Sunday, 18 October 2015

paris' royal backyard

a  v i s i t   t o   s a i n t - g e r m a i n - e n - l a y e

You know how when you read a book there are different levels? I'm introducing this concept to my blog. While this post might be about France's national museum of archaeology (one of the largest ones in Europe), I won't really talk about the Paleolithic or Merovingian period. Mostly because I'll end up saying a lot of nonsense or things that don't make sense, which is probably the same.

You can be passionate about archaeology, but if like me you're not, going to this royal palace in Saint-Germain-en-Laye still makes a lot of sense. The architecture is simply stunning, the view from the rooftops is breathtaking, it's surrounded by an incredible park & the walls hold stories that are too good not to be shared.

The story of the royal castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a story of several castles. The first one was built by Louis VI around 1122 & expanded by Louis IX. Named the Grand Chatelet I'm mentioning it & only briefly for two reasons:
1. So I get to write that it was burned by the Black Prince in 1346, making it sound like an episode of "Games of Thrones";
2. Because the magnificent chapel you can see here survived the fire.

Louis XIV was baptised in this chapel.

And it's not just that I like taking selfeets (although that's true too) but the light coming into this chapel & the way it plays with the bricks & stones is magical. If you've been to Sainte Chapelle at Palais de la Cite you will see the resemblances very quickly. Both were built by Pierre de Montreuil (Louis IX's favourite architect).

So exit the Grand Chatelet. In comes Chateau Vieux that was rebuilt on the old foundations by Charles V in the 1360s, rebuilt again by Francis 1 & altered & reconstructed several times since. This is the castle you see on the pictures, a mixture of Gothic & Renaissance that works surprisingly well. The Renaissance being the stronger influence, your first immediate impression when setting foot in the inner courtyard, is that of being transported to Venice. Not an unpleasant feeling.

And then there's Chateau Neuf. The construction of this castle was started by Henry II & finished by Henry IV & although it had some impressive gardens with descending terraces introducing the Italian garden style to France and laying the groundwork for what would later become the famous French formal garden (reaching its apex with Andre le Notre at Versailles), it was abandoned in 1660 by Louis XIV, apparently because the castle was collapsing little by little and taking in water.

He moved to Chateau Vieux where he stayed until 1682 before leaving Saint-Germain-en-Laye behind him for Versailles.

Here are the beautiful rooftop views from Chateau Vieux, the remaining castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, overlooking the park:

The beautiful church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye:

F for Francis (Francois):

On the right of the picture is where Chateu Neuf used to be:

But the story of the castle doesn't end with Louis XIV's departure of course, although he was the last of several French kings to be born here. Louis XIV turned the castle over to King James II of England who lived here for 13 years after his exile from Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 & is now buried in the church of Saint-Germain-en-Laye (the one you can spot form the rooftops of the castle).

After that, several Jacobites (supporters of the exiled Stuarts) remained in the castle until the French Revolution. Napoleon I established his cavalry officers' training school here. Napoleon III started a restoration of the castle in 1862 & five year later it became the Musee des Antiquites Nationales.

In 1919 the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, ending hostilities between the Allies of WWI & Austria was signed at the castle & during WWII it served as the headquarters of the German Army in France. And finally, in 2005, it was renamed Musee d'Archeologie Nationale.

I also went to have a look at the Pavillon Henri IV, close to the castle. As you can see, Louis XIV was born in the room right behind this door.

Visiting the chateau is very easy. It's close to Paris, only a 20/25 minutes ride on the RER from Opera (Line A) & the entrance to the park & castle is right across the RER station.

Open every day from 10am to 5pm except on Tuesdays. Entrance fee: Full price 7€/reduced price tickets at 5.50€. Free entrance every first Sunday of the month.

More info here: Musee Archeologie Nationale

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