Bees and beekeeping have a long and treasured history in Paris.
In the nineteenth century, many people left the French countryside to live in the city of Paris, and some of them brought their beloved bees along too. They soon discovered that their bees loved Paris as much as they did.
A century ago, there were more than 1000 hives in the city of Paris. The bees almost disappeared in the decades after World War II, but a new generation of beekeepers has brought them back to the city. Today, it is estimated that there are close to 500 hives in the City of Light.
One of the first of the modern beekeepers was Jean Paucton, a retired accessory designer for the Palais Garnier, the baroque Second Empire opera house best known in the U.S. as the home of the fictional “Phantom of the Opera.”
Twenty-seven years ago, Monsieur Paucton studied beekeeping at the city’s Jardin du Luxembourg, where a school has been teaching beekeeping to Parisians for more than 150 years. He ordered his first hive, which was delivered to him sealed and full of bees at the opera house. He had intended to install them at his new country house, but it wasn’t ready.
Another opera employee suggested he put the hive on the roof where the bees wouldn’t bother anybody. (That employee had been raising trout in the opera’s water reservoir used for fighting fires. The opera sounds like a very interesting place!)
Monsieur Paucton lugged the hive up to the roof and opened it up. Two weeks later, he found it already full of honey. He decided to leave it there and over the years added four more.
Because Paris is pesticide-free and gardens and tree-lined streets are plentiful, bees are happy there. They make more honey in the city than in the country, according to many urban apiculturists.
The Paris-based National Apiculture Association runs a seven-year-old program to encourage beekeeping in cities, the largest such project in the world. The program has been a big success, and today the famous rooftops of Paris provide homes for the world’s most sophisticated bees.