Attractions: Chateau de Fontainebleau

May 19, 2023

Paul Kay

Are you looking for some vacation destinations? You probably want to know about attractions at your destinations. We have fun facts about attractions at the Chateau de Fontainebleau, France in this post. Chateau de Fontainebleau has so many interesting things to see. The castle has a history that dates back to the 12th century. Over the centuries, it was expanded and renovated, resulting in a unique blend of architectural styles, including Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical. Many famous historical figures have resided at Chateau de Fontainebleau, including Napoleon Bonaparte, who signed his first abdication there in 1814, and Pope Pius VII, who signed the Concordat of Fontainebleau with Napoleon in 1801. The castle features many stunning works of art, including paintings, sculptures, and furniture. It has been called the "museum of France" due to its vast collection of artworks. If you love castles, you’ll love this. Maybe you need to add it to your vacation destination?

Madeline and I visited Barbizon in conjunction with a tour we took with our tour guides, Doru and Stella. They have their own Instagram page I Come and Go. You will hear me talk about these two a lot in France because we took plenty of tours with them and they were terrific. When we saw Fontainebleau, we also visited Barbizon and we have a separate post for Barbizon that you can check out here.

The Chateau de Fontainebleau is one of the largest royal residences in France and most tourists know nothing about it. Most people visit Versailles because it is more publicized. The Chateau de Fontainebleau is located approximately 34 miles away from the center of Paris. It’s hard to fathom even from Madeline’s picture above. The huge building consists of a total of about 1,500 rooms and is situated within a park of over 321 acres. 

Back to Versailles, it is also a fabulous place to visit and there is even a train that will take you there. However, you will encounter about ten times the tourists in Versailles as compared with Chateau de Fontainebleau. If you know a bit about Versailles, you know that Louis XIV commissioned Versailles. Where do you think the kings and queens lived before Louis XIV? There were a few chateaus close to Paris but to get away, they chose the Chateau de Fontainebleau.

The original chateau dates to the 16th century when Francois I was the king of France, but many of the rooms were remodeled under Napoleon I at the beginning of the 19th century.  Overall, it is very elegant and quite a bit less ostentatious than Versailles.

I have to give credit to our tour guides: Doru and Stella for suggesting Fontainebleau and Barbizon for a day. There were hardly any tourists and we learned so much about each from them along with quite a bit of history.

The original structure was built as a fortified castle and dates back to 1137. It served as the residence of the Kings of France from King Louis VII in the 12th century all the way to Napoleon III in the 19th century. A large reason for its popularity was a very large forest that surrounded it was full of game and deer that could be hunted. The French Kings loved to hunt.

In 1528, King Francois I, the great patron of the French Renaissance, pulled down the ruins of an old medieval fortress that was built in the 12th century. He commissioned the best Italian artists of the time including Rosso, Serlio and Primaticcio to decorate it. King Francois I ruled between 1515 and 1527. 

After King Francois I, Henri IV commissioned French and Flemish artists including Dubois and Freminet to continue the decoration of what would become Chateau de Fontainebleau. His son, Louis XIII completed the work after his Henri IV passed.

Louis 13th Salon where he was born in 1601 with Stella in distance

The above Salon was where Louis XIII was born. You can see our guide Stella in the background and get an idea of how immense the Salon is.

Hallway with globe

One of the most fascinating rooms inside the château is the “Gallery of Diana.” It appears to be a very long hallway measuring about 250 feet. It was originally built by King Henry IV so his Queen could go for an enjoyable walk every day without worrying about weather.

Napoleon decided to turn it into a gallery to display all his amazing victories in the year 1810. It eventually ended up being redesigned by King Louis XVIII and turned into a library lined with thousands of books. The globe near the entrance of the Gallery of Diana was brought here in 1861. It originally stood in Napoleon’s office at the Tuileries Palace.

La Statue de Diane in Jardin de Diane

Diana is also represented in the garden outside. Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, was revered since Chateau de Fontainebleau was originally a royal hunting lodge, making the fountain and the garden a fitting nod to the estate’s roots. The statue of the goddess is accompanied by a pack of stately dogs.

The Royal Chapel of the Trinity

It was during the reign of Henri IV that this chapel was built. It would not be finished until the reign of Louis XIII in 1633. This impressive royal chapel was where Louis XV wed Marie Leczinska in September 1725. Napoleon III was baptized on the knees of his uncle Napoleon I in 1810. I always thought that chapels were small. This was immense.

Courtyard view from window

Madeline took this picture from an upper floor walkway, and it shows how large the chateau is from any vantage point. With a structure this large, you can only imagine how much time and expense goes into keeping it up to date.

Covering for restoration work on curving staircase with Paul and Doru

Doru and I were looking at the canvas that draped the staircases that led to the entrance. These are being preserved for future generations. The canvas shows what the staircases will look like.

Fontainebleau Staircase

This photo shows you what the staircases looked like in 2017. When we visited, I would guess that only 20 percent of the facility was open to the public. I’m sure it will change as improvements and restoration continues.

Salon of Tapestries woven 1st half 17th century

The Tapestry room was fully refurbished in 1835 under the reign of the last king of Fontainebleau, Louis Philippe I, and a beautiful wooden coffered ceiling was installed. The new drawing room was furnished by Louis-Philippe. The antique tapestries embellished with gold are from the early 17th century, depicting significant episodes from the myth of Psyche.

Throne Room

The King’s bedchamber no longer looks like it did before the French Revolution. In 1808, Napoleon I turned it into a Throne room, which was used until the Second Empire. What remains, however, of the royal bedchamber is the paneling, marble fireplace with gilt bronze ornamentation and medallions bearing the motto of Louis XIII. There is no bed anymore. However, it is the last remaining Napoleonic throne room in existence.

Musee Napoleon inside Chateau

Sadly, many of the chateau’s original furnishings disappeared during the French Revolution, but the castle fortunately escaped demolition! Much of what we see today is a result of Napoleon I and his influence.  In 1804 he set about refurbishing this “ruin” so it could welcome Pope Pius VII, who had come from Rome to crown him Emperor of the French. In 1808 he built the throne room in the heart of a palace that bestowed legitimacy to his power.

In 1814, defeated by the coalition formed by his opponents, the chateau was where he signed his abdication and prepared to depart for Elba.

Josephine portrait

His wife, Queen Josephine, is well remembered here. I’m sure she had quite an influence on decorations and style while Napoleon reigned. Because she did not bear Napoleon any children, he had their marriage annulled in 1810 and married Marie Louise of Austria.

Imperial Family Tree

Here is a brief history of the family tree. You can see Napoleon on the left.

Napoleon portrait

The history of Napoleon is well represented throughout the Chateau de Fontainebleau. 

Emperor on Campaign info readable

Map of Napoleon Europe

Many people do not realize that not only was Napoleon an Emperor, but he was also King of Italy in 1805. The area controlled by Napoleon had previously been known as a republic, with Napoleon as its president. Napoleon had become the Emperor of France in 1804 and decided that Italy should become a Kingdom ruled by himself, or a member of his family. The new Kingdom of Italy lasted till 1814 when Napoleon had to abdicate from the thrones of both France and Italy and go into exile on the island of Elba.

The Chateau de Fontainebleau is like Versailles without the crowds. Versailles is over 30,000 acres in size which makes it about 100 times the size of Fontainebleau. Versailles also has over 2,300 rooms compared with 1,500 for Fontainebleau. Versailles was home to Louis XIV primarily and you will learn more about his reign there. Fontainebleau had many French kings with Napoleon being the one who restored it. We really enjoyed our visit to Fontainebleau, and we loved that Doru and Stella combined it with Barbizon. It was a stress-free day filled with history. You can check Doru and Stella our for your own customized tour on their Instagram page I Come and Go.

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