I hadn’t heard of France’s Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale until discovering the work of Paris-based photographer Shane Lynam. Originally opened in 1907, the gardens were once home to a colonial exhibition, an international event which hoped to boost trade with France’s colonial empires.
It was here that six distinct villages were built – one from Madagascar, one from Congo, one from Sudan, and others from Tunisia, Morocco and Indochine. These villiages were horrifically populated with inhabitants, monuments and product all taken from these territories. In another words, the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale was a ‘human zoo’.
It seems shocking to think that this sort of thing existed, but colonial exhibits were a big part of early 20th Century European history. Indeed, it’s said that one million people attended the 1907 exhibition in Paris, and French historian Pascal Blanchard estimates that one and a half billion people visited universal or colonial exhibits throughout the world from 1870 to 1930.
Today, the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale is a different place. Over time, parts have become vandalized and burned. The French authorities simply neglect it. Buildings remain abandoned and the exotic plantations have disappeared altogether.
Despite what you might feel should be done to a place like this, it’s understandable that France has it’s hands tied. If they restore it, many would say that they were paying service to a part of their history that doesn’t deserve to be commemorated. Yet destroying it would feel like they were attempting to cover up their past. And so, for now, it remains. Standing as a ghost town, haunted by the spirits of it’s past.
More photos from Shane’s series can be viewed here.