Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Fontainebleau
Chateau de Fontainebleau View slideshowThe 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
Address: Château de Fontainebleau, F-77300 Fontainebleau, France
Fontainebleau Château - Exterior
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.
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.
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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