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The Grand Canal



The nautical spectacles

The Grand Canal is the most original creation of André Le Nôtre who transformed the east-west perspective into a long light-filled sheet of water. The works took eleven years, from 1668 to 1679. The Grand Canal, 1,670 metres long, was the setting for numerous nautical spectacles and many types of craft were sailed on it. In 1669, Louis XIV ordered rowing boats and reduced models of ships. In 1674, the Republic of Venice sent the King two gondolas and four gondoliers who lodged in a suite of buildings at the head of the Canal, since then known as Little Venice. In the summer the King’s fleet sailed along it, while skates and sleighs whizzed over the frozen water of the Grand Canal in winter.

Pièce d’Eau des Suisses / Swiss Ornamental Lake
Dug to embellish the north-south axis of the gardens, including the Orangerie from which it is separated by the Saint-Cyr road, and used as a theatre for nautical spectacles under the Ancien Régime, this great fountain replaced a marshy stretch known as the “stinking pond” which caused numerous illnesses among the inhabitants of Versailles. Laid out as an octagonal ornamental lake in 1665, it was enlarged around 1678 by the Swiss Guards and once again in 1682 when its extremities were made round. The earth removed during the works was used to lay down the king’s vegetable garden. At its southern extremity was raised an equestrian statue by Bernini depicting Louis XIV, then transformed into Marcus Curtius by François Girardon which the King did not regard as equally flattering. He could reach his vegetable garden along paths lined with plane trees that are now two centuries old and a “royal railings” that still gives on to the ornamental lake.

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