Sunday, April 4, 2010

France: Chateau de Chantilly

The Chateau de Chantilly

The grand houses of Europe no longer evoke the bitter envy they must have once inspired in the groveling peasants who stood forever outside their gates but their architecture, whimsy, and expansive grounds still thrill. You can't walk through their high porticoes without secretly saying to yourself that if you had been born in that era, surely you would have been one of the lucky ones. Foolish delusions. Even today, we plodding tourists are no more a member of the privilaged classes than the grooms and maids were several centuries ago. Society is a pyramid and you and I dear readers are most likely not balanced on the apex. Welcome faceless minions to history.

The Chateau from the road into town

If you can handle the brutal dose of humility, a visit to the Chateau de Chantilly is a world class tourist destination north of Paris. It was a 10 minute drive from the location of a meeting I was attending, so I spent half a day wandering around the grounds, trying to stay awake after my 24-hour travel odyssey. The weather was cold and dreary, and the Chateau gardens were not at their peak but it was pleasant none-the-less. It is not difficult to imagine, the lavish and naughty (as only the aristocracy could be naughty) entertainment in the formal gardens and silk draped boudoirs. Now the stones are cold and the gravel pathways are tromped by an never ceasing troop of peasants from all over the world. The horror of it.

Note the mote and the riff raff gathering in the courtyard for their glimpse of the gilded age.

My only interior shot. This was the Duke's private chapel

Rather than try and write a whimsical history of the Chateau, I am just going to plagiarize directly from the site's website

The grand stables. This was the first building I saw when I came through the round about and I thought IT was the chateau. Some seriously pampered horses there.

A close up of the stables.

"From 1386 to 1897, the domain was passed on by inheritance to different branches of the same family, without ever being sold. The ORGEMONT family (14th - 15th centuries), followed by the MONTMORENCY family (15th - 17th centuries), one of the most powerful families in the kingdom and which largely contributed to its development, especially in the time of Le Connétable (the Constable) Anne de Montmorency (1493 - 1567). A friend of kings François I and Henri II, he commissioned Jean Bullant to build the Petit Château. Later came the Bourbon Condé family (17th - 18th centuries), cousins of the kings of France, the most famous of whom, Le Grand Condé, entrusted the lay out of the grounds to André le Nôtre, and finally Henri d'Orléans, Duc d'Aumale (1822 - 1897), the son of King Louis Philippe of France."

Another view of the Chateau with the rain clouds looming

"The Duc d'Aumale inherited Chantilly from his great uncle, the Prince de Condé, when he was eight years old, in 1830. He had the Grand Château, which was razed to the ground during the French Revolution, reconstructed in order to house his magnificent collection of paintings, drawings, objets d'art, books, etc. In 1884, the Duc d'Aumale, who had no direct heir, bequeathed the Chantilly estate to the Institut de France, subject to the Condé Museum being opened to the public. The Duc d'Aumale's wish was for the estate to use, maintain and help restore this magnificent cultural heritage. Not only the Château and the Condé Museum, but the Grandes Ecuries, which has housed the which has housed the life museum of the horse"

A statue near the entrance with the stables in the background

The guest quarters near a private lake

The stables were under renovation while I was there, so I only got to peak inside. The exterior is more imposing than the Chateau itself. Personally, I enjoyed the exterior architecture more than the interior rooms and museum but the price of admission includes both.

Heading down the steps into the French garden and looking back at the Chateau

The mote on the garden side

I did have lunch in the La Capitainerie, which is contained with the historic kitchens of Vatel, the famous inventor of Chantilly Cream. The menu is buffet only. One could choose from a combination of h'dourves, entrees, and desserts. The h'dourves were by far the best. There was shrimp, cut meats, cheeses, and lots of bread. Sitting down in the throws of jet lag was dangerous, however, and after lunch I quickly moved on to the gardens.

The statue of the Constable on the grand avenue. That small cut in the trees beyond is a long avenue through which the King would arrive.

A corner

In the forest of the Chateaus is a petite Hameau or village, which was the model for the one at Versailles. The idea was to mimic the poor hovels of the poor. At Versailles, Marie Antoinette used to pretend she was a milkmaid. It might have gone better for her if she had spent time with the real people instead of Disneyland commoners. The interiors of these fake hovels were not dirty and poor. Instead they were the 18th Century equivalent of a Las Vegas theme hotel, wild, sensual, and wildly decorated. In the Hameau, reality never quite made an appearance.

A period statue. When will those bows come back in style?

In the latter part of the 18th Century, there was a trend away from formal gardens and towards a more natural view of nature. At this point a fake waterfall was constructed to mimic with wildness of France. I had to laugh at this artifice. Compared to the wilds of Colorado, this garden was as tame as a bedtime story.

A final view from out in the French gardens

Victorious in my ability to stay awake, I took one last glimpse of the Chateau and headed to my hotel and a most welcome hot shower.


mtnrunner2 said...

I visited when I was a kid, but I still remember being impressed. Or maybe it was the Crème Chantilly.

Nice use of the variable and somewhat flat light in your photos. That kind of sky always makes me think of the Dutch realists

Linda said...

Impressive tourist stamina. Tho I live in the midst of it, too much history when I'm on holiday always brings on a sense of fatigue.