Today, the Jardin d’Acclimatation is a beautiful set of gardens and amusement park attraction. Children can be seen playing games, riding merry-go-rounds, petting farm animals, or eating elephant ears. It would be crazy to think that about 150 years ago, people were eating actual elephants from this “garden”… but they were.
The Jardin d’Acclimatation was established in 1860 as a zoology park in Bois de Boulogne, on the western edge of Paris. Napoleon hoped to make this a combination of a public park similar to the English Gardens as well a place to showcase wild animals as other zoology parks in Paris were filling up.
Things took a strange turn during the Siege of Paris by the Prussians in 1870. Parisians were forced to eat dogs, cats, and other animals to survive while their supplies dwindled. But because the bourgeois would not subject themselves to dining on such lowly creatures, legendary chef Alexandre Étienne Choron proposed menus of only the most exotic animals from the Jardin d’Acclimatation. These included kangaroo stew, elephant consommé, bear shanks in a pepper sauce, roasted camel, antelope in truffle sauce, peacock galantine, and python stew. Of course, all of these dishes were served with the best wine in the reserves.
After that catastrophe, the park decided to go in a new ghastly direction by forming a human zoo in 1877. This “zoo” exhibited people from isolated tribes around Africa as well as the Inuit. The tribes were held in enclosures where Parisians could observe their way of life. This exhibit was incredibly popular and doubled the number of visitors to the zoo. It was not until 1931 that the human zoo was finally shut down, and the park began to focus on making an attraction mainly for children.
Today, this dark past is not visible in the cheerful, lovely park. There are rides, funhouse mirrors, and verdant grounds landscaped with trees, shrubs, and flowers. Peacocks and other birds wander the park, adding to the harmonious atmosphere. Farm animals live around the little Norman farm where visitors can feed and pet them. There are several other gardens, including the kitchen garden which grows edible, native European plants like strawberries and raspberries which complement the green. There are multiple restaurants within the park open for ice cream or lunch. No wild animals can be found on the menu.
Know Before You Go
The Jardin d'Acclimatation is open Monday through Friday from 11am to 6pm and weekends, school vacation, and bank holidays from 10am to 7pm. The entrance fee is 3 euros with tickets for rides costing extra.