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Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

Paris's oldest park: Les Jardins des Tuileries.

Parisian parks offer more than a green space in the midst of urban chaos; they tell tales of the city's past. No park can speak more than the city's oldest and largest garden, the Tuileries. Over the course of almost 500 years, the Tuileries Gardens have been frequented by French royalty, held a king and queen captive, been surrounded by flames during the French Revolution, and, today, sprawl from the Louvre to the Place de la Concorde, filled with tree-lined paths, fountains, and elaborate flower arrangements enjoyed by Parisians and tourists alike.

The Tuileries Gardens owe their existence to Catherine de Medici, the widow of French King Henri II. She commissioned the park in 1564 after moving into the Louvre Palace in Paris with her son François, the new king of France. The extravagant grounds, complete with exotic birds and an amphitheater, were meant to complement the new Tuileries Palace.

Access to these royal grounds was by invitation only until Louis XIV set another precedent with the Tuileries Gardens—he opened them to the public and created Paris's first public park. As the King of France he commissioned a French architect by the name of Le Notre to re-landscape the gardens in 1664 as a place where "honest men" could walk, and it is his redesign that remains on the ground today.

What started as a royal palace turned into a royal prison in 1789, when the Paris Commune took hold of the city during the French Revolution. After chasing Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette out of their residence in Versailles, the commune held the royal family captive in the Tuileries Palace for three years. The commune finally burned the palace to the ground in 1871, and the gardens were all that remained.

While the Tuileries Gardens lost their palace, they did not lose their grandeur. They were still the site of many more firsts, including the world's first piloted hot-air balloon launch in 1793 and first automobile show in 1898. Its expansive gardens, sculptures, and crowds have served as artistic inspiration for French Impressionists such as Manet and Pissarro. At 63 acres (25 hectares), the Tuileries Gardens are still Paris's largest gardens, a landmark with a lengthy history and blossoming future.

—Sarah Kliff