Visit the Marly estate
Opening times and access
The Château de Marly was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart from 1679 on for the leisure activities of Louis XIV and his family. The estate then consisted of a château surrounded by twelve pavilions. At Marly, the king gave his full attention to the gardens. The landscape offered a variety of perspectives and the Marly "machine" provided the fountains an abundance of water that was impossible in Versailles. Although regarded as an architectural marvel, Marly and its gardens were progressively destroyed in the 18th century. Today, only the outline of the park and the foundations of the pavilions are still visible.
Opening times of the park
- High season, 1 April to 31 October, from 7:30 am to 7:30 pm
- Low season, 1 November to 31 March, from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm
By train: RER A: to Saint Germain en Laye, then bus no. 1 to Mobilien Versailles / Saint-Germain-en-Laye (get off at Louveciennes Village).
By car: motorway A13 (exit no.6 – in the direction of Saint-Germain-en-Laye) then the RN 186.
History of the estate
Located 7 km to the north-west of Versailles, Marly is the other major achievement of Louis XIV after Versailles. He made it his leisure residence. Jules Hardouin-Mansart, his chief architect, demonstrated here his twofold talent as architect and garden.
The Sun King created at Marly a masterpiece of French architecture and the formal garden of the 17th century, as well as a holiday residence popular with the Court. It was in fact one of the most original achievements of the Grand Century. The approach adopted was the opposite to that of Versailles:
The royal residence was located in a steep-sided little valley. It was visible only once the visitor had crossed the boundary of the estate. It was hidden in the forest of Marly and located close to the village of the same name. It was not a château but a series of pavilions laid out on two long axes of perspective: the long north-south axis consisted successively from top to bottom of a large cascade, called the “River”, a vast expanse of water (a “water mirror”) between two narrower stretches with cascades, ponds on each side, a large watering place followed in the forest by a walk with a central pool-fountain. The east-west axis ran from the Louveciennes road along a paved walk, wooded on both sides after entering the other side of the valley, with an entrance lodge and chapel on one side and outbuildings on the other side. The king’s pavilion was the centre of this layout. Facing it, on either side of the “water mirror”, like the planets around the sun, were twelve small pavilions symmetrically placed, with one side for men and the other side for women. They were linked by trellised arbours and walks lined with cypresses and other trees trimmed in different ways. The outbuildings, stables and kitchens were dissimulated behind screens of trees. On the windowless walls of these outlying buildings, the king ordered a fake colonnade to be painted, leading to a garden that inspired the garden of the Grand Trianon. In fact, visual tricks were the rule here: the architecture of the pavilions, painted by Le Brun, was mostly fake!
As in Versailles, the gardens had numerous groves. But whereas there was less statuary, ornamental water effects were more abundant. Owing to the proximity of the Seine, Marly boasted many ornamental lakes, ponds and spouts, thanks to the famous and colossal “machine” built on the river, the masterpiece of hydraulic engineering of its time, built in 1681-1684 by the native of Liège Arnold de Ville for the stupendous sum of 3,700,000 livres! The beauty of the decorative water effects, combined with that of the buildings and gardens, if we are to believe the contemporary witnesses, made this place “the most beautiful spot in the world”! Apart from Mansart and Le Brun, the best sculptors contributed to this enchantment, and their works are visible today in the Marly courtyard of the Louvre. They include the famous Drinking Horses of the Coustou brothers, which in the 18th century replaced the Fame and the Mercury of their uncle Coysevox, placed at the entrance to the Tuileries. Marly also contained, in the king‘s pavilion, the unusual battle scenes painted by Van der Meulen and the first French-style chimneypieces with overmantel mirrors by Pierre Le Pautre, the forerunners of the decor of French salons of the 18th century.