The towns of Charenton-le-Pont (to the south) and Vincennes (to the north) both border directly on a pleasant wooded area called the Bois de Vincennes (Forest of Vincennes), which actually belongs to the city of Paris.
In the 13th century this patch of woods was used as a royal hunting grounds. King Philippe Auguste (a.k.a. Philippe II, 1165-1223) had a 12-kilometer wall built around it, and stocked it with deer and other huntable animals. (Just in case you thought game reserves were a modern invention.)
But King Philippe Auguste is better known for a much longer wall that was built during his reign around the entire city of Paris as it existed at that time. (See my post on Philippe Auguste’s wall.) In those days, the eastern edge of Paris was separated from the western edge of the Vincennes Forest by over half a league of countryside, which would be over three km in today’s parlance.
In the 18th century, under Louis XV (1710-1774), this forest was turned into a public promenade, only to be closed again in the 19th for use as a military training camp.
Then in 1860 the emperor Napoléon III (1808-1873) had it transformed into a park similar to the Bois de Boulogne at the other end of Paris, for reasons of symmetry, I suppose. But the Bois de Boulogne has always been more fashionable because it borders on one of the more affluent districts of Paris, and this one doesn’t.
Parts of the Bois de Vincennes were used for the notorious International Colonial Exposition of 1931. My father never told me about this, but I later discovered from an old photo album that he visited Paris three times in 1931 (on a business trip) and even went out to the Colonial Exposition and took at least ten photos of the pavilions, which were temporary buildings intended to show architectural styles from various French colonies in different parts of the world.
There are no people in any of his photos, even though the exposition was a popular attraction that year (perhaps he waited until no one was in the way). Also, there are no leaves on the trees, which suggests that he took the photos on one of his brief visits in April, though from his trip diary I don’t know how he could have found the time between business meetings and such. He would have had more time when he was there in June, just before his return to the United States, but then the trees would have looked different.
The whole point of the exposition was to glorify French colonialism, which in 1931 was more or less at its peak, even though rebellions were already starting in some of the colonies. I don’t know what my father’s opinion about this might have been at the time.
My photos in this post are from 2007, and my father’s are from 1931.
I revised the text in 2021.