article | Reading time5 min

The Château de Saint-Cloud: an eventful history

Les terrasses du château

From the Hôtel d'Aulnay to the Gondi mansion, from Monsieur's renovations to Marie-Antoinette's transformations, the Château de Saint-Cloud has lived many lives, until its demise in flames during the 1870 war. Relive the milestones of its sumptuous history.

The story of a vanished château

A succession of prestigious owners

The story begins at the end of the 16th century, when Catherine de Médicis offered her squire Jérôme de Gondi what was then known as theHôtel d'Aulnay. In the spirit of the Italian Renaissance, the Florentine transformed the old medieval hotel into a stately residence surrounded by terraced gardens. 
Extended by Barthélémy Hervart, Louis XIV's financial steward, the residence was purchased by Monsieur, the King's only brother, in 1658. To build a princely residence worthy of his rank, Philippe d'Orléans called on the greatest artists and architects of the time.
Built from 1676 onwards by the building contractor Jean Girard to plans by the architect Antoine Le Pautre, the château forms a U around a main courtyard facing the Seine.

Vue et perspective de l’entrée du Château de Saint-Cloud
Vue et perspective de l’entrée du Château de Saint-Cloud

A royal and imperial château

For the interior decorations, Pierre Mignard was preferred to Charles Le Brun, who was favored by Louis XIV. His grand compositions on the ceilings of the Galerie d'Apollon and the Salon de Mars earned him the king's compliments.
Called to Saint-Cloud in 1686 by Monsieur, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, superintendent of the King's buildings, transformed the facades of the south wing and built a grand staircase in the center of the building.
In 1785, Marie-Antoinette acquired the estate and began extension work, entrusted to herfavorite architect, Richard Mique.

From the French Revolution until the fall of the Second Empire, the château, now the official residence of the sovereigns , underwent few changes. Only the decor and interior layout changed with the dynastic changes. Imperial bees and eagles alternated with fleurs-de-lys on the château's pediments throughout the 19th century.

La terrasse du château
La terrasse du château

Eric Sander

The destruction of the château

On October 13, 1870, in the midst of the Franco-Prussian war, a shell exploded in Napoleon III's apartments, setting off a fire that engulfed the château for two days.

The Third Republic never really considered raising the imperial château from the ashes. Plans to create a Palais des Ruines in 1880 or, ten years later, a national park of the former Provinces of France, were never realized. The remains became a place of pilgrimage for crowned heads and artists in search of romantic inspiration.

Twenty-one years after the fire, the government put an end to the château's history. In 1891, it ordered the destruction of the ruins, for reasons of economy, security and, last but not least, to wipe the slate clean of the castle's royalist and imperial past.

Edouard Navellier, ruines de la façade sud du château
Edouard Navellier, ruines de la façade sud du château

Pascal Lemaître


Only eight statues escaped the sale of materials from the demolition in 1892. They are still preserved on the estate. You can admire them in the rooms of the historical museum, at the Grille d'Honneur (link to museum focus).
How did Alfred Leclerc, the estate's architect, evoke the presence of the château after its demise? Look at the flowerbeds and lawns. They trace thebuilding's footprint on the ground, while the cone-shaped yew trees recall its U-shaped plan.
To relive the palace's history in images, visit the immersive film on the Timescope terminal on the château's terrace (link to the Timescope terminal).

Restitution du château dans une vue actuelle de la terrasse du château
Restitution du château dans une vue actuelle de la terrasse du château

© Philippe Le Pareux

In video

The Château de Saint-Cloud: from archives to virtual reconstruction.

Le château de Saint-Cloud : des archives à la restitution virtuelle

video | Reading time5 min

The destruction of the Château de Saint-Cloud

La destruction du château de Saint-Cloud

video | Reading time3 min

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