One of the largest and most magnificent gardens in the world, the Gardens of Versailles are truly a work of art. Built on the order of Louis XIV in 1661and designed by the famous landscape designer André Le Nôtre, the gardens were considered just as important as the palace and took over 40 years to complete. A monumental task, marshes and glasslands were cleared and large amounts of soil had to be shifted in order to lay out the flowerbeds, the fountains, the Orangerie and the canals. Trees were brought in from all corners of France and thousands of men worked together to bring the gardens to life.
Marked by walks, fountains, sculptures, parterres and groves, the gardens stand as a testimony of 17th century French detailing and design and offer a spectacular sight.
Parterres And Paths
Three large parterres line the garden side of the Palace- The North Parterre, South Parterre and Water Parterre and consist of plant beds that are laid out in symmetrical patterns.
The Water Parterre features two large rectangular pools and is a beautiful illustration of light as an element of decoration, as it reflects the sun’s rays and lights up the outside wall of the Hall of Mirrors.
The North and South Parterres surround the base of the palace and can be viewed from the Water Parterre. The start of the North Parterre is marked by two bronze statues cast in 1688 - The Grinder and Modest Venus. A large circular pool featuring the Pyramid Fountain divides the area. Designed by Charles Le Brun, the fountain took three years to build and is composed of three tiers of lead basins held up by, dolphins, crayfish and Tritons.
The South Parterre, also known as the flower garden, can be accessed by a few steps with two bronze sphinxes on either side. From the balustrade, you can admire a stunning view of the Orangery.
Built by Louis Le Vau, the Orangery has a total of 1055 trees planted in decorative boxes and is one of the most exotic parts of the entire Versailles Garden. It features King Louis XIV's favorite orange trees as well as lemon, oleander, pomegranate, olive and palm trees. The Orangery can be viewed from the queens apartment and from most of the South Wing apartments. The centre of the Orangery is marked by a circular pond from which six intricately patterned lawns extend out of. It also features a central gallery that is more than 150 metres long with a 13-metre-high vaulted ceiling and leads out into a beautiful ornamental garden.
Some of the best features of the Château de Versailles royal grounds are the walks. Designed around two axes, north-south and east-west, there are several distinct paths that can be followed.
The Water Walk, also known as the infant walk, was designed by Le Nôtre in 1664 and is lined with 14 beautiful fountains depicting children holding small basins of water, tritons and satyrs. Beginning at the Neptune Fountain, the path goes past the Water Parterre and ends at the Orangery and the Lake of the Swiss Guards.
The Royal Way is a broad steep alley that starts at Leto’s amphitheatre and ends at the Iconic Apollo’s Fountain. The path is lined with horse chestnut trees, yew trees, hornbeam as well as sculptures by Puget, a famous Baroque sculptor. The beauty of these immense gardens is best experienced on foot.
With 386 bronze, marble and lead Sculptures in the Château de Versailles, it is the biggest open-air sculpture museum in the world. Depicting various themes of love, celebration, power and glory, the sculptures were all commissioned by Louis XIV and used as metaphors for the King’s power, magnanimity and strength. A major theme of the artwork is Apollo, the sun god, as seen in Latona’s Fountain that depicts Apollo’s childhood, to The Dragon Fountain showcasing his glory that featuring a Python pierced with Apollo’s arrows.
As Louis XIV got older, the theme of the sculptures shifted to depict childhood. Insisting that ‘childhood must be everywhere’, the gardens started to see statues of children playing with newts and riding dolphins.
With a collection of statues and sculptures by some of the greatest artists of the 17th century, this heritage is admired by millions of visitors each year and great efforts are taken to preserve the works in the gardens.
Little parks within the woods, the Groves of Versailles are adorned with fountains, vases and statues. Set within the greater gardens, there are fifteen small groves that once served as open-air salons. Among these, there is the Queens Grove that highlights the Virginia tulip trees, the Ballroom Grove that was designed as an amphitheater of greenery, the Chestnut grove that is adorned with two rows of chestnut trees and Apollo's Baths Grove, an English-style garden with a lake in the center and a large artificial rock enhanced with cascades and a grotto.
The other Groves to explore are the Girandole Grove, Colonnade Grove, Grove of the Domes, Enceladus Grove, Obelisk Grove, Star Grove, Water Theatre Grove, Grove of the Three Fountains and Triumphal Arch Grove. Many of these have been restored with new sculpted decor and rare trees. From multiple level cascades, marble ramps, boxwood hedges, shells and lead vases, the elements of the groves have continued to amaze visitors of the Versailles Gardens.