Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Le Chateau de Fontainebleau

The last few warm and sunny days of Indian Summer are over.  It’s depressingly dark by 6pm and raining non stop in Toronto.
Some light is much needed.  Why not to turn for some glam and glitter to the most authentic sparkling images. Palace of Fontainebleau is less than  an hour away from Paris, proudly displays a spectacular collection of chandeliers different in every room.

The sky was pretty dramatic, so low and heavy, and menacing.  
Say France and Royal Palace and one immediately is thinking of Versailles and its parks and canal and fountains.
I’m taking a risk to be misunderstood if I dare to say that I wasn’t that much impressed with all that grandeur and glamour of Kings chambers  with all those some when white ostrich plumages covered for centuries with layers of dust and simple plank floors. For some reason I expected …more.

The historical staircase where Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard.
Yes , world famous Hall of Mirrors is very impressive, who would argue, otherwise it’s all very fragmented, well staged and restored glory of the past, whatever survived Revolution and Commune cataclysms and people’s violent rage against kings.

Too much was lost to be never retrieved. Nevertheless millions of tourists grown up on Duma’s and Druon’s loosely historical novels or at least Anne and Serge Golons’ Angelique series are flooding the palace and gardens.

Versailles is surrounded with aura of a Myth. One still can envision unimaginable festivities staged by Moliere for King Sun, fantastic fireworks and feasts, nobility crowds, enchanted sweet music and ballet scenes, or be carried away by fragrant dreams of Petit Trianon and the hay days, or better to say nights, of the glamorous and nonchalant Marie Antoinette.

The very least I’d like to sound dismissive regarding the pride and masterpiece of French architecture, arts, landscaping, royal glory  and history. Not at all of course! Who am I to not to become speechless  walking through those gold gilded rooms with crystal chandeliers? It took the whole country resource to build Versailles so the Sun King Louis XIV could proudly shine upon the world.

Imagine for a moment that somewhere in Europe there are not one but several as strikingly beautiful palace complexes larger and more glamorous, which suffered  more looting and disrepair and heavy bombarding during WWII, and catastrophic vandalism, but were painstakingly restored to their formidable splendor up to fantastic inlayed floors and silk wall coverings. The palaces, gardens and fountains I’m referring to are Peterhof built by Peter the Great and Catherine’s Palace in Saint Petersburg area which are now World  Heritage Site and Russian heritage. But this would be the whole new story…A propos so to speak.

Back to France. Versailles has largely overshadowed another Royal Chateau of Fontainebleau to such an extend that we were almost the only visitors on that summer day not to mention a Japanese group of overexcited tourists.
Very unjust, though it is on a smaller scale but nevertheless beautiful, lovingly restored, with a huge park which we couldn’t explore as much as we’d like due to a thunderstorm.
Todays Fontainebleau is a classic layered cake as much as the famous pastry of Mille Feuille and equally delicious.

As always the case with Royal Chateaux each suzerain starting with Francis I, who invited Italian architects and Leonardo da Vinci, left his mark adding the wing or the court, the gallery, the new garden layout or just redecorating.
Several kings of France were born here and many honorable guests including Peter the Great of Russia stayed there.
By the late 16th century the Italian Mannerism introduced to France was reshaped into highly influential Fontainebleau style which transformed metal and woodwork, sculpture and painting, interior style and outdoor patterned gardens.

While the Revolution left Versailles savaged and empty the same fate was destined to Fontainebleau which was in desperate condition before Napoleon decided to transform the Château de Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur.

Bonaparte made Fontainebleau his home and later in1814 he bade farewell to his Old Guard  from the top of the famous staircase at the main courtyard before going to exile. His Empire style is well preserved till our days and that’s what visitors can see.
Today the Chateau is the home to the Ecoles d'Arts Americaines founded in 1921, which is primarily  the American  Conservatory offering the best musical education to young musicians. At various years it’s staff included  Ravel, Stravinsky, Mstislav Rastropovich, Leonard Bernstein and Nadia Boulanger.
The École des Beaux-Arts at Fontainebleau, founded in 1923, is focused on architectural education which is only natural considering the setting and live history surrounding the students.

While we were walking trough the enfilade of stately rooms the whole palace was filled with sweet sounds of violin and piano as a regular rehearsal was happening in the beautiful arched hall.

The chateau is surrounded with a small  and very nice little town of Fontainebleau with traditional carousel on the central square near the park. A  few days prior to our visit  there was a European Pony Championship. I wish I knew earlier, what a cute competition we've missed.
So if you happen to be in the King's mood but not up to spending hours in the line to visit Versailles you can be better off with a wonderful day trip to Fontainebleau: equally beautiful.


* All images copyright by Natalie Rapoport


  1. Une merveilleuse publication et l'immense plaisir que de revisiter grâce à vous ce lieu magique...
    Vos photos sont vraiment superbes.
    Gros bisous à vous.
    Je vous envoie notre timide soleil...

  2. Adore these chandeliers just magnificent!the darkness is setting in Paris also x
    Carla x

  3. Thank you for taking me back to Fontainebleau, Natalie. This was a popular family destination when I was young. We did not visit the Chateau as often as we should have, but had picnics with relatives in the surrounding Foret de Fontainebleau (the king's old hunting grounds.) I remember the giant rocks my cousins and I used to climb after lunch, similar to the ones in New York's Central Park... What magical Sundays we had there! Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

  4. I knew very little about Fontainebleau before I visited in August Natalie...but what a gem it is...your post is beautiful and I have been meaning to do mine for some time now. Praps I don't need to now. But not sure if I totally agree with you about Versailles...and I love the juxtaposition of the modern art that is now exhibited in the palace. Yes...there are far too many tourists trudging thru it...but it really is something not to be missed when visiting Paris I think. Anyway...I know it sounds boring...but I love this post too Natalie. What a way with words you have! A bientot from your new follower.


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