Head to the Jardin du Luxembourg on any given day during the summer months and you can expect to find plenty of people milling about, small wooden sailboats floating across the garden’s main fountain, and oodles of colourful flowers in bloom. Once home to Catherine de Medicis herself, the palace and fountains have since become a popular and chic place where all the French hang out. And in an often forgotten corner of the green space, a water feature, the Medici Fountain is a small reminder of the garden’s Italianate past.
Palais du Luxembourg & Jardin du Luxembourg
Located just steps away from the Latin Quater (so-called because students of the nearby Sorbonne university would converse with one another in Latin during the middle ages) and just minutes away from the Paris Pantheon (an impressive former church which was once dedicated to the patron Saint of the city, Saint Geneviève), the Jardin du Luxembourg is where all the locals come to hang out come the warmer months.
The Luxembourg Palace and its surrounds have royal roots and were inhabited by a branch of the Medici family from the 17th-century onwards. Following the death of Catherine de Medici’s husband, Henry IV, in a riding accident, she could no longer bear the sight of the Vosges Palace. She had the royal residence razed to the ground. In its place, what is now the oldest public square in Paris was created, Place des Vosges.
The Royal Court was transferred to the Louvre. Once at the Louvre Palace, Catherine de Medicis was to govern France as ruling Regent until her son came of age. However, she remained unhappy at the Louvre and so decided to construct a palace which would remind her of her childhood home back in what is now Italy. The Luxembourg Palace was built in the style of Pitti Palace in Florence and the Luxembourg Gardens were constructed in the manner of the Boboli Gardens.
Seeking History at the Medici Fountain (La Fontaine Médicis), Jardin du Luxembourg
The Medici Fountain is the hidden gem of the garden, and one of the most beautiful places to visit in Paris. When it came to her new palace, one of Catherine de Medici’s main requests was that her gardens should have a monumental fountain, just like the gardens of Boboli in Florence. Cue: the Medici Fountain.
First constructed in around 1620, the water feature was meant to resemble a grotto or cave. If you’re looking to visit an impressive man-made grotto in Paris today, then you should head to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, a 19th-century green space in the 19th arrondissement.
When the fontaine was created in the 17th-century, Italianate influence was all the rage, and so sculptures representing characters from Roman mythology were placed around the fountain and gardens in abundance. Although there was a severe lack of water on the Left Bank of the Seine during the 1600s, the problem was solved through the creation of an aqueduct.
Following the death of Catherine de Medici, the fountain was owned by several different people. Several of the fountains original statues, as well as two water-pouring nymphs disappeared during the 17th and 19th-centuries. The water feature was then extensively renovated in the mid-1800s and moved to its current not-so-prominent position.
Highlights of the Jardin du Luxembourg
Today, the gardens and Luxembourg Palace are both owned by the French Senate, who use the building for administrative purposes. Elsewhere in the gardens as well as nearby, there are plenty of things to do and even more places to see.
Petanque area: The traditional game of boules which is often played in Britain is similar to that of Petanque, a typically French game which is played outside during the summer months. Thought to have originated in the Provençal town of La Ciotat, Jardin du Luxembourg provides ample space to play.
Saint Sulpice: Just outside the green space, the crumbling yet beautiful structure of Saint Sulpice is a beautiful ecclesiastical building which is often missed in lieu of the much more famous Notre Dame. Fans of Dan Brown novels may well also recognise the name ‘Saint Sulpice’ from the Da Vinci Code, where the church was the site of the infamous Rose Line.
Statues in Jardin du Luxembourg: In total, there are over a hundred statues in the gardens. Some of the most notable ones include a bust of Charles Baudelaire, a sculpture of Theseus and the Minotaur, and a statue of the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.