Timeless Timber

Planted either in 1601 or ’02 depending on who you ask — I guess after four hundred years why squabble over a few hundred days — sits the oldest tree in Paris. Imagine how many transitions this arbre has calmly witnessed over four centuries: powerful monarchy into bloody revolt, classical Renaissance art into decadent Baroque, candlepower into gas lighting, boxers into briefs leading later to a boxer-brief hybrid…all the true milestones of man.

In the small Square René Viviani, the tree sits just across the river from Notre Dame, having witnessed the sad slow decay of the neglected cathedral as it crumbled its days away until 1831, when Victor Hugo wrote a fictional story about a hunchback living in its towers. This enormously popular novel did for Notre Dame what “The Da Vinci Code” did for the St. Sulpice church: flooding it with curious tourists and appreciative fans until the government agreed to an immense restoration. Without it, the cathedral may have continued to fall apart into oblivion. In a way you could say the hunchback literally saved Notre Dame, while this tree watched it all from the front row.

Recently a couple of concrete supports have been added to help out structurally, but it still blooms every year and seems quite content to try a few more centuries on for size. And turns out I may have a stronger connection to it than I realized, as this tree is thought to have started out as a sapling from…Virginia of all places! (Wave flag here). Nothing like some good ol’ American perseverance. And after so many years of dodging disease, saw blades, and even the bombshell that ripped its top half off during WWI, who’s to say it won’t be around long enough to see, for example, the next innovative reinterpretation of the boxer-brief?


  • Aahhh, some of my favorite photo memories were of this tree and the views that surround it. Quite a back story, and a monumental work of survival. If only those branches could speak….

  • I’ve spent the evening catching up on your blog entries since you returned in June, and wish to thank you for showing me the kinds of things I would get excited about seeing in Paris if I were to ever get there.

    Again, welcome back.

    • You’re very welcome. WHEN you visit, I hope this blog will have given you some ideas for things to check out!

  • I have a picture of this tree – just by coincidence – from a trip to Paris. But I didn’t know the whole story. Wow! I own a piece of property in good ole Virginia, so I am feeling very proud indeed! Thanks for sharing.

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