I have been maintaining this website for six years and it’s now time to tell you about the castle of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, since I grew up as a teenager in its imposing shadow.

I will be honest, I’ve always found this castle a little monstruous, colossal and of dubious proportions. It was only until very recently that I rediscovered it with new eyes, having never set foot in Saint-Germain-en-Laye for over 25 years. It must be said that its facades have been renovated, nicely bringing out the stone and brick.

It cannot be visited as such, but a tour of the Archaeological Museum provides access to the courtyard and the chapel.

Long before the castle as we know it, an unfortified wooden castle was built in 1124 during the reign of French King Louis VI, reinforced by a stone building tower and a wall of fortifications under King Philippe Auguste. The chapel, which was added to the castle in 1238 under the reign of Saint Louis, is of gothic style and serves as a model for the Holy Chapel in Paris.

During the following centuries, the castle was destroyed several times by fire and English occupations, but François the Ist, who married Claude of France in the chapel in 1514, entrusted the reconstruction of the castle in the Renaissance style to the architect Pierre de Chambiges.

Henri II was born there in 1519 and undertook the construction of a New Castle, reducing our castle to the rank of Old Castle.

We have to talk about this New Castle, of which only a pavilion (where Henri IV was born and which is now a renowned hotel-restaurant) and the ramps to the caves that run down the hill, remain. The construction of this New Castle was entrusted to the architect Philippe Delorme in 1559 but the works were not completed until under the reign of Henri IV, around 1600.

Back to the old castle. King Louis XIII died there, Kings Charles IX and Louis XIV were born there. Before settling definitively in Versailles, Louis XIV spent a large part of his reign in Saint-Germain-en-Laye between 1661 and 1682. On April 20, 1682, his Court definitively left for Versailles and Louis XIV was to be the last king of France to have resided in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

The chapel is a fine example of a radiant Gothic style. It was originally supposed to receive holy relics and it prefigured the Parisian Holy Chapel that King Saint Louis will build in Paris.

The architect Pierre de Montreuil was in charge of the two sites and applied the same principles: a single nave with no interior support, very high windows occupying almost all of the walls.

It was in the chapel of Saint-Germain-en-Laye that Baudouin II handed over the relics of the Christ’s crown of thorns to Saint Louis in 1238, the Parisian Holy Chapel not being consecrated until 1248.

The National Antiquities Museum (now called the National Archeology Museum), created in 1867 under the leadership of Napoleon III, offers new life to the Old Castle.

I will not speak here of the terrace built by Le Nôtre, which offers an incredible panorama on the valley of the Seine river. It is undoubtedly breathtaking, but I suffered so much there, since my father trained me for marathons as a child and then as a teenager every Sunday. If I tell you that this terrace is a long linear ribbon of two kilometers and that running without seeing the end of it is (I quote) “excellent for strengthening the mind”, you will understand why I do not mention this majestic terrace 😉

Archeology museum website

February 11, 2022