Fontainebleau - Encyclopedia

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FONTAINEBLEAU, a town of northern France, capital of an arrondissement in the department of Seine-et-Marne, 37 m. S.E. of Paris on the railway to Lyons. Pop. (1906) 11,108. Fontainebleau, a town of clean, wide and well-built streets, stands in the midst of the forest of Fontainebleau, nearly 2 m. from the left bank of the Seine. Of its old houses, the Tambour mansion, and a portion of that which belonged to the cardinal of Ferrara, both of the 16th century, are still preserved; apart from the palace, the public buildings are without interest. A statue of General Damesme (d. 1848) stands in the principal square, and a monument to President Carnot was erected in 1895. Fontainebleau is the seat of a subprefect and has a tribunal of first instance and a communal college. The school of practical artillery and engineering was transferred to Fontainebleau from Metz by a decree of 1871, and now occupies the part of the palace surrounding the cour des offices.

Fontainebleau has quarries of sand and sandstone, saw-mills, and manufactories of porcelain and gloves. Fine grapes are grown in the vicinity. The town is a fashionable summer resort, and during the season the president of the Republic frequently resides in the palace. This famous building, one of the largest, and in the interior one of the most sumptuous, of the royal residences of France, lies immediately to the south-east of the town. It consists of a series of courts surrounded by buildings, extending from W. to E.N.E.; they comprise the Cour du Cheval Blanc or des Adieux (thus named in memory of the parting scene between Napoleon and the Old Guard in 1814), the Cour de la Fontaine, the Cour Ovale, built on the site of a more ancient château, and the Cour d'Henri IV.: the smaller Cour des Princes adjoins the northern wing of the Cour Ovale. The exact origin of the palace and of its name (Lat. Fons Bleaudi) are equally unknown, but the older château was used in the latter part of the 12th century by Louis VII., who caused Thomas Becket to consecrate the Chapelle St Saturnin, and it continued a favourite residence of Philip Augustus and Louis IX. The creator of the present edifice was Francis I., under whom the architect Gilles le Breton erected most of the buildings of the Cour Ovale, including the Porte Doree, its southern entrance, and the Salle des Fetes, which, in the reign of Henry II., was decorated by the Italians, Francesco Primaticcio and Nicolo dell' Abbate, and is perhaps the finest Renaissance chamber in France. The Galerie de Francois I. and the lower storey of the left wing of the Cour de la Fontaine are the work of the same architect, who also rebuilt the two-storeyed Chapelle St Saturnin. In the same reign the Cour du Cheval Blanc, including the Chapelle de la Ste Trinite and the Galerie d'Ulysse, destroyed and rebuilt under Louis XV., was constructed by Pierre Chambiges. After Francis I., Fontainebleau owes most to Henry IV., to whom are due the Cour d'Henri IV., the Cour des Princes, with the adjoining Galerie de Diane, and Galerie des Cerfs, used as a library. Louis XIII. built the graceful horseshoe staircase in the Cour du Cheval Blanc; Napoleon I. spent 12,000,000 francs on works of restoration, and Louis XVIII., Louis Philippe and Napoleon III. devoted considerable sums to the same end. The palace is surrounded by gardens and ornamental waters - to the north the Jardin de l'Orangerie, to the south the Jardin Anglais and the Parterre, between which extends the lake known as the Bassin des Carpes, containing carp in large numbers. A space of over 200 acres to the east of the palace is covered by the park, which is traversed by a canal dating from the reign of Henry IV. On the north the park is bordered by a vinery producing fine white grapes.

Forest of Fontainebleau

The forest of Fontainebleau is one of the most beautiful wooded tracts in France, and for generations it has been the chosen haunt of French landscape painters. Among the most celebrated spots are the Vallee de la Solle, the Gorge aux Loups, the Gorges de Franchard and d'Apremont, and the Fort l'Empereur. The whole area extends to 42,200 acres, with a circumference of 56 m. Nearly a quarter of this area is of a rocky nature, and the quarries of sandstone supplied a large part of the paving of Paris. The oak, pine, beech, hornbeam and birch are the chief varieties of trees.

It is impossible to do more than mention a few of the historical events which have taken place at Fontainebleau. Philip the Fair, Henry III. and Louis XIII. were all born in the palace, and the first of these kings died there. James V. of Scotland was there received by his intended bride; and Charles V. of Germany was entertained there in 1539. Christina of Sweden lived there for years, and the gallery is still to be seen where in 1657 she caused her secretary Monaldeschi to be put to death. In 1685 Fontainebleau saw the signing of the revocation of the edict of Nantes, and in the following year the death of the great Conde. In the 18th century it had two illustrious guests in Peter the Great of Russia and Christian VII. of Denmark; and in the early part of the 19th century it was twice the residence of Pius VII., - in 1804 when he came to consecrate the emperor Napoleon, and in 1812-1814, when he was his prisoner.

See Pfnor, Monographie de Fontainebleau, with text by Champollion Figeac (Paris, 1866); Guide artistique et historique au palais de Fontainebleau (Paris, 1889); E. Bourges, Recherches sur Fontainebleau (Fontainebleau, 1896).

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