Paris has a wealth of public space but Luxembourg Gardens is my favorite.
The Luxembourg Palace and Gardens were conceived in 1611 and built soon after by King Henri IV’s widow, Marie d’Medici. As a native of Florence, Marie missed the splendor of the Italian Renaissance and was instrumental in bringing a little civilization to a Paris full of dilapidation, sewage and filth.
While the gardens currently provide a quiet space in the center of the bustling Left Bank, at the time of their construction (and until the revolution in 1789) they were considered to be on the outskirts of Paris. Napoleon and Josephine would actually use the palace and gardens to escape the noise, traffic and responsibilities of Paris.
There is a dark past to every corner of Paris and Luxembourg Gardens is no different. During Nazi Occupation, Hermann Goring made the Gardens and Palace the headquarters for his Luftwaffe and immediately after settling in he and his team commenced planning the bombing of London. Goring even occupied a suite of apartments at the Luxembourg Palace to accommodate his extended stays in Paris throughout the war.
My introduction to Luxembourg Gardens was reading Les Miserables and A Moveable Feast in high school. It was here that Jean Valjean and Cosette would take their daily walks and where Marius first meets and falls in love with Cosette. In A Moveable Feast, a penniless Hemingway skips on lunch and spends his afternoon staring at statues of Verlaine and Baudelaire to distract himself from hunger.