The first gardens of Versailles - those that gave a modest setting to the villa constructed for Louis XIII, comprised a few parterres of flowers and shrubs bounded by well trimmed box hedges, and two groves planted on each side of the Allee Royale. To Jacques Boyceau is accredited the first plan of the gardens of Versailles, but Andre Le Notre greatly amplified and improved the original scheme. Le Notre's achievements at Versailles gave him rank as the most distinguished landscape gardener of his time, and of all time.

Besides the luxurious and symmetrical gardens at Versailles, he originated the designs of those at the royal houses at Trianon, Saint-Cloud, Merly, Clagny, Chantilly and the Tuileries. The Parterre of the Tiber at Fontainebleau also added to his high reputation. For a long period the style of garden perfected by Le Notre was taken as a model and imitated throughout Europe. In 1678 he went to Italy on a mission for the King, who desired him to make researches there. While at Rome the eminent artist from France was commissioned to plan the gardens of the Quirinal, the Vatican and the villas Ludovisi and Albani. The Elector of Brandenburg summoned him to design the garden at Oranienburg; Kensington Park in London is still another example of Le Notre's skill. In his genius were reflected the qualities that distinguished the art of his century: regularity of design, harmony, dignity and richness of materials. Louis XIV had an enduring admiration for the work and character of the Chief Gardener - a man at all times honest, retiring, and inspired by enthusiasm for his calling.

We are told by a French chronicler that "when Le Notre had traced out his ideas, he brought Louis XIV to the spot to judge the distribution of the principal parts of their ornamentation. He began with two grand basins which are on the terrace in front of the chateau, with their magnificent decorations. He explained next his idea of the double flight of stairs, which is opposite the center of the palace, adorned with yew-trees and with statues, and gave in detail all the pieces that were to enrich the space that it included. He passed then to the Allee du Tapis Vert, and to that grand place where we see the head of the canal, of which he described the size and shape, and at the extremities of whose arms he placed the Trianon and the Menagerie. At each of the grand pieces whose position Le Notre marked, and whose future beauties he described, Louis XIV interrupted him, saying, 'Le Notre, I give you twenty thousand francs.' This magnificent approbation was so frequently repeated that it annoyed Le Notre, whose soul was as noble and disinterested as that of his master was generous. At the fourth interruption he stopped, and said brusquely to the King, 'Sire, Your Majesty shall hear no more. I shall ruin you.'"

In 1695 the King ennobled Le Notre and bestowed upon him the Order of St. Michael. Later, Le Notre presented to his sovereign his collection of pictures and bronzes, for which he had previously received an offer of 80,000 francs, or about $16,000. This collection was placed in one of the King's intimate rooms among the rarest objects in his possession. On occasion, when about to make a tour of the gardens, Louis liked to command a rolling chair similar to his own for the aged Le Notre. Discussing new projects, appraising those that were finished, they made the promenade together.

One of the first garden decorations undertaken was the Grotto of Thetis, a green alcove beautified by exquisite marbles and a fountain that stirred the muse of La Fontaine to sing. This graceful conceit, dominated by Apollo seated among the nymphs of Venus, was destroyed when Mansard built the north wing of the palace; the groups were removed to adorn other sites. While the vast pleasure-house was in course of construction, each year marked the creation of new fountains and woods. In 1664, the Parterre du Nord was laid out below the windows of the north wing; in 1667 and 1668 the Theatre d'Eau, the Maze, the Star, the Grand Canal, the Avenue of Waters, the Cascade of Diana and the Pyramid on the North Parterre, and the Green Carpet ( Tapis-Vert) spread out in view of the windows of the rear facade of the palace. In 1670 and the three succeeding years the low-lying Marais (fen) was constructed next to the Parterre of the Fountain of Latona, to meet the wishes of the King's favorite, Madame de Montespan. While she was in power "people spoke of the Marais as one of the marvels of the gardens, but it was undoubtedly considered less wonderful after her fall," a writer comments. "In the center stood a large oak surounded by an artificial marsh, bordered with reeds and grasses, and containing plants and a number of white swans. From the swans, from the reeds and grasses, and from the leaves and branches of the oak, thousands of little jets of water leaped forth, falling like fine rain upon the masses of natural vegetation that flourished amid the artificial. At the sides of the bosquet there were two tables of marble, on which a collation was served when the marquise came to her grove to see the waters play. In 1704 the King ordered Mansard to destroy the Marais and transform the bosquet into the Baths of Apollo."

In 1674 the Royal Isle came into being; and the next year the Arch of Triumph and the Three Fountains, between the Avenue of Waters and the chateau. In the thicket of the Three Fountains were "an immense number of small jets of water, leaping from basins at the sides and forming an arch of water overhead, beneath which one could walk without being wet. . . . The Arch of Triumph filled the end of the bosquet; it was placed on an estrade with marble steps, and was preceded by four lofty obelisks of gilded iron in which the water leaped and fell in sheets of crystal. The fountain itself was composed of three porticos of gilded iron, with large jets in the center of each, while seven jets leaped up from the basins above the porticos, and all the waters rushed down over the steps of marble. In addition, twenty-two vases at the sides of the bosquet threw jets into the air. 'Without having seen it,' says Blondel, 'it is impossible to imagine the wonderful effect produced by this decoration.'"

The Orangery was the chief work begun in 1678, and in the following year the superb Basin of Neptune and the Lake of the Swiss Guards were commenced. In the years 1680-1685 workmen were busy digging, laying pipes, planting and decorating the Salle de Bal, or outdoor salon of festivities, the Parterre of Fountains, and the Colonnade, where amid marble columns and balustrades the Court often came to sup and make merry.

In all, fourteen hundred gushing fountain jets animated the gardens. Le Notre, the author of these amazing water-works, died in the year 1700, when almost ninety years of age. Saint-Simon declared him justly renowned in that he had given to France gardens of so unique and ravishing a design that they completely outran in beauty the famous gardens of Italy. European landscape decorators counted it part of their education to journey to France for the purpose of studying the handiwork of the supreme craftsman.

An illustrated guide, printed at Amsterdam in 1682, contains the following quaint description of the Labyrinth, or Maze: "Courteous Reader," it begins, "it is sufficiently known how eminently France and especially the Royal Court doth excel above other places with all manner of delights. The admirable faire Buildings and Gardens with all imaginable ornaments and delightful spectacles represent to the eye of the beholder such abundant and rich objects as verily to ravish the spectator. Amongst all these works there is nothing more admirable and praiseworthy than the Royal Garden at Versailles, and, in it, the Labyrinth. Other representations are commonly esteemed because they please the eye, but this because it not only delights the ear and eye, but also instructs and edifies. This Labyrinth is situated in a wood so pleasant that Daedalus himself would have stood amazed to behold it. The Turnings and Windings, edged on both sides with green cropt hedges, are not at all tedious, by reason that at every hand there are figures and water-works representing the mysterious and instructive fables of Aesop, with an explanation of what Fable each Fountain representeth carved on each in black marble. Among all the Groves in the Park at Versailles the Labyrinth is the most to be recommended, as well for the novelty of the design as the number and diversity of the fountains that with ingenuity and naivete express the philosophies, of the sage Aesop. The animals of colored bronze are so modeled that they seem truly to be in action. And the streams of water that come from their mouths may be imagined as bearing the words of the fable they represent. There are a great number of fountains, forty in all, each different in subject, and of a style of decoration that blends with the surrounding verdure. At the entrance to the Maze is a bronze statue of Aesop himself - the famous Mythologist of Phrygia."

To appreciate the engineering skill of the directors of fountain construction at Versailles it must be remembered that it was from an arid plateau that hundreds of streams were made to spring from the earth. Thousands of laborers were employed to lay beneath the surface of the ground a net-work of canals and aqueducts to receive the tribute of water-courses directed hither from distant sources. The waters were finally pumped into immense reservoirs adroitly dissembled on the roofs of buildings overlooking the park. From these tanks a maze of pipes carried the water to thickets, grottoes, basins, fountains and canals. Nothing could surpass the ingenuity with which all this was contrived. The play of water directed to the Basin of the Mirrors reappeared later in the Baths of Apollo and the Fountain of the Dragon. Flowing in turn among successive pools and ornamental groups - branching hither and yon in the gardens, the stream attained its full display in the most majestic effect of all, the Basin of Neptune.

"Here again is the hand of Le Notre," remarks James Farmer, author of "Versailles and the Court Under Louis XIV." "The basin of Neptune, called at first the Grand Cascades, was constructed from 1679 to 1684, in accordance with his designs. This immense basin, surrounded on the side toward the chateau by a handsome wall of stone, and on the other by an amphitheater of turf and trees, - a vast half-circle, in the center of which stands a marble statue of Renown, is simple in conception and imposing from its size. The richly carved lead vases which adorn the wall were gilded under the Grand Monarch, and each throws a jet of water to a great height. Dangeau tells us that His Majesty saw the waters play here for the first time on the 17th of May, 1685, and that he was quite content. However, Neptune had not then appeared in the basin that now bears his name; for the large groups of Neptune, the Ocean, and the Tritons, which ornament the base of the wall at present, were not put in place until 1739, in the reign of Louis XV. This majestic basin at the foot of the Allee d'Eau is a striking contrast to Perrault's ugly Pyramid at the head of it. Le Notre knew what was fitting for the gardens of a Sun King."

A vast avenue, interrupted by many fair reaches of water, stretched its level length before the windows of the Grand Gallery. It was prolonged to the outer bounds of the gardens by the Grand Canal, on whose gleaming surface the sky was mirrored in the dusk of dawn, the golden glow of noon, or the sunset of declining day. This has ever been the supreme view from the palace of Versailles. Standing at one of the great windows of the Hall of Mirrors, the Galerie des Glaces, it often pleased the ruler of France to admire the Fountain of Latona, casting its fifty jets of water from the circular pool below the twin terraces. Beyond, the Green Carpet glowed in its emerald beauty among the clear waters of Versailles. The furthest fountain that met the eye was the Basin of Apollo, with its plunging bronze horses. In the outer park, that held the Trianon and the Menagerie, the royal gaze beheld the cross-shaped Canal which so often, in the revels that marked the first part of this reign, bore gay Venetian barges between the scintillating lights and fireworks that illumined the shore. At the right side, still looking from the rear of the chateau, the King's beauty-loving eyes dwelt upon the North Terrace, with its rich growth of greenery, on the graceful Fountains of the Pyramid and the Dragon, and above all on the magnificently soaring fountains of Neptune's Basin. At his left were the Terrace of Flowers, the two stairways that flanked the Orangery, chief work of Mansard and especial pride of Louis, and the lake in the small park named for the Swiss Guards. Nowhere, it is safe to say, could a place be found that embraced so many beautiful garden views at one time.

Bordering the avenue that Le Notre opened through the primitive groves where Louis XIII once came to hunt - on either side the broad lane of trees and leaping waters - groves were laid out, varied in design and decoration - delectable retreats where lovers, traitors, diplomats might vow and plot, beneath the discreet ears of marble nymphs and goddesses.

Many of the groups and marble figures that beautified the walks and bowers of Versailles were conceived by the gifted Lebrun. Among his designs were the Four Seasons, the Four Quarters of the Globe, the Four Kinds of Poetry (Heroic, Satiric, Lyric and Pastoral), the Four Periods of the Day (Morning, Noon, Twilight, Night), the Four Elements (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), the Four Temperaments (Phlegmatic, Melancholy, Coleric and Sanguine). Mythological figures, vases ornamented with bas-reliefs of Louis XIV and great men of his reign, fountain groups representing the chief rivers of France, water nymphs, sportive babies, beasts in combat - sculpture massive, graceful, grotesque - all added their individual lure to the dells, the walks and the terraces of the magic palace.

Tile-workers from Flanders, marble-cutters from the Pyrenees, Italy and Greece, masons, sculptors, castmen, metal-workers, bronze colorists - innumerable artisans trained to meet the exacting tastes of that Silver Age of Art - lent their skill to the construction of fountains whose ingenuity and variety have set a standard for all time for the makers of kingly estates. A hundred sculptors of highest reputation were engaged to model groups, statues, busts and low reliefs for the Versailles park, under the supervision of Lebrun and Mignard.

Ladies of the Court sometimes claimed the ear of the compliant Andre Le Notre to suggest fancies that he graciously evolved with greenery and marbles, with tinkling streams and bright-winged birds.

The new Orangery, begun by Mansard on plans submitted by Le Notre, consumed nearly ten years in building, from 1678 to 1687. Twin stairways, one hundred and three steps high, united the South Parterre with the Parterre of the Orangery. The shelter erected for the protection of hundreds of orange trees, which often blossomed and came to fruit, contained a main gallery and two lateral galleries, lighted by twelve large windows. In the center stood a huge statue of Louis the Great. During warm weather the tubs containing the orange trees were set out on the Orange Parterre between the lofty stone stairways. The Orangery was one of the favorite retreats of the King. Besides the royal family, only those were permitted to stroll among the fragrant trees that had been granted special permission to do so.

It was in 1688, after more than a quarter of a century's labor, the sacrifice of hundreds of lives, and the expenditure of over fifty million francs, that the splendid parks and gardens with their buildings and fountains were finally achieved. Le Notre's successors rearranged some of the fountains and groves; others were renamed. In 1739-1740 there were placed near the Basin of Neptune three groups that still lend adornment to this spot. This was the final attempt to decorate the gardens during the reign of the House of the Bourbons. Strangers from every clime marveled at the beauty of the fountains. The ambassadors from the Court of Siam were astounded "that so much of bronze, marble and gilded metal could find place in a single garden." A member of the train of the Ambassador from England described the park, in 1698, as "a whole province traced by avenues, paths, canals, and ornamented in all ways possible by masterpieces of ancient and modern art."

The avenues were of white sand, with grassy by-ways on either side bordered by elms and iron railings six or seven feet high. Beyond these were thickets and niches where statues, sculptured urns and benches of white carved stone were placed. Occasional archways of green led down dim arbors to new enchantments. Here and there were round or star-shaped retreats whose carpets of grass were sprayed by murmuring fountains. In each recess were marble pedestals, busts, a long bench that invited repose.

Trees of mature growth were brought in great numbers from distant parts of France and Flanders. Despite difficulties of transportation, twenty-five thousand trees were carried on wagons from Artois alone. The forests of Normandy were denuded of yew-trees; from the mountains of Dauphine the King's emissaries brought epicea trees, and India sent chestnut trees for the adornment of Versailles.

Among these groves Louis delighted to promenade in the evening, sometimes, in the belle saison, until midnight. Often he went on foot, but oftener in a light carriage drawn by a team of small black horses that had been given him by the Duke of Tuscany.


This palace decorated with pilasters of pink marble was not the first building chosen by the Grand Monarch to occupy the site at the end of the north arm of the canal of Versailles. Ambitious to extend his domain, the King had purchased and razed a shabby little village named Trianon, and on its somewhat dreary site erected for Madame de Montespan a villa so unpretentious as to arouse the comment of courtiers accustomed to the ruler's profligacy at Versailles. The vases of faience that shone among the figures of gilded lead, the walk ornamented with Dutch tiles, the cornices of blue and white stucco, in the Chinese fashion, gave the little house the name, the Porcelain Trianon. Poets called it the Palace of Flora because of the wondrous gardens where rare flowers perfumed the pleasaunce in summer. Built in 1670, probably on designs of Francois Le Vau, the Porcelain Trianon was demolished toward the end of the year 1686.

There remains to-day nothing to remind us of the Villa of Flowers but the gardens and a fountain for horses near the canal, where a terrace planted with beautiful trees overlooks it. Here Louis XIV often came in a gondola on summer evenings, when the Marble Trianon had replaced the Trianon of Porcelain. The latter's demolition was inspired, no doubt, by the urging of the new favorite, Madame de Maintenon, who found distasteful this reminder of another's supremacy in the King's affections.

Moreover, this site continued to please the King for he recognized its convenience to the palace, and its accessibility by barge or carriage. He determined to build in the midst of these enchanting woods and blooms a dwelling less formal than the one at Versailles, smaller even than the one at Marly, but more habitable than the porcelain maisonette - a retreat, in short, where, without wearisome ceremony, he could retire with certain favored ones of his Court and while the summer hours away.

The accounts of the King's treasurer show that the building of the edifice and the gardens proceeded rapidly during the year 1687. By the end of November the royal master found his new residence "well advanced and very beautiful." Soon after the New Year he heard the opera "Roland" performed here, and was pleased to dine for the first time within the new walls. He gave orders on recurring visits for the embellishment of the summer palace. The Trianon of marble and porphyry, "the most graceful production of Mansard," was finally completed in the autumn of 1688. But the work of decoration went on under the hands of a horde of artists almost until the end of the monarch's reign.

Says an English author of a century ago: "In the midst of all the austerities imposed upon him by the ambition of Madame de Maintenon, the King went to Trianon to inhale the breath of the flowers which he had planted there, of the rarest and most odoriferous kind. On the infrequent occasions when the Court was permitted to accompany him thither to share in his evening collation, it was a beautiful spectacle to see so many charming women wandering in the midst of the flowers on the terrace rising from the banks of the canal. The air was so rich with the mingled perfume of violets, orange flowers, jessamines, tuberoses, hyacinths and narcissuses that the King and his visitors were sometimes obliged to fly from the overpowering sweets. The flowers in the parterres were arranged in a thousand different figures, which were constantly changed, so that one might have supposed it to be the work of some fairy, who, passing over the gardens, threw upon them each time a new robe aglow with color."

In the salons and copses where Louis the Great basked in the somewhat chary smiles of his latest (and last) favorite, his grandson, the fifteenth of his name, was to install the fascinating Madame de Pompadour. The very apartments once dedicated to the use of Madame de Maintenon, and later to Queen Marie Leczinska, became the living-rooms of the reigning mistress of the heart of Louis XV.

The Revolution spared the Grand Trianon. But under pretext of restoring it and rendering it, according to their tastes, more habitable, Napoleon First and Louis Philippe spared it less. The last king of France commanded in 1836 the architectural changes necessary to convert the Trianon into the royal residence, in place of the chateau of Versailles. He stayed here for the last time in the winter of 1848, before departing for Dreux. But, despite changes and mutilations, the facade and the interior of the rose-colored palace retain the stamp of the Great King who sponsored the Gallery of Mirrors, the Antechamber of the Bull's Eye, and the Chapel at Versailles.