Art & Architecture

article | Reading time5 min

The Grande Cascade: a hydraulic masterpiece

The highlight of the water features on the Saint-Cloud estate, the Grande Cascade was already the pride of Monsieur de Saint-Cloud when it was created in the 17th century. Discover all the secrets of this "vast and superb theater of gushing crystal"!

A long history

Monsieur, Louis XIV's only brother, became the owner of the Saint-Cloud estate in 1658, and wasted no time in developing his gardens.

After several years of work by architect Antoine Le Pautre, in May 1667 the king was invited to admire the finally completed waterfall.

From 1697 to 1699, Jules Hardouin-Mansart enlarged it by adding a canal. The whole complex is now almost two hundred meters long.

Grande cascade du domaine national de Saint-Cloud
La Grande Cascade du domaine national de Saint-Cloud

Séverine Drigeard

Water in all its forms

The Grande Cascade is the highlight of the water features. It alone features the greatest variety of water effects on the estate.

At the center of the upper section, water flows majestically along a succession of nine water layers. At the far ends of the composition, two artificial torrents are dotted with fake rockery boulders designed to cause the water to skim. In between, the water rushes down the steps of two water staircases.

In addition to the waterfalls, the Grande Cascade is animated by pressurized jets, such as the chandeliers, vertical jets falling into standing basins, or the low bouillons, made up of several water inlets that form a bubbling effect at the top.

All the water flows into the rectangular basin of the upper cascade, then feeds all the water effects of the lower cascade.

Les nappes et les escaliers d’eau de la cascade haute

Éric Sander

Dolphins, frogs and newts

The waterfall's sculpted decor is essentially water-related, combining real aquatic animals, fantastical sea creatures and sculpted groups illustrating episodes from mythology.

Allegories of the elements complete the ensemble. Since 1734, the sculpted group La Jonction de la Seine et de la Marne has crowned the composition. The basin collecting the waters of the high waterfall is framed by winged statues of the winds, Auster, Borée, Eurus and Zéphyr, blowing at the four cardinal points.

 blending human features with plant, mineral and animal elements, represent the natural forces harnessed to transform water into a spectacle and serve the glory of the prince. 

A restoration to come

Safeguarding a unique heritage

Restoration and maintenance work has been carried out regularly since the end of the 17th century. Among the most recent interventions was a major campaign to restore or replace the entire sculptural decoration between 1918 and 1935.

Today, the Grande Cascade is showing signs of structural instability and deterioration due to the ageing of its various materials.

In 2023, the Centre des Monuments Nationaux will embark on an ambitious and essential four-year restoration program. During the various phases, the building's structure is to be consolidated and stabilized, and its sculpted decoration and fountains restored.

The work campaign also extends to the surrounding groves and alignments, which will be replanted.

Once the work is complete, you'll once again be able to admire the fabulous spectacle offered by Philippe d'Orléans to visitors to his gardens!

Les nappes et les escaliers d’eau de la cascade haute

Éric Sander

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