Discover the City of Saint-Germain-en-Laye
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a royal city admired for its high quality of life and its rich heritage, situated near Paris.
Ten Centuries of History
While the first traces of habitation have been traced to the seventh century AD, it is widely agreed that the origins of present-day Saint-Germain-en-Laye date back to the early eleventh century when King Robert II, who was called the Pious and loved hunting in the forest of Laye, built a monastery on the site of the present church of Saint-Germain.
The city’s royal vocation dates back to 1124 when King Louis VI, called the Fat, built a royal residence near the old monastery. Destroyed in 1346, rebuilt and renovated time and again, this residence is part of the current castle (known as Château-Vieux, or ‘Old Castle’), whose chapel erected in 1235 by order of King St. Louis remains the only original element. Another castle (known as Château-Neuf, or ‘New Castle’), whose terraced gardens once overlooked the Seine, was built by King Henry II in 1556, then expanded and made more attractive by King Henry IV, but today there remain only a few remnants, including the King Henry IV Pavilion, the former north wing of the castle where the future Sun King, Louis XIV, was born in 1638 and that now houses a hotel with restaurant.
If the Château-Neuf (‘New Castle’) still existed, this is what it would look like!
The city and its castles are intimately linked to the history of France: it was the site of the marriage of François d'Angoulême, the future King Francis I, in 1514; King Henry II was born here in 1519, as well as King Charles IX in 1550; the edict ending the French Wars of Religion was signed here in 1570 (the "Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye"); a treaty between King Louis XIV, the Emperor of Austria, the King of Sweden, the Elector of Brandenburg and a number of other princes (known as the "Treaty of Nijmegen") was signed in 1679.
While the Château-Vieux was abandoned by King Louis XIV in 1682 upon completion of the Palace of Versailles, it did welcome James II of England (who had been King of Scotland under the name of James VII), who was one of Louis XIV’s cousins and was exiled in France after his defeat against William of Orange. James II lived there with his family until his death in 1701. He is interred in the church of Saint-Germain.
After a long period during which its purpose changed several times (during the Revolution, it served as a prison, and Rouget de Lisle, the composer of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was incarcerated there), the Château-Vieux once again come to the forefront in 1867 when Napoleon III decided to create the Museum of National Antiquities within it, which remains its current main function.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a City of Vibrant Art and Culture
Claude Debussy was born here in 1862 and his birthplace now houses a museum dedicated to the famous composer. It was here that Molière obtained official recognition from King Louis XIV for his theatre troupe, which would become “La Troupe du Roy” (‘The King’s Troupe’). Alexandre Dumas commanded the National Guard here and ran its theatre. It was in Saint-Germain-en-Laye that he wrote The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo, and that his son wrote The Lady of the Camellias. Maurice Denis, one of the leading painters of the Nabis group along with Bonnard, long resided in St. Germain and his property has become a museum dedicated to Symbolist and Nabis painters. The city has attracted a myriad of other famous people: princes, poets and writers, philosophers, musicians and painters.
Saint-Germain-en-Laye is a city that deftly combines its prestigious past with modernity in the service of a high quality of life
The centuries’ long presence of the French King and Court in Saint-Germain contributed to the construction of several remarkable grand townhouses. Its centre, consisting of a network of narrow streets, lends itself to walking. With some 800 shops and a market that is open nearly every day of the week, Saint-Germain is the largest open-air shopping area in western Paris and many people come from neighbouring towns to shop here. Nestled in the heart of the forest that forms part of its territory, the city is a veritable ‘green lung’ of more than 3,500 hectares that attracts many walkers during weekends.
A City on a Human Scale
The city’s vast terrace, designed by Le Nôtre, is adjoined to the castle and overlooks the Seine Valley. It provides a unique walking area and panorama less than 20 km from Paris (direct connection to the capital city via RER train departing from the castle, with a travel time of less than 30 minutes).
The 2010 Edition of Heritage and Living Environment Days
Saint-Germain is home to a greatly prized international school, many public and private educational institutions, a theatre, five cinemas, an Olympic swimming pool, a music school, several cultural and socio-cultural centres, hundreds of voluntary associations, a large multisport complex (where the members of the Paris-Saint-Germain (PSG) professional football team train, amongst others), several hotels and restaurants. As such, Saint-Germain offers a wide range of activities and recreational opportunities to its 42,000 inhabitants and to its guests, combining its intrinsic qualities as a provincial town with the benefits of proximity to Paris.
The city is bustling for most of the year, with concerts on the castle terrace’s bandstand in June and July, “Fête des Loges” festivities in July and August, a carnival that attracts over 2 million visitors each year, “Living Environment Days” in September that transform the city into a pedestrian-only area for a weekend, the ‘L’Estival’ music festival in October, Advent concerts played on the large organ of the church of Saint-Germain and the Christmas market in December.
Finally, Saint-Germain is twinned with Aschaffenburg (Germany), Temara (Morocco), Ayr (Scotland), Winchester (United States) and Konstancin (Poland) and further demonstrates its openness to the world by welcoming within its population a high percentage of families hailing from the European Union and the rest of the world who are attracted by the reputation of the international school and life on a human scale in a city that is renowned for its high quality of life.