(© Kip Mistral 2018. All rights reserved.)
Bienvenue, welcome to Château Versailles! I am Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie, Duchesse de Bourgogne, wife of Louis, Duc de France (and the adoring mother of a handsome little boy who will be the future King Louis XV!). It is such a lovely afternoon that we are gathering to ride a promenade around the Château. Our horses will be brought up to the Cour Royale (courtyard) in a moment. As always I will ride my beautiful white Spanish mare, La Colombe. She is sweet and soft like the dove for which she is named. Since you’re here, you must join us!
Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie, by Jean-Baptiste Sancerre, 1709 (detail)
From the Cour Royale, we can look across the Place D’Armes to our two stables here at the Château. On your left, we see the Grande Ecurie (Large Stable), where the King’s chargers and the saddle horses for the family and courtiers live. On the right is the Petite Ecurie (Small Stable) which houses our carriages and the carriage horses. Ah, I see the grooms leaving the Grande Ecurie and bringing our horses now. We will have a fairly large party today, but often we split up and go different roads to meet up at the same place from time to time.
Jean-Baptiste Martin, L’Ancien (1659-1735) Stables, Perspective View From The Chateau Of Versailles (1659-1735) detail
Don’t mind all the activity, it’s like this every day. Always soldiers drilling, coaches, wagons and riders coming in and out. Château Versailles is a very busy place, like a small city.
Ah, here are the horses, and my sweet La Colombe, so excited to escape her narrow cobblestoned stall in the stable where the horses stand tied most of the time. They love to feel the earth of the paths and the forest under their feet and will canter as fast as we let them. But La Columbe is very kind and always takes care to keep me safe at all times.
Many features of the Château and the Parc were designed with the principles of sacred geometry and with the influence of mythological characters and symbols. Each feature of the Parc is intended to convey a meaning and the interrelationships of the features are meant to lead us from one allegory and its wisdom to another. Since we only have a few hours this afternoon for our ride, I won’t be able to show you the entire Parc, which if you could see from the air as you see in this partial map, is very large at 800 hectares (almost 2,000 acres). But I will explain as much as I can as we ride.
Some of the party has brought dogs should a stag be flushed on our way. I am not a fan of hunting so I hope we don’t see one. I had my falconer bring my hawk Roland so he can get off his perch, get fresh air and see interesting things even if he doesn’t fly. I will carry Roland a little while for his enjoyment but will give him back to the falconer when I get tired.
Because my ladies love to ride around La Pièce d’Eau des Suisses and enjoy this view of the Château we will go out the front gate and turn right to ride down the Allée du Potager.
And here are our friends from the court who chose to enjoy a stroll through L’Orangerie this afternoon. Bonjour! We’ll all meet for dinner tonight, as we always do, and enjoy the company of His Majesty, King Louis XIV, who is my beloved father-in-law. We will also see the King on our ride at some point today.
L’Orangerie du Château de Versailles by Étienne Allegrain: Collections du Château du Versailles
We’ll stop for a moment here. I must give Roland back to the falconer, he is already getting heavy on my arm. I can only imagine how the falconer’s assistant feels, walking with the frame holding the other birds, he must be very strong. Now here is the another view of L’Orangerie and riders on the Route de Saint Cyr.
Adélaïde de Bourgogne, Dauphine de France, and Courtiers on Horseback, by Pierre Denis Martin.
The men are telling us the hunting party is very close. My dear husband the Dauphin is riding with them on his grey charger, I have not seen him since le petit déjeuner, our breakfast. Je te vois là, mon amour! Bissous! (I see you there, my love! Kisses! Under my breath Please my love, let your party not find a stag today!)
Vue de l’Orangerie by Jean Baptiste Martin, Detail
Now we have traversed the back of the La Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, our little lake. Is it not sweet? Would you ever guess that this was once a low marshy pond? When it was fully dug out in 1686 some of the rich excavated soil helped create the lovely fruit and vegetable garden (potager) that we passed on as we rode along the Allée du Potager. The lake is kept level with water pumped from Le Machine at the King’s property at Marly, which is adjacent to the Seine River. All the water for the Château and the water features of the gardens and Parc is brought from the Seine…it is indeed a marvel.
A Stag Hunt at Versailles by Jean Baptiste Martin
Mon dieu, il y a un pauvre cerf avec les chiens derrière lui, et mon mari aussi. Avec son épée, il fait le coup de grâce, je ne peux pas regarder, laissez-nous monter! (Mon dieu, there is a poor stag with the dogs behind him, and my husband also. With his sword, he is making the final blow, I cannot watch, let us ride on.) We will ride quickly down to the Route de Saint Cyr and from there enter the Allée d’Apollon which will take us to the Basin of Apollo.
View of the Basin of Apollo and the Grand Canal of Versailles by Pierre Denis Martin
Here we are at the fountains of the Basin of Apollo. This is the crossroads where the Royal Avenue meets with the other avenues coming from the northern and southern routes. In the Basin we see Apollo and his Chariot arise from the waters amid the concert of 28 jets and 3 fleurs de ly. As we know from the myth of the god Apollo, he sets forth on his daily course above the Earth in his chariot drawn by 4 horses. Here also he is accompanied by 4 dolphins and 4 tritons blowing their horns to announce his coming. Magnifque, yes?
And notice the beautiful view of the Grand Canal, which opens out to the Infinite. When the surface is perfectly still, as it is today, the clouds and sky are reflected in it like a mirror. The work took 11 years to complete, from 1668 to 1679. The Grand Canal is 1,670 metres (over a mile) long and its banks have played host to legendary parties in the days when King Louis XIV was a young man. One year long ago the Republic of Venice sent the king two gondolas and four gondoliers. In winter the frozen surface has been used for skating and sledding. Again, we can enjoy this splendid water feature thanks to the Marly Machine because Versailles has no significant water supply of its own.
To get an idea of the scale of part of the gardens and Parc, if you were a bird right now above us here at the Basin of Apollo, and turned around to look back toward the Château, you would see this view…
Vue de Vol Oiseau (“Bird’s Eye View”) des Jardins de Versailles. Artist unknown.
Isn’t it an amazingly beautiful vista?
Promenade with King XIV and Dauphin, artist unknown
And now here is my King and my husband the Dauphin, I see that the dogs and the huntsmen have returned to the Ecuries, thank goodness, they all make such noise and bother. Now we will be able to have some peace. We will ride across the other side of the Allée d’Apollon and turn right on the Allée du Petit Pont (Way of the Small Bridge). We will be passing by the Basin de Neptune and the Basin du Dragon when we get close to the Château itself.
And here we are! What a sight!
Vue du château de Versailles depuis le Bassin du Dragon et de Neptune by Jean-Baptiste Martin (l’Ancien)
We are looking on our left, at the back of the Château, and see, far in the distance, there is our little lake, La Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, where we started our ride earlier this afternoon. I think I will dismount to give La Colombe a little rest before we finish our ride. Also my back is a little tired from riding this side saddle, I hope someday ladies will be able to ride astride like the men, it would be so much more comfortable! Would you like to dismount and walk around for a minute yourself?
Now we continue around the Château and turn right on the Rue des Reservoirs, turn to the left on the wide Avenue de St. Cloud with all its traffic, and then a short right onto Rue Montbauron. We are riding up to the highest elevation in the ville de Versailles, the Butte or Mount Montbauron, where the reservoirs hold water pumped all the way from the Seine by the King’s Marly Machine. In 1685, the water drawn by the machine from Marly reached the reservoirs of Montbauron, themselves connected to the stone reservoirs built in the extension of the north wing of the Palace of Versailles. It is from this place Montbauron that the water is supplied to the Château for its use and for the royal potager, the gardens, and the water features across the Parc as well as use in the city.
Vue Perspective de la Ville et du Château de Versailles Depuis la Butte Montbauron by Jean Baptiste Martin
I love this scene…in the foreground we see the back of the Grand Ecurie, and to the left, the back of the Petit Ecurie, and in the distance, the entrance to the great Château. There are those noisy dogs outside the kennels, don’t they ever get tired, we can hear them from here! I am sure my lovely La Colombe will be happy to go back to the stable for her dinner. I will ask the groom to turn her out to roll and shake herself out, to relax a little and rest, before she is groomed and returned to her stall. I think she is a little tired now after the climb up to the reservoir, but you can see that soon we will be back to the Cour Royale. I hope you have enjoyed your ride around our beautiful Versailles this afternoon!
Vue Perspective de la Ville et du Château de Versailles Depuis la Butte Montbauron by Jean Baptiste Martin, Detail
[NOTE: Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie was born at the Royal Palace of Turin, Italy, the eldest daughter of Victor Amadeus II, Duke of Savoy since 1675, and his French wife Anne Marie d’Orléans, a niece of Louis XIV, and the daughter of Philippe I, Duke of Orléans and of Henrietta of England. As a female, she was not eligible to inherit the duchy of Savoy due to salic law. The marriage of Marie Adélaïde to the Duc de Burgundy at the age of 12 came as a result of the Treaty of Turin signed on 29 August 1696. The young couple were happily matched and had three sons together, only one of whom survived infancy and childhood. In April 1711 King Louis XIV died of smallpox, and Marie-Adélaïde’s husband became Dauphin of France and she Dauphine. In February 1712 Marie-Adélaïde caught the measles and died at the age of 26. Her husband caught measles as well and died 6 days later. The couple was buried together. Their son the Duke of Brittany succeeded as Dauphin, but died the following March from measles. The only child to survive the epidemic was the future Louis XV, an infant who was locked inside his apartments with his governness Madame de Ventadour to avoid being bled to death by doctors like his elder brother had been; she was renowned for having saved his life. Louis XV named his fourth daughter Marie-Adélaïde in his mother’s honor.]