The Gardens of Versailles

Business up front, party in the back, as they say. The backside of Versailles facing the extensive gardens is made up of three flat elevations with large swaths of reflecting ponds and gravel paths on the first terrace. The same garden designer as Vaux-le-Vicomte, André Le Nôtre, was brought in to design the grounds here at Versailles.

Looking out over the lower terraces, the various fountains, which were all off on the day we visited and other parterre gardens appeared below us. The influence on formal gardens in St. Louis and elsewhere in the United States is obvious.

This fountain, which is showing Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana being attacked by the Lycians, who were throwing clumps of mud at her. Calling out to her lover Jupiter, the father of the twin gods of the sun and the moon, the Lycians were turned into frogs. It’s no Bernini fountain, that’s for sure; the frogs and turtles are monotonous.

Rather incongruously, the next major fountain is Apollo rising out of the eastern sea guiding his chariot with the sun, pulled by seething horses. Wait a minute, shouldn’t that be on the east side of the palace? We’re on the west side of the palace now, which gives us the term Occidental, from the Latin word to sink or fall.

I suppose it’s more impressive when the fountains are going. That looks like Triton, the son of Neptune in the front.

Moving along, there are some very nice rows of trees nearby.

I was honestly more impressed by the sculptures at Caserta outside of Naples. Apparently that palace is actually larger than Versailles.

Here are some more nice trees.

Then there’s this circular colonnade with a statue in the middle inspired by Giambologna and Bernini.

More gold statues in the middle of ponds.

After a hard day at the office, Apollo needs to take a rest with his nine Muses in a grotto across a sunburnt meadow.

Apollo, inspired by the one in the Belvedere in the Vatican Museums, reclines in the rocky outcropping as his horses, worn out from hauling the sun across the sky all day, forage to the left and right.

Back towards the palace, I enjoyed the conical topiary trees the most.

I also spotted this representation of the Americas, complete with a pet alligator.

The pyramid fountain is probably more impressive when it is in operation.

There was one fountain on, at least!

What was most impressive were the flowers, which grew throughout the grounds in multiple colors.

Honestly, I thought Versailles was sort of a letdown. This was the palace of the most powerful ruler in Europe at the time? Italian gardens were far more impressive during the same time period, and had much better sculpture and fountains. Just look at the Villa d’Este or Hadrian’s Villa, for example. Versailles just didn’t impress me too much. Yes, its influence is manifold, of course, and you can see that throughout the world in countless parks and gardens in American cities and towns, but the next time I visit Paris I’ll pass on going back.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. JEFF PHILLIPS says:

    How does it compare with Versailles, MO?

    1. cnaffziger says:

      I have never been to the Missouri one!

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