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The Historic Chateau Fontainebleau

Ile-de-France / Seine-et-Marne / Fontainebleau

The Chateau Fontainebleau is one of the most impressive examples of French architecture in the country. First built as a Royal Hunting Lodge by Louis VII in the twelfth century, the chateau has played host to French monarchs and emperors ever since. It is the only royal chateau to be continuously occupied for over seven centuries in one form or another.

Each has brought their own personal style and influence to bear on the design and layout of the buildings and gardens at Fontainebleau, leading Napoleon Bonaparte to christen the chateau "The House of the Centuries".

The current chateau's design was first influenced by King Francis I, who commissioned many of the features which are present today. Art historians call this period the First Ecole de Fontainebleau. In particular, Francis I commissioned the Cour Ovale - the Oval Courtyard, and it's medieval features are still an integral part of the oldest courtyard at the chateau.

The Gallery of Francis I, completed in 1540, was the first of its kind in France, and includes fresco's created by the Italian Mannerist painter Rosso Fiorentino. The gallery linked the king's personal chambers to the monks Trinitarian Chapel so Francis would not have to go outside. It has been recorded that the king wore the key to the gallery around his neck, and permitted only his most distinguished guests to visit it. No visit to the Chateau Fontainebleau would be complete without seeing this gallery.

Henry IV was responsible for what was possibly the greatest expansion of the building and its gardens. Known as the Second Ecole de Fontainebleau, the significant improvements made by Henry IV included the addition of the Baptistry Entrance and the digging of the canal. Henry had a bet with one of his ministers it would only take two days to fill - on the eighth day of filling he finally conceded.

It was also at this time that Henry IV's jeu de paume halls were built. The jeu de paume halls house the largest real tennis court in the world. It is one of only a handful which are in public hands, and still regularly hosts tournaments today.

The Chateau Fontainebleau has three chapels. The chapelle basse, or lower chapel, was consecrated by Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury who was canonised after he was murdered on the altar of Canterbury Cathedral in 1170. The upper chapel, or chapelle haute, features a stunning marble gallery designed by Philibert Delorme. The Chapel of the Trinity, with its baroque style decoration is breathtaking to behold with the stunning ceiling frescos on the journey of man.

The 18th century saw a period of relatively little change to the palace as interior design and structural alterations took precedence over building work. It is worth noting, however, that in the late 1700's two boudoirs were constructed by Louis XVI as a gift for Marie Antoinette. These two bedrooms are located directly on top of one another and represent the height of refinement. The silver bedroom or Boudoir de la Reine was decorated by the Rousseau brothers in 1786.

The French Revolution saw the furnishings of the chateau plundered and distributed throughout France. Fortunately though, unlike other royal residences, the building itself remained largely undamaged. In 1804, the Emperor Napoleon implemented a program of restoration and refurbishment. Fontainebleau was also the place Napoleon abdicated before going into exile and you can see the table he signed the abdication papers on.

It is worth mentioning that some items of furniture taken during the revolution were still being returned to the chateau almost 200 years later. A barrel shaped table, which is now on display in the silver bedroom, was returned to the palace in the 1960's.

Located around 40 miles from the centre of Paris, the Chateau's picturesque and convenient location has made it a favourite retreat for royals of all nationalities. Christina of Sweden lived at the chateau for many years following her abdication in 1654, and even Peter the Great of Russia spent time there.

Today the Chateau Fontainebleau is also home to the Ecoles d'Art Americaines which was established at the end of the First World War. General Pershing, with the intention of strengthening the quality of the US military band, instructed Walter Damrosch to create the school at Fontainebleau, where US troops had been stationed. Damrosch, conductor with the New York Philharmonic, did just that, and since 1921 the school has played host to some of the brightest and best musical talent in the world. In 1923, The École des Beaux-Arts was established, expanding the schools focus to include not only music, but painting, sculpture and architecture as well.

Set in beautifully cultivated grounds and with four courtyards and three formal gardens, the exterior of the palace alone is a delight to behold. Louis XIV was responsible for creating the largest formal garden in Europe, The Grand Parterre which includes a round ornamental lake, overlooked by a statue of Tiberinus.

With its majestic construction, lavish interior decoration and stunning gardens, the Chateau Fontainebleau is, without doubt, one of the finest palaces in the world, charting the history of France and is a worthy addition to any visitors itinerary.

Visiting the Chateau

A visit to the Chateau Fontainebleau could take the whole day, but if you cannot spare the time visit the Grand Appartements and grounds. You can make your own way round with audio guides or take a guided tour. Under 18 years old are free of charge but don't get a free audio guide - additional audio guides can be hired for them for 1€. Extra concessions for students, the disabled and others.

The Grands Appartements

A self-guided visit, with the provision of a free audio guide for paying visitors. This tour includes the Papal Apartment, the Renaissance Rooms, the Chapel of Saint Saturnin , the sovereign Grands Appartements, the Diana Gallery and the Napoleon I Museum.

Full price 11€, concessions 9€. Approx time to do full tour, just over 2 hours.

The Petits Appartements

The Petits Appartements date from the reign of Louis XV, who installed a series of small offices for his own private use on the ground floor of the Grands Appartements Wing. From the start of the First Empire they comprised two separate sets of apartments for Napoleon and Josephine, and then Marie-Louise plus offices for his ministers.Their current appearance is the result of the final adjustments made under the two Empires

Full price 6.50€, concessions 5€

The Appartement des Chasses and Furniture Museum

The Princes apartments and Furniture Museum (detailing styles through the palace's history) are only accessible via escorted tour. Visitors who buy an escorted tour ticket can purchase a reduced-price ticket for the Grands Appartements tour.

Full price 6.50€, concessions 5€

Fontainebleau During the Second Empire - Escorted Tour

This escorted tour also allows access to the Grands Appartements tour. Please check times before arriving / booking. Price 15.50€.

There is a lot to see and do at Fontainebleau, including the grounds which are free. Many visitors bring picnics and join the locals to enjoy the magnificent surroundings while eating.

Getting to Chateau Fontainebleau

Getting to the Chateau is relatively easy, and we have never had an issue when driving if you can read signs.

By car follow sat-nav to Fontainebleau, or from Paris the A6, and then signs to Chateau. Parking is straightforward and we found on certain days was free on the surrounding streets. Check the parking signs carefully though.

By train from Gare-de-Lyon to Fontainebleau Avon station. Catch the bus to Les Lilas (Ligne A) and get off at the Chateau stop!

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