Château de St-Germain-en-Laye
Château de St-Germain-en-Laye Review
Next to the St-Germain RER train station, this stone-and-brick château, with its dry moat, intimidating circular towers, and La Grande Terrasse, is one of the most spectacular of all French garden set-pieces. The château itself dates from the 16th and 17th centuries, but a royal palace has stood here since the early 12th century, when Louis VI—known as Le Gros (the Plump)—exploited St-Germain's defensive potential in his bid to pacify the Ile-de-France. A hundred years later Louis IX (St. Louis) added the elegant Sainte-Chapelle, the château's oldest remaining section. Note the square-top, not pointed, side windows and the filled-in rose window on the back wall. Charles V (1364–80) built a powerful defensive keep in the mid-14th century, but from the 1540s François I and his successors transformed St-Germain into a palace with an appearance more domestic than warlike. Louis XIV was born here, and it was here that his father, Louis XIII, died. Until 1682, when the court moved to Versailles, it remained the country's foremost royal residence outside Paris, and several Molière plays were premiered in the main hall. Since 1867 the château has housed the impressive Musée des Antiquités Nationales (Museum of National Antiquities), holding a trove of artifacts, figurines, brooches, and weapons, from the Stone Age to the eighth century. Behind the château is André Le Nôtre's Grande Terrasse, a terraced promenade lined by century-old lime trees. Directly overlooking the Seine, it was completed in 1673 and has rarely been outdone for grandeur or length.