Postcards from home: Versailles, France
The oldest tree in the park at Versailles provides solace for Louise Simson, our property list editor, who writes from France.
When Louis XIV was three years old, plague broke out in Saint-Germain, and he and his younger brother, Philippe were sent to their father’s hunting lodge at Versailles for safety. What can we suppose was the effect of this extended stay on Louis?
As king, Louis XIV built the enormously grand palace we can visit today and moved his court there in 1682. He gave his father’s gardener, Andre Le Nôtre, full charge over the estates. Among le Notre’s wealth of changes and improvements, this pedunculate oak tree was planted in 1668. Two years later, the Grand Trianon was built by Louis Le Vau nearby.
It is now the oldest tree in Versailles. It stands at 36 metres high and the circumference of its trunk is more than five metres. But it is lucky to have survived so long. As much of the park at Versailles is built on a drained swamp, the water table is high and so the roots of many of the trees are near the surface. This makes them vulnerable to high winds and many of the park’s great trees were lost in a storm in 1999. The favorite oak tree of Marie-Antoinette, planted seven years earlier than this one, sadly died as a result of a drought in 2003.
This magnificent tree has witnessed the changes over the centuries at the palace: the Revolution, Napoleon, abandonment, occupation, the WWI peace treaty, and the building’s modern use as a musuem.
For me its beauty and endurance is a great solace during the crisis.
Read more about the trees at Versailles on the chateau's website. Image credit: © Didier Saulnier
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