Sybille Temple in the Parc des Buttes Chaumont, Paris

The Sybille temple in Butte-Chaumont Park

Situated on a rocky crag in the 9th arrondissement, the 61 acres of Buttes-Chaumont park offers some of the best views of the city as well as the Sacré-Cœur.

It owes its creation to the grand urban planning of Haussmann as Napoleon III set his eye to developing the most livable and beautiful city in the world. Haussmann amplified the natural hill by importing stone to give the park a mountainous appearance.

However, the history of this site is somewhat less than romantic.

In the 13th century, the site was chosen for public displays of justice called the Montfaucon.

The gibbet of Montfaucon

Saint Louis (reigned 1223-1270) erected the first gibbet. The location was not accidental. It could be seen from the city, but was far enough away to keep the stench of rotting flesh from interfering with the people’s normal stench of human filth. Charles IV (reigned 1322-1328) tore down the wooden gibbet and replaced it with a massive stone structure with sixteen columns. It stood over 30 feet high and could accommodate the decaying bodies of dozens of criminals.

“Bodies could be left there for two or three years or more, at the end of which time–crows and (in bad times) wolves having done their worst–they were a gruesome sight, and their noisome stench wafted towards the Faubourg du Temple. When they were cut down, their remains were cast into a pit at the centre of the gibbet structure.” (Colin Jones, Paris: The Biography of a City, p. 70-71.)

The site later enjoyed a stint as a sewage dump, disposal yard for used-up horses, and even a quarry for gypsum.

In the modern era, all that death, sin, and stench was wiped away as the site became one of Paris’ most beloved parks.