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Thursday, October 22, 2015

FONTAINEBLEAU




The Charm of Fontainebleau 

It is indeed charming. This small town about 50km by road from Paris has the appearance of a cute and quiet French Hamlet. Fontainebleau town is on the left bank of river Seine. Ensconced between the laid back town square and the surrounding thickly forested areas is the famous Fontainebleau Chateau, which has now been converted into a museum after being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. The origin of this cute chateau dates back to the twelfth century when a Royal Hunting lodge was set up for the Kings of France. It was enlarged by Louis IX (known as St. Louis) in the thirteenth century. Later it was entirely rebuilt by some famous French architects in the sixteenth century. From Louis VII through Napoleon III, this palace was used as the residence of French monarchs for over eight centuries. Among the impressive list of people who resided in  this palace are King Louis XII, the Russian Czar Peter the Great, King Louis XVI, Queen Marie Antoinette, Napoleon, Pope Pius VII(who was there to crown Napoleon as Emperor and baptize Napoleon’s nephew – the future Napoleon III), Empress Josephine and Empress Marie-Louise(Napoleon’s wives), Napoleon III. During the World War II the palace was occupied by the Germans for a short period in 1940. One of the most historical moments connected with the castle was abdication of Napoleon. On 20th April 1814 he bade an emotional farewell to the soldiers of the Old Guards at the Court of Honor (courtyard with stairway of horse shoe design) before leaving for exile. While on exile at St. Helena he wrote his memoirs “---- the true residence of Kings, the house of the centuries. Perhaps it was not a rigorously architectural palace, but it was certainly a place of residence well thought out and perfectly suitable. It was certainly the most comfortable and happily situated palace in Europe”. This is true. Although tiny compared to the mighty palace at Versailles, this chateau had all the ingredients of a modern day complex. Chapel, ballroom, musicians’ gallery, theatre house, museum, gardens and ponds. History unfolds as one takes a walkthrough in the chateau. Paintings, murals, frescoes and sculptures decorate the walls and interiors of the corridors. All handiwork of famous French painters and artists from different eras. Bedrooms for Queens, Napoleon’s Bedroom which was earlier Kings washroom, Throne Room and Napoleon’s office which was earlier Kings Bedroom, the elegant dining space with tables, chairs,cutlery,crockery, and other furnishings of Napoleon’s time , Napoleon’s uniform, curtains etc all intact. During the French Revolution i.e. pre-Napoleon era, this chateau escaped any significant damage save the furnitures which were auctioned. After going around the interiors of the chateau we strolled into the sprawling gardens, lawns, and the pond located behind the castle. Beautiful! Equally well maintained. Before moving out we went to the Souvenir shop located on the ground floor of the chateau and bought some crockery items replicating the porcelain crockery used on Napoleon’s dining table and Eu de Cologne which has earned the name of ‘Napoleon’ because of his intense fondness for this perfume. He used to get this from his soldiers stationed at Cologne in Germany.
Once outside on the square we dropped in to a restaurant and relaxingly savoured on some delightful French cuisines and wine before returning to Paris.

The Road to Fontainebleau


Fontainebleau Approach

The Famous Chateau


One of the paintings inside the palace



Napoleon's Dining Room

Some exhibits from Napoleon's era



Display of a porcelain crockery used during the eighteenth and nineteenth century


Napoleon's uniform

Napoleon's uniform




The Throne Room established by Napoleon was earlier used as King's bedroom from 
Henry IV down to Louise XVI

An old painting of the palace


The Emperor's Bedroom

The Empress's Chamber


The Empress's Bedroom

The Chapel inside the Palace

An exterior view of the chateau

Palace Garden and Lawn

The Lake

The famous horse shoe shaped Court of Honor where Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guards before leaving for exile


A French Restaurant on the town square outside the palace

Fontainebleau Town Square

( Photographs of Fontainebleau by Arundhati Sengupta)


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