An Ocean of Lights

Winter magic at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris: Mademoiselle Lili immerses herself in a truly enchanted world. 

When my train pulled into Austerlitz Station late one evening last year, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I stepped onto the platform and was greeted by the sight of a giant dinosaur over 15 metres high, shining above the treetops of the neighbouring Jardin des Plantes in the dark blue night sky. This sparked my curiosity and a few days later, I returned with some friends to find myself immersed in what can only be called a fairytale-like winter wonderland. Bees and ladybirds as large as cars were crawling along the edge of the paths, larger-than-life tigers and life-sized whales stood tall as majestic light sculptures and butterflies floated through the night, all in the form of delicate constructions made of colourful translucent paper and metal. The entire park was populated with illuminated species of animals that are already extinct or facing the threat of extinction, as explained on educational information boards at each of the more than 30 installations that can be discovered on an evening stroll through the grounds. Nevertheless, you don’t have to be a child to be captivated by this silent magic on a cold winter’s night.

The festival of lights with a perfectly fitting name, “Espèces en voie d’illumination” (Illuminated Species), is now returning to Paris for the second time and immersing itself in the world of the ocean, the major theme of the year in the Jardin des Plantes. Throughout the year, exhibitions, films, presentations and workshops all over the park, gallery and zoo have reminded visitors of the beauty and diversity of a habitat that suffers from climate warming, exploitation and pollution like no other environment on Earth. In cooperation with the China Light Festival, the circuit of illuminated figures has yet again been designed specifically for Paris’ botanical garden, which was created back in the 17th century. 

At this year's event, the blue of the night will merge with the colours of the ocean, with an impressive parade of giant squid, sharks, whales, corals, dolphins and some giant versions of tiny film characters sure to put a smile on the faces of younger visitors – the clownfish and the regal blue tang from “Finding Nemo” and “Finding Dory” – coming ashore in Paris. These illuminated attractions will help the City of Light to live up to its name as the park takes its place alongside the dazzling and sparkling winter wonderland created in the Champs Elysées and stretching right along the Boulevard Haussmann and its huge department stores in perfect timing with the start of the festive season. The best way to get in the mood for Christmas in a calm, contemplative and above all peaceful setting, however, is by taking a stroll through the Jardin des Plantes. 

“Espèces en voie d’illumination” in the Jardin des Plantes from 19th November 2019 to 19th January 2020 (daily from 6–11pm), tickets available online at www.jardindesplantesdeparis.fr

© Silke Bender