Fontainebleau Tourist Attractions

Chateau de FontainebleauChateau de Fontainebleau
The little town of Fontainebleau (pop. 15,949) in the département of Seine-et-Marne lies southeast of Paris in the beautiful Forest of Fontainebleau, the largest state forest in France, covering an area of almost 20,000 hectares/50,000 acres, which is a favorite weekend resort of the citizens of Paris. The principal attraction is the historic and beautiful old château, which Stendhal called a "dictionary of architecture". For some 800 years the château was the favorite country residence of French kings and emperors; monarchs from Louis VII to Napoleon III lived here, building, rebuilding and altering it down the centuries.
The Palace and Gardens at Fontainebleu were designated a World Heritage Site in 1981.

Château de Fontainebleau

Napoleon's reference to Fontainebleau as "the work of centuries, the home of kings" expresses the intimate relationship which the French monarchs had with their summer palace and hunting lodge.
The present extensive complex of the château with its beautiful French-style and English-style gardens dates back to a small 12th C hunting lodge. This was replaced in 1528 by a château in Renaissance style built for François I by Gilles Le Breton, Pierre Chambiges and Philibert Delorme which was subsequently enlarged by Henri II, Henri IV and Louis XV.
Napoleon, who was particularly fond of Fontainebleau, signed his first abdication here on April 6, 1814 and then took leave of his army on the entrance courtyard, now known as the Cour des Adieux. The courtyard is also called the Cour du Cheval Blanc, after a white equestrian statue of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (a replica of the original on the Capitol in Rome).
Fontainebleau is 60km south of Paris.
Address: Château de Fontainebleau, F-77300 Fontainebleau, France

Fontainebleau Château - Exterior

The present main front (the entrance front) of the Fontainebleau Château, which is built of sandstone, is dominated by the double horseshoe-shaped staircase (by Jacques Androuet, 1634), which with its strong lines reflects the transition to Baroque and seems massive against the more delicately articulated central section of the facade, which is older (1615). The lateral sections of the main front date from the time of François I and were built by Primaticcio, the Bolognese architect who worked at Fontainebleau from 1532 onwards.
The wing on the left of the Cour des Adieux is one of the oldest surviving parts of the château, built about 1540 for officials of François I's court. The wing on the right, built by Jacques-Ange Gabriel in the 18th century, contained lodgings for the royal household.
The passage under the arcades to the right of the horseshoe staircase leads into the Cour de la Fontaine, which opens on to the large Carp Pond on the right. To the left is the François I Gallery (first floor), beyond which is the Garden of Diana (Jardin de Diane).

Fontainebleau Gardens

The gardens of the château at Fontainebleau are not to be missed. To the west of the Carp Pond is the Jardin Anglais, laid out in the reign of Napoleon. To the east is the Parterre, designed by the famous landscape gardener Le Nôtre, with delightful pools and garden figures. Northeast of this, beyond the canal constructed in the reign of Henri IV, extends the park, in which are a maze and the Treille du Roi (King's Arbour), with trellised vines. From the Trois Pignons, three sandstone crags to the southwest, there are fine panoramic views.

Fontainebleau Château - Interior

A feature of the interior at the Fontainebleau Château is the successful combination of stucco ornament with the carved wood paneling on the walls, which creates an impression of warmth. The principal sights are the François I Gallery, the Chapel and the Ballroom, all on the first floor and reached by way of the horseshoe staircase.

François I Gallery

The François I Gallery (1534-37) at Fontainebleau was used only as a passage linking the royal apartments with the chapel, in which tradesmen offered various fashion accessories for sale. The sumptuous appointments of the gallery, therefore, are a little surprising. Here a group of renowned Italian painters, sculptors and stucco-workers, headed by Francesco Primaticcio (1507-70), Niccolò dell'Abbate (ca.1512-71) and Rosso Fiorentino (1494-1540), worked together to produce a total effect in Mannerist style (the transitional stage between Renaissance and Baroque). They founded what later became known as the "school of Fontainebleau", of which the François I Gallery is the supreme achievement. The finely contrived blending of architecture, painting and stucco decoration, the delicate use of color and the profusion of allegorical themes together create a complex work of art. There are numerous cross- references, in both composition and significance, between the 12 large mural frescoes, the smaller paintings, the forms of the frames and the stucco ornament which we can hardly now hope to decipher.
Among the artists who came to François I's court and has a lasting influence on the whole of the 16th century was a painter who enjoyed the king's particular patronage: Leonardo da Vinci, whose "Mona Lisa" found its way into the royal collections and remained there for many years before passing to the Louvre.


The Ballroom at Fontainebleau, begun in 1547, during the reign of François I, was continued in 1552-56 by Henri II, who was also a keen patron of art. The massive pilasters in this richly gilded room show that it was originally to have had a medieval-style vaulted ceiling, but instead it was given a "modern" flat ceiling, spanning an area 30 meters by 10 (100 feet by 33). The numerous mythological scenes are by dell'Abbate after sketches by Primaticcio. The scenes depicting Diana, goddess of hunting, are also to be understood as a tribute to Diane de Poitiers, François I's last favorite. After his death she became the mistress of his son Henri II, who was almost 30 years younger than she. Their initials, D and H, appear frequently in the decoration of the room.


The Chapelle de la Sainte-Trinité at Fontainebleau (entrance on first floor) is two storys in height. It was built by François I, continued by Philibert Delorme for Henri II and decorated with a ceiling painting by Frémiet in the reign of Henri IV.

Royal Apartments

On the first floor at Fontainebleau are the royal apartments. They consist of six rooms overlooking the Cour Ovale, including François I's apartments, later altered by Louis XIV (with the room in which Louis XIII was born, the Salon de Louis XIII), and 11 rooms looking on to the Jardin de Diane. Among these are the Appartements de Marie- Antoinette, the Salle du Trône (Throne Room) and the Salle du Conseil (Council Chamber).

Petits Appartements de l'Empereur

Napoleon's apartments at Fontainebleau are in Empire style. In the Salon Rouge is a small round table on which Napoleon signed his abdication in 1814. Also very fine are Napoleon's private apartments (Petits Appartements de l'Empereur), formerly Louis XIV's apartments, on the ground floor, looking on to the Jardin de Diane. They were furnished by Napoleon in Empire style from 1806 onwards.

Petits Appartements de l'Impératrice

Marie-Antoinette's private apartments at Fontainebleau were later occupied by Napoleon's wife Joséphine (Petits Appartements de l'Impératrice) and were altered from 1806 onwards.

Galerie de Diane

The Galerie de Diane at Fontainebleau, another side wing of the château, was built in the reign of Henri III. It now serves as a library and picture gallery.

Fontainebleau Forest

The Forest of Fontainebleau, which covers an area of 25,000 hectares/62,000 acres bounded on the northeast by the windings of the Seine, is a popular resort of Parisians at the weekend. The terrain is hilly, consisting mainly of sand and sandstone, with magnificent old trees and deep gorges. Particularly impressive are the wild Gorges de Franchard, in which rock-climbers learn their skills. The fantastic landscapes of the forest have attracted many painters, including particularly the Barbizon school. For walkers there are numerous waymarked hiking trails and footpaths.

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