Chateaux of Ile-de-France

Château de Versailles

The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added impr ...
Founded: 1682 | Location: Versailles, France

Conciergerie

The Conciergerie is a former prison and part of the former royal palace, the Palais de la Cité, which consisted of the Conciergerie, Palais de Justice and the Sainte-Chapelle. Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from the Conciergerie to be executed on the guillotine at a number of locations around Paris. The west part of the island was originally the site of a Merovingian palace, and was initia ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Paris, France

Château de Fontainebleau

The architecture and decor of the Fontainebleau palace exerted considerable influence on the artistic evolution not only of France but also of Europe. François I intended to make a new Rome of this royal residence. It was in this spirit that he brought artists of renown from Italy, whose intervention marks the decisive stage in the introduction of the aesthetic formulas of the Renaissance into France. Used by the kings ...
Founded: 1528 | Location: Fontainebleau, France

Château de Chantilly

The Château de Chantilly comprises two attached buildings: the Petit Château built around 1560 for Anne de Montmorency, and the Grand Château, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s. Owned by the Institut de France, the château houses the Musée Condé. It is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public. The estate"s connec ...
Founded: 1560/1875 | Location: Chantilly, France

Château de Vincennes

The Château de Vincennes is a massive 14th and 17th century French royal castle in the town of Vincennes in a suburb of Paris metropolis. Like other more famous châteaux it had its origins in a hunting lodge, constructed for Louis VII about 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX erected a more substantial manor: Louis IX is reputed to have departed from Vincennes on ...
Founded: 1340-1410 | Location: Vincennes, France

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le ...
Founded: 1658-1661 | Location: Maincy, France

Château de Pierrefonds

The Château de Pierrefonds includes most of the characteristics of defensive military architecture from the Middle Ages, though it underwent a major restoration in the 19th century. In the 12th century, a castle was built on this site. Two centuries later, in 1392, King Charles VI turned the County of Valois (of which Pierrefonds was part) into a Duchy and gave it to his brother Louis, Duke of Orléans. From 1 ...
Founded: 1393 | Location: Pierrefonds, France

Château de Malmaison

Formerly the residence of Empress Joséphine de Beauharnais (along with the Tuileries), Château de Malmaison was the headquarters of the French government from 1800 to 1802, and Napoleon"s last residence in France at the end of the Hundred Days in 1815. Joséphine de Beauharnais bought the manor house in April 1799 for herself and her husband, General Napoléon Bonaparte, the future Napol&eac ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Rueil-Malmaison, France

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a former royal palace which houses today the National Museum of Archaeology. The first castle was built on the site by Louis VI in around 1122. The castle was expanded by Louis IX of France in the 1230s. Louis IX"s chapelle Saint Louis at the castle belongs to the Rayonnant phase of French Gothic architecture. A 1238 charter of Louis IX instituting a regular religious servic ...
Founded: c. 1539 | Location: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

Château de Compiègne

The Château de Compiègne is a royal residence built for Louis XV and restored by Napoleon. Compiègne was one of three seats of royal government, the others being Versailles and Fontainebleau. It is located in Compiègne in the Oise department and is open to the public. Even before the chateau was constructed, Compiègne was the preferred summer residence for French monarchs, primarily for ...
Founded: 1751 | Location: Compiègne, France

Château de La Roche-Guyon

The present Château de La Roche-Guyon was built in the 12th century, controlling a river crossing of the Seine. In the mid-13th century, a fortified manor house was added below. Guy de La Roche fell at the Battle of Agincourt, and his widow was ousted from the Roche, after six months of siege, in 1419; she preferred to depart rather than accept Henry Plantagenet as her overlord. It came to the Liancourt family with ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: La Roche-Guyon, France

Château de Bagatelle

The Château de Bagatelle is a small neoclassical château with a French landscape garden in the 16th arrondissement of Paris. The château is intended for brief stays while hunting in the Bois and it was initially built as a small hunting lodge for the Maréchal d"Estrées in 1720. Bagatelle from the Italian bagattella, means a trifle, or little decorative nothing. In 1775, the Comte d&quo ...
Founded: 1777 | Location: Paris, France

Château de Sceaux

Château de Sceaux is a grand country house located in a park laid out by André Le Nôtre. It houses the Musée de l’Île-de-France, a museum of local history. The former château was built for Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV's minister of finance, who purchased the area in 1670. The present château, designed to evoke the style of Louis XIII, dates from the Second Empire. Some of Colbert's outbuildings remain, and th ...
Founded: 1856-1862 | Location: Hauts-de-Seine, France

Château de Maintenon

The Château de Maintenon is best known as being the private residence of the second spouse of Louis XIV, Madame de Maintenon. The construction of the castle began in the 12th and ended roughly in the 18th century. In the early 16th century it was purchased by Louis XII's treasurer Jean Cottereau, who transformed the castle into a country house. In the 17th century it was rebuilt for Madame de Maintenon, who purchase ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Maintenon, France

Château d'Écouen

The Château d"Écouen was built between 1538 and 1550 by the architect Jean Bullant for Anne de Montmorency, who was made Connétable de France in 1538. Anne de Montmorency had inherited the château in 1515, and his building campaigns were informed by his first-hand experience in overseeing royal works at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau. Anne de Montmorency was a major patron of the a ...
Founded: 1538-1550 | Location: Val-d'Oise, France

Château de Rambouillet

The château de Rambouillet is the summer residence of the Presidents of the French Republic. The château was originally a fortified manor dating back to 1368 and, although amputated of one of its sides at the time of Napoleon I, it still retains its pentagonal bastioned footprint. King Francis I died there, on 31 March 1547, probably in the imposing medieval tower that bears his name. The château was own ...
Founded: 1368 | Location: Rambouillet, France

Château de Champs-sur-Marne

The Château de Champs, at Champs-sur-Marne was built in its present form for the treasurer Charles Renouard de la Touane in 1699 by Pierre Bullet. After the first proprietor"s bankruptcy, another financier, Paul Poisson de Bourvalais, took up the project. Jean-Baptiste Bullet de Chamblain, the son of Pierre Bullet, finished Champs in 1706. Ten years later, Paul Poisson was in the Bastille on charges of embezzl ...
Founded: 1699 | Location: Champs-sur-Marne, France

Château de Brie-Comte-Robert

Château de Brie-Comte-Robert was built at the end of the 12th century, when Robert I of Dreux, brother of the king Louis VII, was lord of Brie. Archaeological clues, elements of decoration and the choice of construction techniques, suggest the architecture of this turning point in history. The castle remained in the Dreux family until 1254, then passed to the family of Châtillon. Through successive dowries and inherita ...
Founded: c. 1190 | Location: Brie-Comte-Robert, France

Château de Courances

The Château de Courances was built around 1630. In 1552, Côme Clausse, a notary and royal secretary to the King, acquired the former seigneurial dwelling at Courances, at the western edge of the Forest of Fontainebleau. His heir conveyed it in 1622 to Claude Gallard, another royal secretary, who is doubtless the builder of the present château, of an H-plan laid out on a rectangular platform that is surro ...
Founded: 1630 | Location: Courances, France

Château d'Auvers

Chateau d"Auvers was built in 1635 by Italian banker, Zaboni Lioni. It was completely renewed in 1756 by the family of Espremenil. Today the chateau is an art museum focusing on an impressionist art. The gardens are also worth of visit.
Founded: 1635 | Location: Auvers-sur-Oise, France

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Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.