The Bois de Boulogne (French pronunciation: [bwa.d(ə).bu.lɔɲ]) is a large public park located along the western edge of the 16th arrondissement of Paris, near the suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt and Neuilly-sur-Seine. It was created between 1852 and 1858 during the reign of the Emperor Napoleon III.
It is the second-largest park in Paris, slightly smaller than the Bois de Vincennes on the eastern side of the city. It covers an area of 845 hectares (2090 acres), which is about two and a half times the area of Central Park in New York and slightly less (88%) than that of Richmond Park in London.
The Bois de Boulogne is a remnant of the ancient oak forest of Rouvray, which included the present-day forests of Montmorency, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Chaville, and Meudon.Dagobert, the King of the Franks (629-639), hunted bears, deer, and other game in the forest. His grandson, Childeric II, gave the forest to the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Denis, who founded several monastic communities there. Philip Augustus (1180–1223) bought back the main part of the forest from the monks to create a royal hunting reserve. In 1256, Isabelle de France, sister of Saint-Louis, founded the Abbey of Longchamp at the site of the present hippodrome.
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 Chateau 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 travelers; the scientist and traveler Pierre Belon was murdered by thieves in the Bois de Boulogne in 1564.
During the reigns of Henry II and Henry III, the forest was enclosed within a wall with eight gates. Henry IV planted 15,000 mulberry trees, with the hope of beginning a local silk industry. When Henry annulled his marriage to Marguerite de Valois, she went to live in the Château de la Muette, on the edge of the forest.
In the early 18th century, wealthy and important women often retired to the convent of the Abbey of Longchamp, located where the hippodrome now stands. A famous opera singer of the period, Madmoiselle Le Maure, retired there in 1727 but continued to give recitals inside the Abbey, even during Holy Week. These concerts drew large crowds and irritated the Archibishop of Paris, who closed the Abbey to the public.
Louis XVI and his family used the forest as a hunting ground and pleasure garden. In 1777, the Comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's brother, built a charming miniature palace, the Château de Bagatelle, in the Bois in just 64 days, on a wager from his sister-in-law, Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI also opened the walled park to the public for the first time.
On 21 November 1783, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes took off from the Chateau de la Muette in a hot air balloon made by the Montgolfier brothers. Previous flights had carried animals or had been tethered to the ground; this was the first manned free flight in history. The balloon rose to a height of 910 meters (3000 feet), was in the air for 25 minutes, and covered nine kilometers.
Following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814, 40,000 soldiers of the British and Russian armies camped in the forest. Thousands of trees were cut down to build shelters and for firewood.
From 1815 until the French Second Republic, the Bois was largely empty, an assortment of bleak ruined meadows and tree stumps where the British and Russians had camped and dismal stagnant ponds.