The Gardens of Versailles by Frederic
The gardens of Versailles are undoubtedly known around the world as the natural extension of one of the most famous Chateaux in the world. Therefore, most visitors to the Chateau put aside some time to stroll through the gardens, or at least to enjoy the view from the terrace of the Chateau, situated on the great east-west axis at its highest point. From this view point we can take-in the main characteristics of the ‘French’ garden; the major symmetrical axis, straight lines, trees cut in straight lines forming walls of green, the grand canal extending into the view in the distance. We are here in the realms of regularity, of geometry, and also of illusion; the illusion that the hand of man can sustainably domesticate nature.
Other visitors choose to rent small golf buggies that can travel along the large garden paths to further explore the lower parts of the garden. There we can admire the long driveways, the sidewalks, and we can linger around the marble statues and large decorative vases to see the charming 4 season fountains, symbolized by the Gods of mythology. But in this case, being restricted to a panoramic view or a walk in the main avenues, as grand as they are, only allows us to understand the creative genius of André Le Nôtre – the main figure of the French garden, if only superficially. Another often overlooked characteristic of the French garden are the groves: these places which can only be reached on foot and are invisible from the main roads or the terrace as masked by vertical hedges. They aim to surprise the visitor with constructions that combine fantasy and majesty, offsetting the sometimes cold rigor of the straight and prominent aisles.
On Saturdays and Sundays during the high season (from the beginning of April until the end of October), and to a lesser extent on Tuesdays as part of the Musical Gardens – it is possible to visit the gardens in all their glory as these special groves are open to visitors. The walk is accompanied by the music of Lully and Rameau and punctuated at certain times by a festival of water shows, deployed by numerous fountains, and the waterfalls and fountains are scattered into the pathways and into the woods and groves. Many of the visitors with whom I have had the pleasure of witnessing the Versailles fountains during this spectacle have said that they preferred the tour of the gardens to the Chateau visit itself….
What a pleasure it is to take advantage of these great spaces; airy, refreshed by the spray of the fountains, from grove to grove and surprise to surprise during a journey that allows us to appreciate the many different facets whilst observing the coherence of the ensemble. And how sad it is to think of all those visitors who for lack of time, curiosity or information bypass these magnificent spaces offering such grandeur and fantasy! It is not surprising that since the very beginning, Louis XIV gave such priority to the gardens, and that the greatest festivities which went on during his reign took place within them, even before the completion of the Chateau!