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damaged gardens at Versailles, read all about it!

damaged gardens at Versailles, read all about it!

Jan 20th, 2000, 08:17 AM
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damaged gardens at Versailles, read all about it!

Today's New York Times has an interesting, thorough article about damage done to Versaille's gardens by the holiday storms that ravaged France. If you don't take the paper, go to www.nytimes.com. All you have to do is register and you are IN to this fabulous paper. Click on Living, scroll down to find the article.
While you're at it, take a look at the obituary for Hedy Lamar. Witty, and sad.
Jan 20th, 2000, 10:39 AM
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Sending up so you can see it before the page gets lost on the web. See above.
Jan 20th, 2000, 03:09 PM
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Thought I'd post the article for everyone, since I know how quickly the NYTimes seems to purge its articles on-line.

An Ill Wind Gives Versailles the Push It Needs



VERSAILLES, France -- The gardens of Versailles, the result of centuries of grooming and planning to satisfy royal whim, look more like a logging camp these days than a place where nobles in satin pumps liked to stroll.

SILVER LINING Devastating storms provided the impetus for a needed renewal, park officials say.

The damage is striking. In the English gardens, Marie Antoinette's much-loved Virginia tulip tree, planted in 1783, went down, its soil-clotted roots ripping a hole in the lawn big enough to turn into a swimming pool. By the Temple of Love, a Corsican pine planted for Napoleon in 1810 shattered as it crashed to the ground. Elsewhere, 10,000 trees lie in ruin.

But Versailles' officials say the destruction caused by the two fierce windstorms that roared across Europe over the Christmas holidays may actually turn out to be a good thing for the park, speeding efforts to restore it to its finest days under the extravagant Louis XIV, who was king from 1643 to 1715.

Officials say that much of the park, built on a drained swamp, should have been replanted 30 or 40 years ago. Many of the trees on Versailles' 1,500 acres were too tall and in some cases weak from age and disease. The garden's first architect, Andre Le Notre, foresaw trees no more than about 60 feet high. But many had grown to more than 120 feet, and with roots close to the surface because the water table is so high, they were particularly vulnerable to high winds.

Still, a lack of funds and a general disinclination to do anything too abrupt that might upset the public had slowed major replanting efforts. Even when park officials had to replace 182 diseased chestnut trees, their press operation went into high gear to explain why it was necessary. "The storms of 1999, however, have forced everyone's hand," said Hubert Astier, the president of the state-run museum and park. "A lot of work has to be done. The only real issue is getting the money."

The Christmas storms toppled trees throughout the park, from the groves carefully laid out near the chateau where footmen once raced ahead of the king to make sure the fountains were on, to the more woody areas surrounding the Trianon and the Petit Trianon. One of the park's chief gardeners, Alain Baraton, likened the destruction to a World War I battlefield. "It actually looks like Verdun," Baraton said. "Every space is touched. All kinds of trees are down."

The government will pay some of the nearly $40 million that repairing the chateau and the grounds is expected to cost, and the public will help as well. What will be done with the funds, however, is already decided. Officials developed a program for the park nine years ago, after a 1990 storm took down 1,600 trees. The plan aims to restore much of the park to the way it was under Louis XIV, the flamboyant Sun King, who hovered over every intricate detail.

The gardens were at their peak under Louis XIV, and have never since been so carefully, and expensively, maintained. In fact, major renovations of the gardens have taken place about every hundred years, usually spurred by fierce storms. As a result, a messy collection of partial restorations accreted on top of changing royal visions. Louis XIV himself redid parts of the park more than once in his lifetime.

The restoration plan that was developed by a committee of 20 experts generated little controversy. Restorations in France generally aim to go back to the earliest version that can be authenticated through plans, documents or paintings.

"There really wasn't much argument about restoring the garden that Louis XIV built," said Olivier de Rohan Chabot, the president of the Friends of Versailles Association, a nonprofit group that raises funds for the museum and the park. The committee generally agreed to restore it the way Le Notre designed it and, over time, to eliminate some of the overgrown trees.

But the restoration will not be totally true to the original plans. The Grove of Apollo's Baths created under Louis XVI will not change, because the committee found his design for the grove too beautiful to ignore. Parts of the gardens around the Trianons, really developed by Louis XVI, will be restored to his vision, because the Sun King spent little time on them.

Other treasures from the Louis XIV era will be restored. The current Queen's Garden (a not very exciting place) will be remade into the intricate maze garden designed for Louis XIV. Under him, the garden contained 39 little fountains, with painted statues of animals from Aesop's fables. It was used to teach the royal children about morality.

Much of the intricate hedge work will also be restored, as young trees return the gardens to their original proportions. What is truly regrettable, officials said, is that a slower replanting would have kept the modern apartment buildings that surround the park out of view. That is no longer possible. "It could take us 10 years to be able to keep the modern world from view again," Astier said.

Trees like the ones planted for Marie Antoinette and Napoleon will be replaced, species for species. The problem is that with more than 60 percent of France's forests damaged by the storm, getting young trees may be difficult and expensive.

Luckily, however, the storm did little harm to the garden's statues, though in some places trees crashed through walls and there was damage to the chateau's roof and some windows. Nonetheless, the basic structures remain intact.

"It was, in some ways, a polite storm," Astier said. "In one place, there was a tree that fell, but the branches parted just in time and laid on either side of a statue, without injuring it."

It was Louis XIII who first began a garden at Versailles. He would ride out from Paris because the hunting was good and spend the night in a local tavern. Soon, however, he wanted more than a straw bed and built a small chateau.

His son Louis XIV had the grander vision for Versailles and eventually moved the French court there. By his early 20s, he was something of a 17th-century jet-setter. He concentrated on the gardens, creating a sort of amusement park, with groves and fountains, intended to delight and surprise. He held huge parties that went on for days, each day bringing a new spectacle: plays, ballets, equestrian parades, fireworks. Designed to amuse, the spectacles were also an exercise in prestige, a display of his power and riches.

Indeed, the garden reflected the thinking of the time. Unlike medieval gardens, which were islands of civilization in a chaotic world, the Versailles gardens were designed as a monument to the human hand on the landscape. Every vista led to infinity, as did Louis XIV's view of his rule.

It was not land that was particularly suited to such a garden. No matter. It was flattened and drained. Earth was moved to create terraces and embankments. Lakes and canals were used to drain mosquito-infested bogs. Trees were imported from all over the world. Those that survived were submitted to rigorous pruning and shaping, like everything else in the garden.

In Louis XIV's later years, the garden became less ostentatious. Much of the trelliswork was done away with, banks of grass replaced stone parapets, and gardens became more natural looking. Louis XV -- whether because of a lack of interest, a lack of money or a new taste for the more natural -- let the garden continue to grow out of its original rigid format. By the 1740s, many trees were in a poor state, overgrown and abused by several exceptionally cold and stormy winters.

But Louis XV had trouble making decisions. It was left to his successor, Louis XVI, to bring the ax down on the gardens, which he quickly did, beginning in 1774, opting for cheaper local trees: oaks, poplars, maples and silver birches.

A hundred years later, the gardens were in the hands of Napoleon III and overgrown trees were once again being replaced, when another storm accelerated the pace of those renovations.

By the 1960s, say Versailles officials, another restoration should have begun. But there was no money and no clamor for such an event. It took the storms that bracketed the last decade to make those alterations a certainty.
Jan 21st, 2000, 05:41 AM
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Kay, thanks for letting everyone know about the article and Annalynn, thanks for putting it on the website--saved some hassle.
Jan 21st, 2000, 07:04 AM
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Thanks, Kay. This was really interesting!
Jan 21st, 2000, 03:04 PM
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This morning I talked with a man and wife from Chartres. They confirmed everything that is in this news story, saying that the damage is awful, but that crews are at work. The first claim on available labor, they said, was to repair the extensive damage to their country's electrical power supply. Many homes in rural areas of central and central-west France still are without electricity.
Jan 21st, 2000, 05:00 PM
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What about the stained glass window at St. Chappell that was broken in the wind storm? I assume they will reproduce it?
Jan 25th, 2000, 07:48 AM
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The Jan 16 NY Times Travel section explains there has been much confusion over the damage to St. Chapelle. There was some minor damage to one of the windows in the famous St Chapelle near the Conciergerie. However the stories of major damage concern another chapel with a similar name in an outlying park. I am not familiar with that landmark, but am grateful that the glorious windows of St Chapelle seem to have survived.
Jan 25th, 2000, 10:08 AM
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Thanks, Tom! I'm very glad to hear that.

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