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The Fountains at Versailles
The Fountains of Versailles are the Gardens’ main highlight. The 600 water games in the 55 basins and fountains of Versailles are an integral part of the aesthetics desired by the Sun King. Indeed, the fountains constituted a staging, a spectacle that King Louis XIV used to glorify his reign.
From the early 1660s until he died in 1715, King Louis XIV directed the creation and elaboration of the Château and Gardens of Versailles. The best architects, engineers, sculptors, artists, and gardeners were employed – Le Vau, Mansart, Le Brun, Girardon, Le Notre, and more. Their genius was responsible for the individual parts, but the conception of the whole, the overall vision was throughout that of the king.
Still today, the Fountains of Versailles and other water games are the main attraction of Versailles summer shows like Les Grandes Eaux Musicales or Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes. The fountains’ sculptures spit water that is measured, controlled, and designed to arouse astonishment.
The Versailles Fountains are designed in different styles, and sizes and they all tell a different story.
The construction and management of the Fountains at Versailles is fascinating too. Being Versailles set far from a water source, the water supply to ensure the fountains’ functioning was always a big challenge.
Here’s the roundup of the best Fountains in Versailles, in no particular order, with a Versailles Fountains map to help you pinpoint all these amazing Versailles Fountains. You will also learn about the water supply and what happens below the grounds!
Plan Your Trip to Versailles
About the Versailles Gardens
The Gardens of Versailles are the most famous in France. They were designed by the landscape designer André Le Notre, and they are an essential part of the royal residence.
For the king, the Gardens of Versailles were as important as the Palace of Versailles itself, and he personally supervised the design and construction of the Gardens.
The Gardens of Versailles surround the Palace on three sides. The axis East-West is known as the Grande Perspective (big perspective), from the Palace to the Grand Canal.
The closest gardens to the Palace are known as Le Petit Parc, and a fence limits them. They are French-style gardens, with a geometric design, constituted of parterres animated by the Fountains of Versailles and other water games.
Le Petit Parc has a surface of 77 hectares in a 850 hectares park.
The gardens surrounding the Grand Canal are known as Le Grand Parc, and they look like a small forest. Explore this part of Versailles by bike or from the water, on a rowboat.
When to See the Fountains of Versailles
All the Fountains of Versailles are located in the Petit Parc. The Petit Parc is free to visit during the low season, from 1st November to 31st March.
From 1st November to 31st March, the low season, the fountains don’t work, and some grooves are closed to the public. On the other hand, there are fewer visitors, and it is more enjoyable to stroll around the park.
From 1st April to 31 October, the high season, the Petit Parc hosts different shows, and there is an entrance ticket to visit it. You can buy this ticket alone or combined with the tickets to the Palace or Trianons (there are interesting Versailles bundles that save you money).
During the high season, the Versailles water fountains don’t work all the days. It depends on the kind of show—more on this below.
Versailles Fountain Shows
The Gardens at Versailles host three shows: Les Grandes Eaux Musicales, Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes, and Les Jardins Musicaux. The fountains are running only during the first two shows.
Les Grandes Eaux Musicales (The Musical Fountains Show)
Explore the gardens and grooves while listening to Baroque music and watch the fountains’ water display with special effects.
Days: Tuesdays (some dates), Saturdays, and Sundays.
Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes (Night Fountains Show)
At night, fountains and groves come alive with colorful and dramatic lighting effects. The show ends with a grand finale, a fireworks display in front of the Grand Canal.
Days: every Saturday from the end of June to the end of September, from 8.30 pm to 11.05 pm. The final fireworks start at 10.50 pm.
Versailles Fountains Schedule
During the Versailles Fountain Shows, the fountains are not working all day. Therefore, it is important to know the Versailles Fountain show times – especially if you want to visit also the Palace – and the Versailles Fountains schedule.
Grooves exceptionally open: from 9 am to 7 pm
The water display of automatic fountains is from 10 am to 7pm:
- Water display of the Mirror Pool every 10 min
- Water display in Neptune Fountain every 15 min
- Continuous water display in the Water Theater Groove
The water display of historical fountains:
- From 11 am to 12 pm
- From 3.30 pm to 5.30 pm
Best Fountains in Versailles
Here’s a selection of the best Fountains in Versailles, both for their beauty or strategic importance in the water distribution.
Best Versailles Fountains Map
Parterres d’Eau (Palace’s Waterbeds)
These water parterres at the foot of the Palace have two water jets. Because these basins are visible from the Palace, King Louis XIV wanted to see the water jets working all the time.
The basins are bordered by 4 groups of two sculptures representing the main rivers and their tributaries.
Below the terrace, there’s a big water reservoir of 3,400 m3. It was built in 1672 to supply the fountains. From here, the water is distributed to Latona Fountain or the Salle de Bal. This place, underground, is like a small water cathedral!
Latona Fountain Versailles
This is one of the most important fountains in Versailles, from an aesthetic and symbolic point of view and a technical point of view.
Latona Fountain is part of the Grande Perspective together with the Apollo Fountain and the Grand Canal. It illustrates the story of Latona, the mother of Apollo and Diana, who protects her children from the insults of Lycia’s peasants. She pleads Jupiter to avenge her, and the god turns the inhabitants of Lycia into frogs and lizards. Latona Fountain also has a parterre containing the two Lizard Fountains.
Latona Fountain occupies a nodal place in the heart of the Petit Parc and also on its role to redistribute the waters.
The water jets on the water parterres above converge to the Latona Fountain. This one spreads the water, always by gravity, to the south’s water basins, to a part of the Enceladus Fountain, and Apollon’s chariot below.
Latona Fountain is a fascinating fountain also below the ground. It has around 70 water jets, each fed by a different pipe, creating a complex network of pipes nicknamed ‘the spider.’ This civil work of engineering is unique in the world, and most of these pipes date from King Louis XIV!
Apollo Fountain Versailles
The Apollo Foutain is another of the key elements of the Grande Perspective. It exists since the time of King Louis XIII, and it was known as the Lake of the Swans. Louis XIV later added the spectacular work in gilded lead of Apollo riding his chariot.
Apollo is the Sun god and King Louis XIV’s icon. The Apollo Fountain features the god bursting forth from the water in anticipation of his daily flight above the earth.
The Apollo Fountain is fed by Latona Fountain by gravity.
La Salle de Bal (Ball Room)
The Salle de Bal is the last groove designed by Le Notre between 1678 and 1682, and it represents a kind of open-air amphitheater.
Here, Le Notre got the most out of the land’s different elevations by creating a big cascade where the water arrives by gravity from the reservoirs below the Palace’s water beds. In the center of this Ball Room, there was a kind of stage or dance floor today disappeared.
This Salle de Bal was not good for shows (the cascade is very noisy), but the king organized frequent soirées or dinners here. These dinners were delightful in the summer, surrounded by the wall of freshwater.
The Salle de Bal is closed during the winter. It is only accessible during the Versailles Fountain Shows.
Enceladus Fountain Versailles
The Enceladus groove dates from 1675, and it represents the giant Enceladus buried under the rocks of Mount Olympus by the gods he and his brothers had wished to dethrone.
In the fountain, the giant is struggling to survive, and his suffering is captured by a powerful water jet that springs from his mouth like a cry.
Enceladus has an impressive water jet of 23 meters, one of the Gardens’ highest jets.
Neptune Fountain Versailles
The Neptune Fountain, in the north of the Petit Parc, marks the Gardens’ perspective North-South. This basin was designed under the reign of Louis XIV but only finished with the last sculptures under Louis XV.
The central sculpture group represents the god Neptune and Amphitrite, while the other two sculpture groups represent Proteus and Ocean with numerous marine animals.
The Neptune Fountain is greatly admired for the number, size, and variety of water jets falling around the lead sculptures, and it is the highlight of the Versailles Fountain shows at the end of the afternoon.
The Neptune Fountain receives the waters from the other fountains located above. Thanks to its 99 water jets, the basin turns into a water wall closing the perspective together with the Dragon Fountain just behind it.
Versailles Fountains’ Water Supply
The Fountains of Versailles are an alliance of art and technique that requires a lot of water. When all the fountains were in water, in 1715, they consumed the totality of 69,000 muids (one muid is equivalent to about 130 liters) of water in three hours!
The Castle’s location, on the top of the hill and far from any water source, was not ideal for such a big project of water basins and fountains. Therefore, water supply was a recurring problem in Versailles.
This technical challenge required the help of hydraulic engineers, architects, and fountain masters who had to think about bringing water to Versailles, redistributing it in the fountains, and finally creating surprising water effects to arise the wonder of visitors.
The first solution to solve this water issue was creating an artificial pond near the castle, the Lac de Clagny. From there, water was pumped to with the help of water mills, windmills, or pumps moved by horse carousels and then stocked in the reservoirs in the Domain of Versailles. This first hydraulic system made it possible to supply the dozen or so fountains then existing, and the king inaugurated the first Grandes Eaux of Versailles on August 17, 1666.
But the king wanted to add other fountains and water jets, so more water was necessary. During the following years, the hydraulic engineers brought more water to the Domain of Versailles by constructing other artificial ponds. Bucket windmills, siphons, and aqueducts completed the network to bring the water from the ponds to the reservoirs in the Domain of Versailles.
Over the years, the wooden pipes were replaced by lead pipes and then by cast iron. The hydrant men become an important function, the key to the fountains’ good operation, to the point that the king will ennoble some of them.
The idea of pumping water from the Seine, the major river closest to Versailles’ Domain, had existed for several years. But the distance of 10 km and especially the drop of 142 meters required the design of a monumental and expensive machine to pump water and bring it to Versailles’ reservoirs.
Finally, in 1682 the first Machine de Marly was inaugurated in the presence of the King and the court. This machine pumped water from the Seine to the domain of Versailles and the Château de Marly thanks to a system of wooden wheels, siphons, and an aqueduct.
This amazing machine was considered the Eighth World Wonder at that time. It was visited by important dignitaries like Queen Victoria of England, the Tsar of Russia, or the US President.
Water Supply in Versailles Today
At this time, the waters of the Versailles park operate in a closed circuit that consumes 4,500 m3 per hour, with 35 km of piping system unchanged since the 17th century. A team of 13 hydrant men manages this circuit.
An electric pump pumps water from the Grand Canal and refills the park’s reservoirs, and rainwater helps complete this system. The different fountains are supplied with water by gravity.
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