Journey Through Royal History at the Château de Fontainebleau

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Journey Through Royal History at the Château de Fontainebleau
Less visited than Versailles, Château de Fontainebleau is one of our favorite day trips from Paris. A medieval turret here, a renaissance façade there, Napoleon’s initial on the entrance gates … as soon as you arrive at Fontainebleau it’s clear that it’s a patchwork of architectural splendor. And no wonder, for this stunning château was inhabited by all the kings of France from the 12th to the 19th century. They came primarily to hunt in the surrounding forests, but many of them were also determined to make their mark on the architecture, the interior design or the landscaping.  Knowing a little about those who did most to shape the Château de Fontainebleau turns visiting it into a journey through French history. Medieval kings gave way to the renaissance, then came the splendors before the revolution and the emperors and restored monarchs who followed it. Here then, are the top 10 kings, queens and emperors who most influenced the Fontainebleau you can visit today, together with the dates of their reign.  The gates at Château de Fontainebleau. © Marian Jones 1. Medieval Prestige Louis VII (1137-1180)  The earliest château on this site pre-dated Louis VII, but it was he who first established its importance by issuing a Royal Charter, written in Latin, from his “Palace of Fontainebleau” during the first year of his reign. In the 1160s he further enhanced its prestige by building a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Saint Saturnin which was consecrated by no less a person than Thomas Becket. The Saint Saturnin Chapel you see today was built later, but Louis had secured Fontainebleau’s reputation as an important seat for French kings.  Saint Louis Portrait. Moralized Bible created in Paris, France, between 1227-1234. The Morgan Library and Museum. Public domain. 2. A mix of styles  Louis IX (1226-1270) Louis IX, the only French king to be sainted, often used his “dear Fontainebleau” as a retreat for prayer and in 1254, on returning from a crusade to the Holy Land, he founded the Couvent des Trinitaires next to the château, overseeing the building of  a monastery, a church and a hospital. The name lives on in the Trinity Chapel, built in a later reign. Under François I these religious buildings were merged with the castle, thus beginning the tradition of mixing architectural styles which led to the higgeldy-piggeldy charm of today’s Fontainebleau. The famous staircase at the Chateau de Fontainebleau. Wikimedia commons
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Lead photo credit : Château de Fontainebleau. © Marian Jones

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.