Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France

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 service at the chapel that we first learn of a chapel having been built at the royal castle. This was a Sainte Chapelle, to house a relic of the Crown of Thorns or the True Cross. Its plan and architecture prefigure the major Sainte-Chapelle which Saint Louis built within the Palais de la Cité at Paris between 1240 and 1248. Both buildings were built by Louis's favourite architect Pierre de Montreuil, who adapted the architectural formulae invented at Saint Germain for use in Paris. A single nave ends in a chevet, with almost all the wall areas filled by tall thin glass windows, between which are large exterior buttresses. The ogives of the vault rest on columns between the bays and the column bases are placed behind a low isolated arcade. The building can thus be open and empty of all internal supports. This large number of windows is also enabled by the pierre armée technique, with metal elements built into the structure of the walls to ensure the stones' stability. The west wall is adorned by a large Gothic rose window in the 'rayonnant' Gothic style. It was in this chapel in 1238 that Baldwin II of Constantinople presented Louis with the relic of the crown of thorns and, though they were intended for the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, they were housed here until the Paris chapel was consecrated in April 1248.

The castle was burned by the Black Prince in 1346; of it, and only the Gothic chapel remains from the site's medieval phase. This Château Vieux was rebuilt by King Charles V in the 1360s on the old foundations.

16th–18th centuries

The oldest parts of the current château were reconstructed by Francis I in 1539, and have subsequently been expanded several times.

Henry II built a separate new château (le Château Neuf) nearby, to designs by Philibert de l'Orme. It stood at the crest of a slope, which was shaped, under the direction of Étienne du Pérac into three massive descending terraces and narrower subsidiary mediating terraces, which were linked by divided symmetrical stairs and ramps and extended a single axis that finished at the edge of the Seine.

The gardens laid out at Saint-Germain-en-Laye were among a half-dozen gardens introducing the Italian garden style to France that laid the groundwork for the French formal garden. Unlike the parterres that were laid out in casual relation to existing châteaux, often on difficult sites originally selected for defensive reasons, these new gardens extended the central axis of a symmetrical building façade in rigorously symmetrical axial designs of patterned parterres, gravel walks, fountains and basins, and formally planted bosquets; they began the tradition that reached its apex after 1650 in the gardens of André Le Nôtre. According to Claude Mollet's model the parterres were laid out in 1595 for Henry IV by Mollet, trained at Anet and the progenitor of a dynasty of royal gardeners.

Louis XIV was born at Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1638. One of du Pérac's retaining walls collapsed in 1660, and Louis undertook a renovation of the gardens in 1662. At his majority he established his court here in 1666, but he preferred the Château Vieux: the Château Neuf was abandoned in the 1660s and demolished. From 1663 until 1682, when the king removed definitively to Versailles, the team that he inherited from the unfortunate Fouquet — Louis Le Vau, Jules Hardouin-Mansart and André Le Nôtre laboured to give the ancient pile a more suitable aspect.

The gardens were remade by André Le Nôtre from 1669 to 1673, and include a 2.4 kilometre long stone terrace which provides a view over the valley of the Seine and, in the distance, Paris.

Louis XIV turned the château over to King James II of England after his exile from Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. King James lived in the château for thirteen years, and his daughter Louise-Marie Stuart was born in exile here in 1692. King James lies buried in the nearby Church of Saint-Germain. Many Jacobites - supporters of the exiled Stuarts - remained at the château until the French Revolution, leaving in 1793.

After the death of the Duke de Noailles in 1766, who had been responsible for the continuing Jacobite dominance because of his preference to give rooms to Jacobites, the British dominance quickly decreased and more French inhabitants were given lodgings in the chateau: the last member of the Stuart court was Theresa O'Connel, who died in 1778. The last descendants of the British Jacobites, by then mostly bearing French names, were evicted when the building was confiscated by the government during the French revolution in 1793.

19th–21st centuries

In the 19th century, Napoleon I established his cavalry officers' training school here. Napoleon III initiated restoration of the castle by Eugène Millet, starting in 1862. It became the Musée des Antiquités Nationales (National Museum of Antiquities) in 1867, displaying the archeological objects of France. Auguste Lafollye took over responsibility for the restoration on Millet's death in 1879, continuing until 1889. His goal, and that of his successor Honoré Daumet, was to restore the French Renaissance style of Francis I.

On September 10, 1919 the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, ending hostilities between the Allies of World War I and Austria, was signed at the château.

During the German occupation (1940–44), the château served as the headquarters of the German Army in France.

The museum was renamed the Musée d'Archéologie Nationale in 2005. Its collections include finds from Paleolithic to Merovingian times.

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Details

Founded: c. 1539
Category: Castles and fortifications in France

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4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Sarah Bouché de Vitray (13 months ago)
Those castle is gorgeous and has got an archeology museum really well done. There is also another exhibition that change every few months. It's inside the city next to a huge part with playground and next to the exit of RER A. Also beside bar and restaurants. Perfect place with a perfect location and a view of Paris from the edge of the garden. Really recommend to visit.
Thomas Huddle (2 years ago)
Brilliant Sunday afternoon out. Fantastic views across the castle gardens, La Defense visible on the horizon. Lots to see and do. Resting place of King James VII of Scotland (II of England) in a building adjacent to the Chateaux- beautiful plaque on display in the outside wall of building (see photos). Recommend highly for a visit ?
William De Smet (2 years ago)
With its wonderful large garden it is a real haven of peace. The International School in the neighborhood gives it the international flavor I adore, you can hear all kinds of languages ?. It gives an « aire » of holiday all year long. A parc with class
Sandra Brassard (2 years ago)
What a beautiful château! This is where Louis XIV was born and lived until he moved to Versailles! Great look off from the gardens. This is not a Château that you can visit inside, except for the museum part and the interior court. Still worth the ride there! While you are there, visit the archeology museum, which is where the world archives are! Fantastic museum :)
Jovanka Mitic (2 years ago)
Beautiful town, peaceful and quaint. People were nice and cafes so full of energy. I loved watching the happy people take their time to spend together! Noone sat inside but enjoyed the weather outdoors - it was picturesque!
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