Château de Méréville

Méréville, France

Château de Méréville is known of its landscape gardens made in the late eighteenth century. The château was first built as a medieval fortress, and then rebuilt on the medieval buildings' remains in 1768 for Jean Delpech. The 1768 phase was provided with modest formal gardens.

The château and its park in the French gardening style were bought in 1784 as the last of his country houses by the financier Jean-Joseph de Laborde, one of the richest financiers of the Ancien Régime, after his neighbours gave him the chance to do so. On this marshy land he decided to rebuild the château and create a large landscape park to his own taste. To this end he commissioned major artists such as Bélanger (famous in this decade for having constructed Bagatelle in only two months for the comte d'Artois), the famous cabinetmaker Leleu, the sculptor Augustin Pajou and the painter Claude Joseph Vernet.

In 1786 Bélanger's plans were threatening to prove too expensive even for the marquis (he habitually spent without keeping count of spending, which as a sensible administrator the marquis could not accept). Bélanger was thus sacked as chief architect in May that year and replaced by Hubert Robert, though Bélanger remained onsite for the construction of the circular temple of filial piety (built in honour of the marquis' daughter Natalie, containing a marble bust of her by Augustin Pajou).

The following year, 1787, in some of the most exceptional hydrographic work of the period, the re-routing of the Juine took a long time to achieve. Next, an entirely new type of structure was built on a small island in the centre of the main lake - a rostral column, in honour of the marquis' two young sons Edouard (1762–1786) and Ange Auguste (1766–1786), news of whose disappearance had arrived in France earlier that year. They had died young at sea in Lituya Bay during the La Pérouse expedition.

The park is in the marquis' own image, showing his admiration for navigation and discovery (not only the rostral column, but also the cenotaph in honour of the Englishman Captain Cook, are the most obvious indicators of this), his love of nature and beautiful plants (linked to exploration in this era of botany and classification - the park is stuffed with rare imported species, acclimatised to their new habitat by the rich soil of the Méréville valley), and his memory of his youth in the Basque and the mountainous Pyrénées (a rocky waterfall, spiral staircases down into grottoes, and dénivellés). It also shows off his riches, with bridges 'aux boules d'or' (with gold spheres), grottoes adorned with thousands of pieces of gold leaf or precious and semi-precious stones, and above all a pebble-paved road which gives the park such a great cachet.



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Founded: 1768
Category: Castles and fortifications in France

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