The gardens at the Château de Versailles were designed primarily by landscape architect André Le Nôtre for King Louis XIV in the late 17th century. The palace and the accompanying gardens were built on the site of a swampy hunting lodge constructed for King Louis III on the south-western skirts of Paris.
The gardens as we know them today were built to encourage more power to the king and the nobility, in those days when the idea of a patrimonial authoritarian state was becoming less popular and the masses were headed towards revolution and democracy (Mukerji, 510-511). In order to develop this sense of power and glory for the monarchy, the architects at Versailles extracted images and ideas from the Greek and Roman empires, which were once politically, economically and militarily strong. The king and the nobility aimed to develop France as an “heir to Rome” that would pursue empire and endless power, and the gardens at Versailles succeeded in presenting “Roman revival as wondrous and empowering to French elites” (Mukerji, 510).
The elites who came and went from Versailles, however, appreciated Versailles not so much for its political and economic significance, but rather for its ability to entertain (Mukerji, 511). The gardens frequently hosted promenades, parties, and plays, among other extravagant rituals. Indeed, the area proved more visually appealing and materialistically significant than politically involved. The visual pleasure found at Versailles still exists for visitors today, as it does in the Jardin des Tuileries, another garden in France constructed to evoke a sense of power and wealth.
Both the Jardin des Tuileries and the gardens at Versailles use Greek and Roman imagery to develop powerful and victorious tones for those who visit them. At Versailles, Roman statues of Hercules, Diana, Bacchus, and more stand picturesque on their pedestals along wide walkways, and they rest in the middle of several central fountains and pools. The figure of Apollo is repeated several times throughout the gardens, appearing most strikingly at Apollo’s Fountain, at one end of the Great Lawn and virtually in the center of the gardens. King Louis XIV was often called the Roi du Soleil, or the Sun King, and these analogies to Apollo suggested that “the king could bring cultural light to Europe, exercise moral authority over the earth, and organize the natural world around him” (Mukerji, 520). This is one example of how Roman images develop the king as a figure of omnipotence. Apollo likewise appears in the Jardin des Tuileries alongside images of the goddess Daphne, serving a similar purpose for the monarchs who inhabited the Palais des Tuileries.
The Jardin des Tuileries and the gardens at Versailles also exhibit similar geometric landscapes and designs. Both gardens contain large square or rectangular sections of tidy grass, surrounded by level paths and occupied by a lone Roman statue chiseled from white marble. From above, these geometric sections appear symmetrical, as if they are mirroring each other. Between these sections, there often lies a large circular fountain or pool, likewise occupied by a lone statue. Topiaries in both gardens are kept trimmed and pristine, and it is forbidden to walk upon designated portions of grass in order to preserve the beauty that lies there.
An obvious difference between the two gardens, at least as we know them today, concerns the gardens’ flora. The Jardin des Tuileries contains hundreds of colorful flowers on its eastern side, near the site of the Palais des Tuileries and the Louvre. However, the gardens at Versailles contain no flowers, and aside from the colors that appear in the marble of fountains and arches, there is little color at all. This may simply be due to the vast expanse of Versailles – to care for so many delicate flowers across the expanse of the entire royal garden would be extremely difficult. The lack of color may also be a purposeful design choice, for flowers don’t quite evoke a sense of power or victory, and including them at Versailles might derive the site of its political tones.
Both gardens also contain a design idea evident not only in gardens but throughout modern Paris. After Haussmannization occurred in (year), wide and clean boulevards became characteristic of the city’s landscape. These streets were designed to connect major Parisian monuments and buildings so that one can be seen from another. Standing on the front steps of the Panthéon, one can see the French Senate building in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and standing at the Tour Eiffel, one has a clear and direct view of the Arc de Triomphe.
Similarly, major fountains, statues, and monuments are connected by wide walkways within the two gardens. At the Versailles gardens one can see clearly from the palace to Latona’s Fountain to Apollo’s Fountain, and at the Jardin des Tuileries one can see clearly from the Louvre to the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel to the Place de la Concorde. These geometric lines are characteristic of other parks and gardens in Paris and have become characteristic of greenspaces in the modern while traditional city.
Tourism has become characteristic of these greenspaces as well. The Jardin des Tuileries is flooded daily with people, who come to bask in the sunlight on the lawns and around the fountains, and with vendors, who come to sell trinkets and souvenirs to visitors. Likewise, the gardens at Versailles draw masses of tourists, and entrance to the gardens is permitted only with a paid ticket. These two gardens accompany historical and political spaces, and thus they are subject to massive amounts of tourism.
That being said, the gardens also serve everyday Parisians. A portion of the gardens at Versailles is open to the public, and runners and bikers can often be seen on those paths. The Tuileries gardens also contain areas that are quiet and less visited by tourists where friends meet to enjoy each other’s company and families stroll on late afternoons. The parks no longer necessarily stand as representations of French power and wealth, but they do speak to rich Parisian history and tradition through architecture and landscape. Today, they serve to wow the minds of tourists and everyday Parisians alike.