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Saint-Germain throughout History

Saint-Germain throughout History

Its Origins

Since time immemorial, the region has been inhabited, owing to its favourable living conditions: fertile soil, forests abounding with game, an abundance of fish in the Seine...

The centuries pass: Gallo-Roman rulers are followed by Merovingians, especially in the small Ru de Buzot Valley, to the west of the town. The family of Saint Erembert lived here in the 7th century, and Saint Léger was martyred here in 678. In order to atone for the latter crime, King Clotaire III erected a humble shrine, around which a few houses were built. The place is now known as "Les fonds-Saint-Léger."

When Robert the Pious ascended to the throne in 996, his love of hunting attracted him to the Forest of Laye and he ordered the construction of a monastery in honour of Saint-Germain of Paris, where the current church of Saint-Germain is located.

A humble small town developed, which would ultimately grow to become a city...

Saint-Germain-en-Laye during the Middle Ages

The city’s development flourished during the 12th century, when in 1124 King Louis VI, called “the Fat”, ordered the construction of a royal residence near the old monastery, on the site of the present Château-Vieux.

From that point forward, frequent royal visits, as well as both garrison and religious community life, set the rhythm of our city’s existence. Following the destruction of Château-Vieux at the beginning of the Hundred Years War, it was rebuilt by King Charles V in 1346. With the passage of time, it would be subject to many transformations.

The only "original" element remaining, the chapel, erected in 1235 by order of King St. Louis within the castle walls, has both resisted devastation and successive alterations. It is thought to be the work of Pierre de Montreuil, and is likely to have served as the model for the construction of the Holy Chapel of Paris.   

 

The Royal Residence

As for Chateau-Neuf, its construction was ordered by King Henry II. He found Château-Vieux a sad and cold place, and in 1556 tasked his architect, Philibert Delorme, to build a small house on the  edge of the plateau, which was called "Maison du Théâtre de la Baignerie" on account of its magnificent view and proximity to the Seine.

King Henry IV, who was charmed by this site, expanded and beautified the property, thus giving rise to "Château-Neuf" and its famous terraced gardens. Today only a few traces remain of it.

The city and its Castles were intimately linked to the history of France. Depending on the time period, one or the other of the two buildings was the setting for major historical events.

What follows is an overview, which is by no means exhaustive:

  • Marriage, in 1514, of François d'Angoulême, the future King François I to Claude, daughter of King Louis XII.
  • Birth of King Henry II in 1519.
  • In July 1547, a judicial duel took place before King Henry II and his court. It came to be dubbed "coup de Jarnac", literally “Jarnac’s stab”, which in French is now synonymous with “stab in the back”. Guy Chabot de Jarnac emerged victorious over his opponent, François de Vivonne, Lord of la Châtaignerie, thanks to an unexpected thrust.
  • By way of a 1563 edict, King Charles IX (born in Saint-Germain in 1550) set January 1 as the first day of the year for all of France.
  • The "Peace of Saint-Germain" was signed in August 1570. The purpose of this edict was to put an end to the Wars of Religion.



King Louis XIV and Saint-Germain-en-Laye

  • Birth of King Louis XIV, on September 5, 1638, in Château-Neuf.
  • May 14, 1643: Death of King Louis XIII – 42 years old, assisted by Saint Vincent de Paul.
  • During the incidents of the Fronde, King Louis XIV took refuge three times in Château-Vieux. Throughout his reign, he chose it as the setting for major events: the baptism of the Grand Dauphin, the wedding of Mademoiselle de Blois and the Prince de Conti, the signature of Treaty of Nijmegen, the hosting of Ottoman ambassadors...

The feast hall played host to several presentations of lyrical dramas by Lully and Quinault, comedies by Molière and ballets.

  • February 21, 1679: Successful negotiation of a treaty between King Louis XIV, the Emperor of Austria, the King of Sweden, the Elector of Brandenburg and... "other princes". The treaty was ratified on June 29 of the same year as the Treaty of Nijmegen. Several other diplomatic acts were signed in Saint-Germain-en-Laye under King Louis XIV’s reign.
  • After it was permanently abandoned by the court of Louis XIV in 1682, Château-Vieux underwent an extended period of neglect, until the Sun King passed the keys along to his cousin James II of England, also the King of Scotland under the name James VII, who was exiled in France after his defeat against William of Orange. The deposed king lived there – along with his family - until his death in 1701 and is buried in the church of Saint-Germain. Under the influence of the Jacobites, the supporters of the deposed king, the city underwent a period of renewal and in particular became an active centre of European politics.
  • Louis XVI ordered extensive repairs to the city’s water pipes and in 1777 gave Château-Neuf to his brother, the Count of Artois. The Count made plans to demolish it and replace it with a more modern palace.

 

The Castle Becomes the Museum of National Antiquities

  • The fate of Chateau-Vieux varied over time and successive regimes: During the Revolution, it became a prison (Rouget de Lisle was incarcerated there during the Reign of Terror); the Consulate transformed it into a hospital, while the Empire made it into a cavalry school (which was then transferred to Saumur under King Louis XVIII). During the Restoration, it was a barracks, while the July Monarchy used it as a military prison.
  • 1811: Creation of the “Maison d'Éducation de la Légion d'honneur des Loges” School by Madame Campan.
  • August 24, 1837: Inauguration of the first passenger railway line from Paris to Saint-Germain, an event that breathed new life into the city. The line stopped temporarily in Le Pecq.
  • During her visit to Paris in August 1855, Queen Victoria asked to make a pilgrimage to the tomb of James II. This event reawakened interest in the Castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye: Napoleon III, who was a passionate Gallic archaeology enthusiast, decided to create a Gallo-Roman Museum there. The Museum of National Antiquities was inaugurated on May 12, 1867.
  • 1871-1880: The Railway of the “Grande Ceinture” came into service. The line closed on May 15, 1939.

 

Stately Homes

Under Louis XIV, approximately sixty stately homes were built in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In the wake of the Court’s departure for Versailles in 1682, these homes were abandoned, and then restored on several occasions. The architectural elements we see today date back to the 18th century.

Attractions: Facades, beautiful windows that are arched and decorated with mouldings and stone scrolls, "Louis XV" wrought iron balconies and carriage entrances...

  • Hôtel de Ville - Hôtel de La Rochefoucauld - rue de Pontoise.It has been the town hall of Saint-Germain-en-Laye since 1842.Attractions: Wedding hall from the end of the 19th century.
  • Hôtel de la Vrillière - rue de la République.First a stately home, then the headquarters of the Royal Provostship. Next, it housed the Justice of the Peace court, created in 1791, and the court of first instance until 1982. An adjoining chapel remained open until the Revolution. It now hosts cultural and voluntary association events. The former ducal hotel of La Vrillière became the Maison des Associations.
  • Hôtel de Noailles - Rue d'Alsace. Residence of the three dukes of Noailles, the governors of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.Attractions: Of the two wings of this estate, located on 10 and 11 rue d'Alsace, the latter retains its 17th century appearance. Mozart stayed here in 1778.
  • Hôtel de Conti - Place Charles de Gaulle. Acquired by Louis Armand de Bourbon, the Prince of Conti (1661-1685), the husband of Mademoiselle de Blois, the legitimated daughter of Louis XIV and Mademoiselle de la Vallière.
  • Hôtel de Soubise - Place Charles de Gaulle. Purchased in 1676 by François de Rohan, the Prince of Soubise (1631-1712), the lieutenant general in 1679 and then the governor of Berry and Champagne.
  • Hôtel de Madame de Maintenon - Rue du Vieil Abreuvoir.Purchased in 1680 by Madame de Maintenon (1635-1719), the then governess of the children of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. Attractions: A superb 19th century wrought iron balcony.
  • Hôtel de La Feuillade - Rue du Vieil Abreuvoir.Owned by Louis d'Aubusson, the Duke of la Feuillade (1625-1691), the Marshal of France, Viceroy of Sicily in 1678 and governor of Dauphiné in 1681.
  • Hôtel de Fieubet - Rue Voltaire.Acquired in 1670 by Gaspard de Fieubet, regular advisor to the King and the Queen’s chancellor. Sold in 1693.Attractions: Interior façade.
  • Hôtel Le Grand - Rue du Maréchal Joffre.Built in the early eighteenth century by Claude Le Grand, Crown prosecutor with the Provostship, and the son of notable residents of Saint-Germain. This large house is now the Claude Debussy National School of Music, Dance and Dramatic Arts.
  • Hôtel de Créquy - Rue de Paris.This recently renovated building is believed to have belonged to François Emmanuel de Bonne de Créquy, the Duke of Lesdiguières and governor of Dauphiné, who passed away in Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1681.
  • Hôtel de Villeroy - Rue de la Salle.The Residence of Nicolas de Villeroy (1598-1685), the Marshal of France, the Minister of State, and then made a duke and peer in 1663.Attractions: 16th century half-timbered façade.

 

The Royal Riding School

The Royal Riding School was built in 1816 to train two companies of personal guards created by King Louis XVIII. It is famous for the architecture of its wooden roof.

This 50m by 18m room hosts several of the City’s cultural events (capacity of 640 seats).

Registered as a Historic Monument since October 1993, this building was restored in 1999.

Attractions: A magnificent wooden frame, the imperial eagle, and the “Luxemburg quarters”, which now house the land registry.