Paris’s legendary botanical gardens are as secretive as they are huge, and here scientific pursuits merge with fantasy on a regular basis.
Access the botanical gardens, or Jardins des Plantes, is via the Rue Geoffroy St. Hilaire, where you’ll find the oldest gate of the gardens. You quickly stumble upon the stone arcade and spheric drinking trough of this remarkable lion fountain, sculpted in 1854 by naturalist sculptor Henri Alfred Jacquemart.
At first glance, this seems like just another decorative fountain topped with regal felines. But on the contrary, this one is not your usual sculpture. Even though water no longer runs beneath this fountain, a closer look is mandatory by walking up to the top.
While one of the sculpted beasts is roaring with a Metro Goldwyn Mayer attitude and protecting a cub between its giant paws, his bronze companion is actually snacking on something you might have some difficulty identifying. Get even closer, and you’ll be horrified to discover that this lion’s dinner is a rigid, detached human foot, severed at the ankle!
An alternative explanation is that the foot is uncovered, and the rest of the corpse, on which the lion is standing, is buried under drifting sand. You can see a small pouch next to the foot, the lion’s paw prints in the “sand” or loose soil, and faint indications of leg in the contour of the base, indicating a traveler has died in the desert, been covered by sand, and the lion is discovering the corpse.
Suddenly, this whimsical fountain no longer seems so innocent. Yet once you see this morbid depiction of a human as dinner, it’s not easy to get rid of that uneasy feeling as you admire the beautiful craftsmanship.
Know Before You Go
Metro Censier Daubenton, Place Monge (7) - Gare d'Austerlitz ( 5 or10)