Parc de Boulogne - Edmond-de-Rothschild; Paris, France
I love exploring abandoned buildings, and I did it all the time when I lived in Los Angeles. Paris is a much more compact city, however, and it never occurred to me that there might be abandoned places within the city limits. When I stumbled on a website about the Rothschild Mansion, I canceled my plans for the afternoon and set out to see it for myself.
There are a lot of differing accounts about the history behind the abandoned mansion. Many of them point to royal heritage; supposedly Napoleon's sister used it as a summer house. Other stories claim that a Saudi Arabian prince bought it in the '70s, but never fixed it up, and it's just been sitting there, out of use. The stories range from the believable to the fantastic.
The mansion sits at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, and on a warm day, the grounds are filled with students and sunbathers. When I got to the park, I was met with a small disappointment: a high fence surrounds the castle grounds, making access extremely difficult. Moreover, there are signs with security camera warnings, and since there are so many people within sight of the fence, I decided not to risk climbing over.
I was about to leave when I saw two men exiting the grounds (I'll be a bit vague on details here). I went up and talked to them, and they turned out to be quite friendly. One of them is a native Parisian, and he shook his head when I asked him about the history. Apparently all the stories you find online are wildly untrue; the house belonged to the Rothschild family until World War II, when they were forced to leave the country due to their Jewish heritage. During the war, the house was used as an interrogation and torture center, and there were times when the rolling lawns were covered in dead bodies.
Although the Rothschild family returned to reclaim the house after the war, they couldn't live there with its gruesome history, and it has been abandoned ever since.
The men agreed to show me the secret entrance, and we walked through the mansion grounds together. Despite the tragic stories behind the house, the grounds are quite lovely, and I can imagine guests strolling up the long drive to join the hosts for a quiet weekend away from the city.