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The Parc des Buttes-Chaumont is a public park situated in northeast of Paris, in the 19th arrondissement. Occupying 24.7 hectares, it is the fifth-largest park in Paris, after the Bois de Vincennes, the Bois de Boulogne, the Parc de la Villette, and the Tuileries Garden. It was opened in 1867, late in the regime of Emperor Napoleon III, and was built by Jean-Charles Alphand, who created all the major parks of Napoleon III. The most famous feature of the park is the Temple de la Sibylle, inspired by the Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy, perched at the top of a cliff thirty metres above the waters of the artificial lake.
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The park took its name from the bleak hill which occupied the site, which, because of the chemical composition of its soil, was almost bare of vegetation- it was called Chauve-mont, or bare hill. The area, just outside the limits of Paris until the mid-19th century, had a sinister reputation; it was close to the site of the Gibbet of Montfaucon, the notorious place where the bodies of hanged criminals were displayed after their executions fom the 13th century until 1760.After the 1789 Revolution, it became a refuse dump, and then a place for cutting up horse carcasses and a depository for sewage. The director of public works of Paris and builder of the Park, Jean-Charles Alphand, reported that "the site spread infectious emanations not only to the neighboring areas, but, following the direction of the wind, over the entire city." Another part of the site was a former gypsum and limestone quarry mined for the construction of buildings in Paris and in the United States. This not-very-promising site was chosen by Baron Haussmann, the Prefet of Paris, for the site of a new public park for the recreation and pleasure of the rapidly-growing population of the new 19th and 20th arrondissements of Paris, which had been annexed to the city in 1860.
The work on the park began in 1864, under the direction of Alphand, who used all the experience and lessons he had learned in making the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes. Two years were required simply to terrace the land. Then a railroad track was laid to bring in cars carrying two hundred thousand cubic meters of topsoil. A thousand workers remade the landscape, digging a lake and shaping the lawns and hillsides. Explosives were used to sculpt the buttes themselves and the former quarry into a picturesque mountain fifty meters high with cliffs, an interior grotto, pinacles and arches. Hydraulic pumps were installed to lift the water from the canal of the Ourcq River up the highest point on the promontory, to create a dramatic waterfall.
The chief gardener of Paris, horticulturist Jean-Pierre Barillet-Deschamps, then went to work, planting thousands of trees, shrubs and flowers, along with sloping lawns. At the same time, the city's chief architect, Gabriel Davioud, designed the miniature Roman temple on the top of the promontory, modeled after that at Tivoli near Rome, as well as belvederes, restaurants modeled after Swiss chalets, and gatehouses like rustic cottages, completing the imaginary landscape.
The park was finally opened on April 1, 1867, coinciding with the opening of the Paris Universal Exposition, and instantly became a popular success with the Parisians.
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The heart of the park is an artificial lake of 1.5 hectares surrounding the Île de la Belvédère, a rocky island with steep cliffs made from the old gypsum quarry. On the top is the Temple de la Sibylle, thirty meters above the lake. An artificial waterfall plunges from the top of the belvedere through an underground grotto down the lake. The island is connected by two bridges with the rest of the park, the island is surrounded by paths, and a steep stairway of 173 steps leads from the top of the belvedere down through the grotto to the edge of the lake..
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The grotto is a vestige of the old gypsum and limestone quarry that occupied part of the park site. It is fourteen meters wide and twenty meters high, and has been sculpted and decorated with artificial stalactites as long as eight meters to make it resemble a natural grotto, in the style of the romantic English landscape garden of the 18th and 19th century. An artificial waterfall, fed by pumps, cascades from the top of the island and down through the grotto to the lake.
A 63-meter-long suspension bridge, eight meters above the lake, allows access to the belvedere. The bridge was designed by Gustave Eiffel, the creator of the Eiffel Tower.
A twelve meter long masonry bridge, twenty-two meters above the lake, known as the "suicide bridge", allows access to the belvedere from the south side of the park. After a series of well-publicized suicides, the bridge is now fenced with wire mesh.
The most famous feature of the park is the Temple de la Sibylle, a miniature version of the famous ancient Roman Temple of Vesta in Tivoli, Italy. The original temple was the subject of many romantic landscape paintings from the 17th to the 19th century, and inspired simiar architectural follies in the English landscape garden of the 18th century. The temple was designed by Gabriel Davioud, the city architect for Paris, who designed picturesque monuments for the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes, Parc Monceau, and other city parks. He also designed some of the most famous fountains of Paris, including the Fontaine Saint-Michel. The temple was finished in 1867.