This Abandoned “Human Zoo” in Paris Will Blow Your Mind

On the outskirts of Paris, at the far edge of the Bois de Vincennes, lie the remains of one of the more bizarre aspects of France’s colonial history.

Though technically a botanical garden created to house foreign plants France lifted from the colonies, the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale was used during the first decade of the 20th century as a human zoo. In 1907 a “Colonial Exposition” was put together to draw crowds and show off all that France then had at its disposal thanks to colonial imports, including jewelry, coffee, and, of course, colonial “indigènes.” Several small villages were built to imitate villages in the Congo, Sudan, Madagascar, Indochina (now Vietnam), and other colonized regions. In essence, it was a really dark ancestor of Epcot. And people from the real versions of these towns were shipped to Paris to pretend to go about living their everyday lives as a grotesque kind of spectacle.

These false villages still stand, most of them crumbling and slowly being reabsorbed into the greenery, though they can still be visited. So if you’re ever in the mood for a guilt trip or a weird first date with a ghost story fanatic, here’s your chance you go around the world in about twenty minutes.