Ghosts of the once human zoo

We are awfully sorry for those who expected to see pretty photos of the Eiffel Tower and other such popular romantic spots of Paris, Worshipblues has always had a predilection for abandoned decaying places but this location took our adventure to new ground.

On the eastern outskirts of Paris sprawls the Bois de Vincennes. This was once the hunting grounds for the kings of France, a military exercise area during the Revolution and in 1860 it became a public park after it was gifted to Paris by Napoleon III. This is where we stumbled into the Jardin Tropical.

The Jardin Tropical, once known as the Jardin Colonial, was the location of the Exposition Colaniale Nationale in 1907. This was a rather political expo in which the French decided to bring people over from their colonies to be “exhibited” to curious visitors alongside exotic animals, plants and curios in replicas of their villages. The intention was to no doubt bolster public support for the colonial campaigns and they were hugely successful events that took place throughout Europe and America.

It is reckoned that about 1 million people came to The Exposition Coloniale of 1907 alone. Here the men and women recruited from their homelands were put on display amidst mock representations of their traditional homes. We have learned that often these people were part of troupes that were rented out to other expos across the globe. Though they were paid for their services I am certain that they were exploited in many ways not only by the administrators of the “zoo” but by the village chiefs and agents of such expos.

What we witnessed during our visit was the decaying fragments of this sinister exhibition laying alongside memorials to the soldiers that lost their lives in WWI. I have been told that though this garden may look abandoned, it is actually being managed to look as if it were….I am not 100% convinced.

Above is The Red Pagoda part of the Village Indochine where the Vietnamese and Laotians where once housed. During WWI this building served as a hospital for the treatment of wounded from the Asian colonies. I believe this is a recent building placed here after the original Maison Cochinchinoise was pillaged and destroyed (burnt down I think)in 1984 . Today this is a memorial to all the colonial soldiers that died for France during WWI.

The original Maison Cochinoise that stood here was a grand structure brought over from the colonial exhibition of Marseilles that took place the year before. Here visitors were shown silks and served teas to show how well their lands were doing under the auspices of their colonial rulers. This was part of a “village” that included a rice paddy, a watchtower that no longer exist. However the bamboo forest, the Esplanade du Dinh (shown above), Naga and Tonkinese bridges still remain today.

Above is the Malagasy Kiosk (sometimes called the Reunion Kiosk). This was another “recycled” building in that it came from the 1900 World Fair. Here Malagasy musicians once played for the visitors. Today it is falling apart.

The picture above gives a feel of the Exposition Coloniale 1907. It also shows the Malagasy Pavilion on the background.

Above is what is left of the Congo Pavilion (village congolais). It not surprising that this has suffered fire damage in recent years. The buildings here are left relatively unprotected with only flimsy fences to keep people out.

Originally the Congo Pavilion was built to resemble a trading post. Here the curious visitors were served chocolate. The building had an office and shop on the ground floor and the second flour housed; ‘curieux spécimens de l’art indigène, fétiches de forme bizarre grossièrement sculptés dans des troncs d’arbres, animaux apocalyptiques aux attitudes au moins imprévues’(curious examples of indigenous art, bizarrely shaped fetishes crudely carved from tree trunks, and apocalyptic animals in improbable poses)

The Moroccan Pavilion is still in relatively good shape.

Unlike previous and indeed prior expositions which were torn down or sent elsewhere, the buildings here were earmarked to remain in the Jardin Tropical to serve other uses. The Moroccan Pavilion for example was to be incorporated as part of the Jardin’s agronomy school. The dilapidated conservatory extension is evidence of this taking place.

This pavilion was originally built to resemble southern Moroccan style. The deer that stood guarding it’s entrance has now disappeared.
In addition to what I have attempted to show above, the Exposition Coloniale of 1907 also housed a Tunisian Pavilion, an Indochina Pavilion, a Creole House to represent Guayane and the Dahomey (Benin) Pavilion. The people “exhibited” here disappeared after 6 months and there is no record of what became of them.Amid the rubble of past mania,propaganda, racism and misrepresentations, I can still see that there is something deeply poetic about this place. The now one legged coq galois once strutted across a globe. The beheaded Buddha, the undying bamboo, the statue of the almost forgotten Eugene Ettienne, the ravaged buildings all make the place once known as the Jardin Colonial look like a dumping ground for things to be forgotten. Yet somehow, I found real life metaphors everywhere I looked.

We saw very few other nosey visitors during our visit. Indeed most people were hurrying through this part of the park rather than loitering in it like us. I think that it is fair to say that the Jardin Tropical leaves an understandably foul taste in the memory of Paris, yet part of me really does hope that they preserve these buildings not so much as a reminder of the cruel past but more so as a marker of how far Parisian society has come. That said, there is a certain poetry to leaving these buildings to wither and fade like the collective amnesia that often goes hand in hand with such things.

I hope that you have enjoyed this post. I certainly enjoyed putting it together. There is precious little about this place in English online so I hope that my research helps others that stumble across the Jardin Tropical.

Thanks to the following sources for their added information:
Landscape Lover’s Blog
Peter’s Paris

Into the Woods