The Bois de Boulogne is a wooded area, located in the 16th arrondissement in Paris (France).

Covering an area of 846 hectares (8.45 km2) in the west of the city, the Bois de Boulogne can be considered one of the two “lungs” of the French capital with the Bois de Vincennes to the east. Two and a half times larger than Central Park in New York, and 3.3 times larger than Hyde Park in London, it is however 5.9 times smaller than the Forêt de Soignes in Brussels and occupies only half the surface area of the Casa de Campo in Madrid (Spain). The Bois de Boulogne occupies part of the site of the ancient forest of Rouvray.

The central part of the woods hosts the Bagatelle park, as well as the Pré-Catelan garden. Its northern part is occupied by the Jardin d’Acclimatation, an amusement park once famous for its menagerie and today for housing the Louis Vuitton foundation. To the south-east is the Auteuil greenhouse garden and the Auteuil racecourse. To the southwest, between the Longchamp racecourse and the Bagatelle park, are the Longchamp golf course as well as the Longchamp castle and estate, which have housed the GoodPlanet foundation since 2015.

The Bois received its present name from a chapel, Notre Dame de Boulogne la Petite, which was built in the forest at the command of Philip IV of France (1268–1314). In 1308, Philip made a pilgrimage to Boulogne-sur-Mer, on the French coast, to see a statue of the Virgin Mary which was reputed to inspire miracles. He decided to build a church with a copy of the statue in a village in the forest not far from Paris, in order to attract pilgrims. The chapel was built after Philip’s death between 1319 and 1330, in what is now Boulogne-Billancourt.

During the Hundred Years’ War, the forest became a sanctuary for robbers and sometimes a battleground. In 1416–17, the soldiers of John the Fearless, the Duke of Burgundy, burned part of the forest in their successful campaign to capture Paris. Under Louis XI, the trees were replanted, and two roads were opened through the forest.

In 1526, King Francis I of France began a royal residence, the Château de Madrid, in the forest in what is now Neuilly and used it for hunting and festivities. It took its name from a similar palace in Madrid, where Francis had been held prisoner for several months. The Château was rarely used by later monarchs, fell into ruins in the 18th century, and was demolished after the French Revolution.

Despite its royal status, the forest remained dangerous for travellers; the scientist and traveller Pierre Belon was murdered by thieves in the Bois de Boulogne in 1564.

In 1853, Haussmann hired an experienced engineer from the corps of Bridges and Highways, Jean-Charles Adolphe Alphand, whom he had worked with in his previous assignment in Bordeaux, and made him the head of a new Service of Promenades and Plantations, in charge of all the parks in Paris. Alphand was charged to make a new plan for the Bois de Boulogne. Alphand’s plan was radically different from the Hittorff-Varé plan.

While it still had two long straight boulevards, the Allée Reine Marguerite and the Avenue Longchamp, all the other paths and alleys curved and meandered. The flat Bois de Boulogne was to be turned into an undulating landscape of lakes, hills, islands, groves, lawns, and grassy slopes, not a reproduction of but an idealization of nature. It became the prototype for the other city parks of Paris and then for city parks around the world.

The building of the park was an enormous engineering project which lasted for five years. The upper and lower lakes were dug, and the earth piled into islands and hills. Rocks were brought from Fontainbleau and combined with concrete to make the cascade and an artificial grotto.

The pumps from the Seine could not provide enough water to fill the lakes and irrigate the park, so a new channel was created to bring the water of the Ourcq canal, from Monceau to the upper lake in the Bois, but this was not enough. An artesian well 586 meters deep was eventually dug in the plain of Passy which could produce 20,000 cubic meters of water a day. This well went into service in 1861.

In 1860, Napoleon opened the Jardin d’Acclimatation, a separate concession of 20 hectares at the north end of the park; it included a zoo and a botanical garden, as well as an amusement park.

In 1905, a grand new restaurant in the classical style was built in the Pré-Catelan by architect Guillaume Tronchet. Like the cafe at the Grand Cascade, it became a popular promenade destination for the French upper classes.

At the 1900 Summer Olympics, the land hosted the croquet and tug of war events. During the 1924 Summer Olympics, the equestrian events took place in the Auteuil Hippodrome.

On weekends, the Bois de Boulogne is full of activities such as biking, jogging, boat rowing, horseback and pony rides, and remote control speed boats. Picnics are permitted in most parts of the park, but barbecues are not allowed.

The Bois de Boulogne hosts several races, like the 10 km (6.2 mi) of Boulogne and the Boulogne half marathon. Since its creation, the last part of the Paris marathon ends by crossing the Bois de Boulogne from 35 km (22 mi). Boulogne Wood is an important place of running in Paris.

The Bois holds a three-day weekend party in the month of July, with over 50 bands and singers, attended mostly by students who camp out overnight.

See more:

20 arrondissements of Paris

Architecture of Paris

Museums of Paris

Entertainment in Paris

Bridges in Paris

Parks in Paris

Streets and squares in Paris

Shopping in Paris

Transport in Paris

Read more: Interesting places in the Pyrenees and around with Jane Cautch ...