ mouths. It is a lovely and dramatic view.
Garden of the Observatory (Jardin des Grands Explorateurs)
Avenue de l’Observatoire, Paris 6
M: Raspail (Line 4), RER Port Royal