In December 1999, France was struck by a historic storm. The estate of Versailles was severely damaged. An exceptional event in many respects.
In the night of 25 to 26 December 1999, winds of 210 km/h buffeted Versailles for 2 hours. The morning of the 26 December showed a scene of desolation. A few dozen windows of the Château were broken and roofs damaged, but it was the park that suffered most. Of the 200,000 trees, over 10,000 were snapped or uprooted. All the walks were affected, and some of them became inaccessible. 80% of the trees destroyed were rare species. They included some historic specimens such as, at Trianon, the 2 tulip trees from Virginia planted by Marie-Antoinette in 1783 and the Corsican pine of Napoléon. The park also lost its oldest tree, planted in the reign of Louis XIV near the Queen’s Walk, known as “Marie-Antoinette’s oak”. Three centuries of history were thus swept away. 10,000 damaged old trees had to be cut down afterwards.
Versailles had already experienced a similar event but on a smaller scale, in February 1990. The second and more deadly storm closed the decade and the century. Rightly regarded as a catastrophe, the storm of 1999 turned out, paradoxically, to have offered a tremendous opportunity. Since 1991, a progressive replanting campaign had been under way. It met with protests both from the public and certain scientists who feared that these historic gardens would lose their unique attraction. In fact, unlike in the previous centuries, the park of Versailles had not been replanted since the end of the 19th century. The storms of 1990 and 1999 clearly revealed the advanced ageing of the estate’s trees.
An international subscription was opened to the public in 2000 and collected 2 million euros which were added to the 19 million of the State. 50,000 new trees were planted. Above all, the storm helped to accelerate the campaign for the restoration of old stands of trees. Thus, the Petit Trianon was replanted as it was in the 18th century in accordance with the inventory of the species. The Grand Trianon recovered the groves (“green rooms”) of Hardouin-Mansart that had disappeared in the 19th century. The gardens of the Château are being replanted and restored to their state under Louis XIV.