Chateau de Fontainebleau named after a spring
The chateau de Fontainebleau is a superb illustration of French Renaissance and Classical architectures at their best.
It was indeed enlarged and transformed over 3 centuries.
It boasts a wealth of gilding, marbles, inlays, sculptures, frescoes, paintings, works of art, porcelain, furniture, stucco in high-relief and boxed ceilings.
The castle is nestled in a set of parks, formal and landscaped gardens and ancient trees.
It stands on the edge of a state owned forest of 17,000-hectare placed under the supervision of the National Forestry Office.
A former royal hunting ground, the forest and its famous rocks are a paradise for rock climbing and hiking adepts.
But, Fontainebleau is before all the name of a spring, Fontaine Bliaut, hidden in a grove.
Fontainebleau, a chateau built over 3 centuries
In 1528, King François I, the great patron of the French Renaissance, pulled down the ruins of an old medieval fortress.
He entrusted the best Italian artists of the time (Rosso, Primaticcio, Serlio, Dell’Abate) with the construction and decoration of the new castle.
These belongs to the First School of Fontainebleau.
His successors enlarged and transformed it. Henri IV was indeed very fond of Fontainebleau where he often stayed.
He therefore entrusted French and Flemish artists ( Dubois, Fréminet, Bosschaert, Dubreuil…) with extensive work of enlargement and decoration.
This artistic period is known as the Second School of Fontainebleau.
His son, Louis XIII completed the work after his death.
Louis XIV made few changes because he was interested mainly in Versailles.
That said, he enjoyed spending the autumn hunting season in Fontainebleau.
This was also where he signed the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.
Louis XV, Louis XVI, Napoleon I and Napoleon III largely contributed to the transformations.
Sadly, the chateau’s original furnishings disappeared during the French Revolution, but the castle fortunately escaped demolition!
As a result of 3 centuries of enlargement, embellishments and transformations, the Chateau de Fontainebleau is today laid out around four main courtyards:
Cour du Cheval Blanc, Cour Ovale, Cour de la Fontaine and Cour des Offices.
The whole chateau is stunning, however, the Galerie Francois I and Napoleon’s private apartments are the most popular rooms.
Cour d’Honneur – main entrance to the chateau
The Aile des Ministres (16th century), Jeu de Paume (17th and 18th centuries), Aile de l’Escalier en Fer de Cheval (16th to 19th century), Chapelle de la Trinité and Aile Louis XV (both 18th century) frame this courtyard.
A metal grid delineates the 4th side from the outside.
The Cour d’Honneur is also known as Cour du Cheval Blanc, after the equestrian statue that adorned it during the 16th century.
It has also been known as Cour des Adieux since April 20, 1814.
This was indeed there that Napoleon bade an emotional farewell to the soldiers of his guard before leaving for the island of Elba.
This courtyard is famous for the superb Escalier en Fer à Cheval (horseshoe-shaped staircase) built by Philibert Delorme in 1558.
Louis XIII commissioned the architect Androuet du Cerceau with its reconstruction in 1634.
The superb staircase marks the centre of the Aile de l’Escalier en Fer de Cheval.
The Chapelle de la Trinité, built by Francois I , is located in this wing.
The marriage of Louis XV and the baptism of the future Napoleon III were later celebrated in the chapel.
Interestingly, the sculptor gave the statue of St-Louis (near the altar) the features of Louis XIII and those of Henri IV to Charlemagne.
The single floor Aile des Ministres overlooks the Cour des Mathurins at the rear.
The Jeu de Paume is located between the Aile des Ministres and Aile de l’Escalier en Fer de Cheval and overlooks the Jardin de Diane.
It was rebuilt in the 18th century.
The Aile Louis XV was rebuilt in the 18th century by Louis XV (hence its name).
Louis XV rebuilt also the Grand Pavilion and the Apartement des Chasses.
Napoleon III transformed four rooms on the ground floor of the Grand Pavilion in order to house the Salon et Musée Chinois de l’Impératrice Eugénie.
The museum exhibits pieces from the Summer Palace in Beijing.
These objects were either brought back from the expedition to China in 1860 or given by the ambassadors of Siam (Thailand) in 1861 when they came on official visit to Fontainebleau.
The Galerie des Assiettes is also known as Galerie des Fresques since the emperor decorated it with canvases from Second School of Fontainebleau.
The gallery features plates from the castle’s dinner service in Sèvres porcelain.
Napoleon III created also the Galerie des Fastes, which is decorated with canvases depicting court life in the chateau,.
The 450-seat theatre he built in the Louis XV wing in 1854 was closed to the public in 1870.
The Napoleon Museum opened in 1984.
It exhibits a series of portraits of the emperor, his weapons (including the sword of his coronation in 1801), his decorations and uniforms, the clothes of his coronation, his coat, many personal belongings and memories and works of art of the First Empire.
The Cour Ovale was developed on the site of medieval fortress.
The Ballroom Wing (Porte Dorée, Salle de Bal, St-Saturnin Chapel), the old keep or Donjon St-Louis, Apartments Royaux, Serlio’s Portico and Porte du Baptistère frame it.
François I pulled down the old castle, however, retained and restored the keep.
He built the Royal Apartments Wing and the Ballroom wing have retained the old fortress’ ovoid layout, as they were built on its site.
Philibert Delorme completed the construction of the Salle de Bal (Ballroom).
The splendid boxed ceiling, monumental fireplace and frescoes by Dell’Abate and Primaticcio therefore date from the 1550’s.
This room served as a hall of ceremony until the 20th century.
The Chapelle Saint-Saturnin Chapel is adjacent to the Salle de Bal.
The lower chapel served the staff, while the upper chapel was reserved for the monarch and his family.
The Porte Dorée dates from 1528 and was then the Chateau de Fontainebleau’s main entrance.
It accessed the apartments of Louis IV’s courtiers and those of Madame de Maintenon who became the wife of Louis XIV in 1683.
François I established his bedroom (Salon du Donjon) on the first floor of the 12th century Donjon St-Louis.
This keep is the chateau’s oldest building and leads directly to the magnificent Galerie François I.
Serlio’s Portico was rebuilt in the 19th century.
Henri IV enlarged the Porte Dauphine (built in 1565 by Primaticcio).
This gate, which is topped by a dome, opens the wall that connects Serlio’s Portico and Saint-Saturnin Chapel.
It was renamed Porte du Baptistère in order to commemorate the baptism of Louis XIII in 1606.
Cour des Offices
It leads to the Cour des Offices or Cour Henri IV, a set of U-shaped buildings that house the kitchens and staff headquarters.
Galerie Francois Ier
François I built the 60m by 6m wide gallery to link his apartments to the Chapelle de la Trinité.
The Italian masters he commissioned, produced the frescoes framed with stucco in high relief and boxed ceilings, which are now so characteristic of Fontainebleau.
The salamander, the emblem of the king and his initials are found everywhere in the decoration.
François I, the grand patron of the French Renaissance, gathered a large collection of artwork and manuscripts.
These were eventually transferred to the Louvre Museum.
Only one wall of the Galerie Francois I is pierced with windows.
Louis XVI indeed erected a building against the opposite wall to enlarge the private apartments.
Napoleon’s private apartments
Napoleon refurnished these new apartments for his own use when he went hunting in Fontainebleau.
The furniture and decorations were restored to the identical.
The rooms have retained much of their sumptuous decorations, all commissioned by the former monarchs, but they are mainly furnished in Empire style.
Some have a special place in history.
The Salon de l’Abdication was Napoleon’s private study.
The room was renamed so after April 6, 1814, when the emperor signed his first abdication on the small table in the middle of the room.
This is the original furniture!
The Chambre du Conseil is located at the junction of François I and Diane galleries and boasts splendid paintings.
Napoleon created the Salle du Trône in the former Kings’ Chamber.
The decor is eclectic as the various decorations the kings commissioned over the centuries were kept together.
Jardin de Diane
This courtyard was named after a fountain adorned with a statue of the Diane, the Goddess of Hunting.
The royal apartments overlook this garden which was reserved to Catherine de Medicis, the widow of Henri II.
The Royal Apartments include the Galerie des Cerfs and Galerie de Diane.
Henri IV built the Galerie des Cerfs on the ground floor.
This gallery was named after the heads of deer that decorate its walls.
The Galerie de la Reine – on the first floor – was later renamed Galerie de Diane after the many paintings of the Goddess that adorn it.
It was converted into a library during the Second Empire (1858).
The Appartement des Chasses is located at the end of the Galerie des Cerfs, between the Oval Courtyard and Diane’s Gallery.
It was enlarged in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Cour des Princes is bounded by the Galerie des Cerfs, Appartement des Chasses and Conciergerie.
Empress Josephine’s apartments overlooked the Jardin de Diane.
Parks and gardens of the Chateau de Fontainebleau
Extensive gardens, landscaped in the 16th century and altered over the centuries, showcase this gigantic castle.
The Jardin de Diane was landscaped under François I and altered until the 19th century.
It was named after the Fountain of Diane.
It stretches between the Galerie des Cerfs wing, the private apartments and the Jeu de Paume.
The 80-hectare park, the vast network of paths and the 1200m long canal were designed during the reign of Henry IV (1600’s).
The Grand Parterre was landscaped on the south side of the chateau under the reign of François I.
It was re-landscaped under Henry IV, but Le Nôtre and Le Vau re-landscaped it for Louis XIV in the 17th century.
The terraces were planted with lime trees under Napoleon I.
The Bassin des Cascades dates from the 17th century.
The landscaped garden, on the eastern side of the chateau, was re-planted under Napoleon I.
The original garden dated back to François I and included a wide range of conifers species.
All that remains of it is the Grotte des Pins, near to the castle’s main entrance gate.
Nearby, you’ll find the Fontaine Bliaut or Belle Eau, the spring that left its name to the site, surfaces in a grove then flows into a basin of the garden.
The Carp Pond is a former swamp turned into a lake under François I.
A small octagonal pavilion built in its centre in the late 16th century and was rebuilt a century later.
The pond is stocked with carp, some of which are century-old.
Escape to the Chateau de Fontainebleau
Fontainebleau is ideal for those who want to escape Paris for a day.
It beautifully illustrate the evolution of French art and architecture through the centuries, while the superb parks and gardens offer lovely spots to relax after the visit.
Fontainebleau is located 55km south of Paris. You can get there by car of course, but also by train. It only takes 45mn.
Department of Seine-et-Marne
Coordinates Chateau de Fontainebleau: Lat 48.402096 – Long 2.699496