Bougival is a quiet village by the River Seine, 17 km far from Paris. During the XIX century, the Impressionists chose this peaceful place as their favorite open-air workshop. People like Monet, Sisley or Berthe Morisot spent long periods in this village trying to catch the beauty of the Seine River and its banks and soon Bougival’s landscapes became the subject of many of their masterworks.
But this “colorful revolution” was not the only revolution in Bougival. Two centuries before, a powerful king decided to construct a fantastic and revolutionary engine in peaceful Bougival: la Machine de Marly.
LA MACHINE DE MARLY – A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Let’s go back in time to meet Louis XIV. By the year 1680, he was busy with the design of Versailles Gardens and Fountains. The site chosen by Louis XIV to build his magnificent palace was far from any river and high in elevation so water supply was a problem. The King needed LOTS of water for the maintenance of Versailles Garden and also to feed Versailles Fountains and Grand Canal so he asked his architects Mansart and Colbert to find a solution: “if water does not arrive at Versailles by itself we will have to carry it! “.
The Machine de Marly was built between 1681 and 1684 to pump water from River Seine (10 km North) to feed Versailles Gardens and Chateau de Marly Gardens (Louis XIV’s weekend palace). It was a civil engineering marvel located at the bottom of the hill of Louveciennes, in the town of Bougival. It was considered a World Wonder at the time and it may have been the largest system of integrated machinery ever assembled to that date.
The Machine de Marly consisted of a wooden building placed at one of the Seine River’s arms with fourteen wheels (14 like Louis XIV) moving 257 noisy pumps. This industrial wonder could bring up 5.000 m3 of water per day, from River Seine (+55m) to Aqueduct de Louveciennes (+195m) to finally reach Versailles Fountains and Gardens. This super machine, also called the eighth World Wonder, worked until 1817.
After 1817 other installations will follow, using steam and later electricity to move their wheels. The last Machine of Marly (1859 to 1963) was designed by Dufrayer, using the same principles than its predecessors but with new technologies. With only 6 wheels, it could bring up 18.000 m3 of water per day. This last machine stopped working in 1963, and then it was demolished.
Today we are going to follow the watercourse from the Seine River up to the gardens of Versailles to visit the remnants of this fantastic machine. This is one of the most interesting day trips from Paris by train, combining history + beautiful landscapes. You can visit all the sites during a (very busy) day or split your visit into different day trips from Paris.
READ MORE – Best Day Trips from Paris by train
LA MACHINE DE MARLY AT BOUGIVAL
Bougival is a town located in the Yvelines Department, 17 km west of Paris. SNCF trains leave Paris from Gare Saint Lazare (30 min every 20 min). You can see all the transportation options (public transportation and car) here. Bougival has some interesting attractions like a medieval church, an old wash-house or Berthe Morisot’s house. It is also nice to walk along the Seine River and admire some panels with impressionist masterworks at the exact spot where they were painted.
In Bougival we can still see some of the Machine de Marly remains, located by the River Seine:
>> the Neoclassical building built to host the steam engine;
>> some administrative offices, warehouses, stables, and lodgments;
>> a little brick building in the middle of the river.
LE CHEMIN DE MI-CÔTE (RIVER SEINE TO AQUEDUCT DE LOUVECIENNES)
This steep path (some parts have 20% of slope) was parallel to the pipes transporting the water from the Seine River up to the top of Louveciennes hill, and it linked all the Machine’s installations. This path was taken every day by the machine’s workers to repair eventual breakdowns. Today le Chemin de Mi-Côte is a green walk with informative panels about the Machine (its history, how it worked . . .) to highlight its remaining spots:
>> some small constructions for the pumps and the forge;
>> La “Ferme de Mi-Côte”, a kind of wooden hut to host the forge for the Machine’s maintenance.
Years later, la Ferme de Mi-Côte was turned into a farm. This farm was the subject of one of Alfred Sisley paintings “Louveciennes, hauteurs de Marly”.
Be careful because this path can be very slippery, especially after a rainy day! Use the handrails. This path can be tiring for some people but it is very interesting and the views over Paris on the top of the hill are gorgeous.
AQUEDUCT DE LOUVECIENNES
L’aqueduct de Louveciennes was built by King Louis XIV’s engineers in the XVII century with the purpose to deliver the water pumped by the Machine de Marly to Versailles Palace and Chateau de Marly.
The water from the River Seine was pumped up to the hill of Louveciennes (+126m) by pipes put on two paved inclines and flowed into the reservoir at the summit of the aqueduct’s east tower. From there, the water was transported by gravity to Versailles Palace and Chateau Marly. The Aqueduct de Louveciennes worked until 1866.
Today we can follow the aqueduct by foot and have a look inside the reservoir in the east tower. The second picture here below is taken from the water reservoir in the aqueduct’s east tower. From here the water coming from the Machine de Marly entered the Aqueduct de Louveciennes.
Louveciennes is a town located in the Yvelines Department, 10 km west of Paris. SNCF trains leave Paris from Gare Saint Lazare (33 min every 20 min). You can see all the transportation options (public transportation and car) here.
After a long journey, the water finally arrived at Versailles Gardens to feed its fountains. Designed between 1660 and 1670 by André Le Notre, the king of gardeners and gardener to the king, Versailles Gardens are his masterwork, where he perfected the concept of “French Garden”. The Gardens of Versailles are located on the west of the palace, surrounding the chateau on three sides. The gardens cover 800 hectares of land and are a key component of the royal residence. Actually, Louis XIV considered the gardens as important as the palace itself.
The Gardens at Versailles are made of different walks, parterres, and paths all enhanced by sculptures, fountains and other water features for the pleasure of the eyes. The east-west axis became the “Grande Perspective”, dominated by the Grand Canal.
Versailles Gardens can be visited for free, independently from the Chateau. Paris to Versailles day trip is one of the most popular and easy day trips from Paris so crowds are guaranteed. Don’t want to wait in line for hours to enter Versailles Palace? Then book a Versailles Skip the Line Tour or head directly to the gardens, there are plenty of things to see and do at Le Notre’s masterwork.
GRAND CANAL AND VERSAILLES FOUNTAINS
With the Grand Canal construction, André Le Notre transformed the grande perspective east-west into an endless, shiny perspective. The grand canal measures 60mx 1700m east-west and 100m north-south. During Louis XIV kingdom, le Grand Canal Versailles was the background of memorable parties and the king enjoyed sailing different kinds of ships along the canal. In 1674, the Republic of Venice sent the King two gondolas, that’s why some people called this Grand Canal “La Petite Venise”. In the summer the King’s fleet sailed along the Grand Canal while in the winter, the Grand Canal was left to skaters. The transversal arm was used to reach the Ménagerie or the Trianon by ship.
Today, visitors can also sail the canal by boat. Boats for hire (30 min minimum) are found near La Flottille restaurant. You can also explore the Grand Canal Versailles by bike or Segway tours (book in advance).
Versailles Fountains are an important feature of the Gardens at Versailles. They are spread everywhere in the gardens featuring the seasons, fantastic animals or classical gods. The most famous fountain in Versailles is the Apollo Fountain. The Apollo Fountain Versailles is based on the legend of Apollo, the Sun god, and the King’s icon. Apollo Fountain is located in the east-west axis, at the end of the Royal Alley.
The king’s daily walk in his gardens was the only opportunity for the public to see the Versailles Fountains run. The king’s orders to the fountain men stated that “when His Majesty will no longer be in the little park, we will stop everything”. Actually, courtesans had to be very close of the king to see the whole show: as soon as Louis XIV passed one fountain, the water was cut off to put it back to the next fountain.
Today visitors can see all the fountains working without the help of any king. From end of March to end of October, le Chateau de Versailles organizes different fountain shows, being the most popular one Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes.
Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes – Palace of Versailles Fountain Show
During summer (16 June to 15 September 2018), every Saturday evening, le Chateau de Versailles organizes the Versailles Fountain Show (Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes). From 8.30 pm to 11 pm, visitors can stroll around the magnificent Gardens of Versailles magically illuminated. The gardens are staged to dazzle even further. Groves and fountains are decorated with a thousand lights, surreal illuminations, wonderful baubles. Versailles Gardens turn into Versailles musical Gardens at night, with the Sun King’s music (French baroque music) following visitors all along their stroll. This magical soirée ends with a magnificent fireworks show, just like when King Louis XIV was around.
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