Walking around the neighborhood of Belleville, you might be overwhelmed by the incredible hilltop views of Paris, the cheap boulangeries, or the readily available and delicious ethnic cuisine – but the Parc de Belleville might be overlooked. After all, the terraced park is frequented most often only by locals eager to enjoy a day off beneath the shaded paths, and the park is certainly not a hotspot tourist attraction unlike the Jardin des Tuileries. However, stopping in the modern leisure space yields a unique experience and a beautiful view.
The hill of Belleville has a long history. The hill was used in the 18th century for farming and grain production, as it was quite some ways out from the city center, but a gypsum quarry in the 19th century brought a flood of working-class families to the area, and to this day the neighborhood is known for being home to several waves of immigration from Jews, Spaniards, Chinese, and Algerians. The park itself – not much larger than the Place des Vosges, though its intense verticality makes it seem very large – was constructed in 1988, designed by the architects François Debulois and Paul Brichet. It features snaking paved and cobbled paths around the hill, all shaded by flowering trees and offering views onto numerous playgrounds and even a vineyard that grows pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes. The upper level of the park is a sunny little sprawl at the base of an outdoor amphitheater, and a few telescopes at the top allow visitors a unique, beautiful view of the Parisian skyline.
Though the park is less crowded than many other larger parks, on a sunny weekend you can find plenty of people sunbathing on the grassy upper level. It’s a popular spot to go for a jog, or even to bring your kids – the most recent addition to the Parc de Belleville being a third playground that plays with the uneven terrain while welcoming children safely, and this playful interaction with the hilly terrain of Belleville can be found all throughout the architecture and landscaping of the park, creating a space that very much fits within its surroundings, instead of the meticulously crafted spaces of the Jardin des Tuileries or the Place des Vosges. You would be pretty hard-pressed to find some square trees in the Parc du Belleville.
Another quality that makes the park stand out immensely is the difference in noise levels. Other tourist hotspots like the Jardin des Tuileries or the Jardin du Luxembourg are filled with vendors selling Eiffel Tower trinkets, splashing fountains, and chatting tourists, but none of that excessive noise can be found in the Parc du Belleville. In fact, on a typical day throughout most of the park, the loudest source of noise is from the plentiful birds nesting in the trees above, giving this park a uniquely natural atmosphere that fits in with this theme of a park that doesn’t sculpt its environment, but instead molds itself inside it.
However, possibly because it’s not nearly a tourist destination, the park isn’t currently as well-maintained as parks like the Jardin des Tuileries or Place des Vosges. As of now, none of the fountains are operating even though it’s well within the season for running water, whereas almost every fountain in the Jardin des Tuileries is operational. The interior hall and community center on the upper level seems indefinitely closed, and is covered by graffiti, although much of the park still operates as grounds for the community to converge and interact, with local artisans and jewelers selling their goods on fold-out tables. The Parc du Belleville has survived with passionate use and support by its community.