I do like a Japanese garden.
I had this garden on my “possible” list, should I find a couple of hours spare during my trip to Paris. Lucky for me, our trip to Fontainebleau wasn’t as long as I thought it would be and we were back at our hotel near the Arc de Triomphe by 2pm.
Rather than rest on my laurels, I spotted a bus route that passed nearby and which would take me nearly to the doors of these gardens.
I like to travel by bus in other cities, as it’s a great (and cheap) way to discover places. Indeed, even in London, where I live, for less than two pounds I can take a bus all over the city and discover unknown places.
I enjoyed my bus ride through chic suburbs (quartiers) and kept a close eye on my map, so that I would know when to get off the bus. Fortunately, I chose the correct stop and it was just a couple of minutes’ walk to the gardens.
Albert Kahn was a banker, who built up a substantial fortune. Outside of his business interests, culture held a great interest for him.
Kahn commissioned photographers to travel the world, photographing communities from across the world. Today, at the museum behind which the gardens lie, visitors can view these early colour photographs; they capture many cultures that were altered irreversibly by the outbreak of WW1 in 1914.
Aside from his philanthropic ventures to encourage peaceful respect for other nations through the dissemination of knowledge of others’ cultures, Kahn used his wealth to buy a house in the suburbs. Gradually, from his start in the 1890s, he bought up the houses of his neighbours, demolished them, and expanded his gardens, creating distinct sections, each reflect a different nation or culture.
Ultimately Kahn became a victim of the 1929 Wall Street crash, and lost everything. The gardens were saved though: the Prefecture of the Seine took over guardianship of the garden and Kahn continued to live in his house until he died during WW2.
There is a BBC documentary on Kahn: here
I admired the exhibition of photographs and then took a step out in the garden’s tranquility, which comprises Japanese, English and woodland plantings. Since the 1980s, after a period of decline, the gardens have been painstakingly restored to reflect how Albert Kahn would have known them just before WW1 broke out.
For most visitors to Paris, I can’t imagine that they find time in their schedules to venture out of the city centre. In fact, I know people who have lived in Paris (or live in Paris) and they’ve never heard of this hidden green corner.
However, if you do find a slot on your next trip to Paris, I certainly recommend that you take a bus to the Rhin et Danube and visit the Albert Kahn gardens.
When visited: September 2015