Friday, July 10, 2009

Vaux-le-Vicomte Castle in France

A friend and I headed down to Vaux-le-Vicomte, where le pauvre Fouquet dared to outshine the Sun King with his magnificent gardens...not a smart move.

Nicolas Fouquet along with several other notable people built this castle from 1658-1661, after
Fouquet became King Louis XIV's superintendent of finances. Save one other castle this one was the most beautiful and luxurious castle of its time upon completion. The gardens were designed and created by the famous French garden master, André le Nôtre, and the castle built and decorated by the well known interior designer Charles le Brun, and the architect Louis le Vau. This was the first collaborative project between these three historically important designers and Vaux-le-Vicomte became one of the most influential works build in France (Europe!) at that time.

André le Nôtre built the gardens around the style of geometrical shapes, baroque influence, total design and control over all shapes and lines, and long perspectives. His gardening style was to become the basis for the French gardening style not only popular during the Louis XIV reign, but the definitive French gardens of today too, and which became a very important influence on landscape architecture.

Fouquet planned and hosted an elaborate dinner for Louis XIV, with famous artisans of the time attending, such as Molière and La Fontaine. The party was magnificent with fireworks and a play by Molière, and the castle had little else in France to be its equal in beauty, design and grandeur.
The luxuriousness of the castle is what came into question; how had Fouquet managed to afford it. Jean-Baptiste Colbert made the king believe that Fouquet had misappropriated of public funds in order to build Vaux-le-Vicomte and Fouquet was arrested 3 months later.

There are many rumors about this episode. Some believe that Fouquet did steal money from the state to build his grand castle. But, back then, EVERYONE in upper administration stole from the state. Others claim Colbert was just jealous of Fouquet and used his influence to create false charges. Others say the Sun King and Colbert were in cahoots to contrive a crime to incarcerate Fouquet on, not to mention a rigged jury.

Yet others say The Sun King was simply jealous beyond reason when he went to the magnificent gardens and party hosted by Fouquet. As my friend Robynn said, "One shouldn't flaunt their grandeur to the king!"

This could very well be the real reason for Fouquet's arrest, since Louix XIV took over Vaux-le-Vicomt the moment Fouquet was arrested and hired the three famous designers, including André le Nôtre, to come and build Versailles in the same style and taste they had at Vaux-le-Vicomte.

Whether the supposed crime was real or fabricated is still debated, but Fouquet did spend the rest of his life in prison. It is rumored that the 4th musketeer, d'Artagnan (a real person in effect), escorted Fouquet to his trial, and that perhaps Fouquet became the 'man in the iron mask' at the prison Pignerol. Truth or speculation? We'll let you decide.

Whatever the real history of this tragedy was, the beauty of the gardens lives on as one of the pinnacle foundations in the Louis XIV garden and architecture style in French culture and history.


Vaux-le-Vicomte is located about 50km south of Paris near Melun, and can be reached by train or car. Don't drive there on a Sunday if you can avoid it, as you'll be stuck in mega traffic on your way back due to all the Parisians returning home after their weekends away in central France.

Pros and Cons:

The benefit to this castle over Versailles is the size: it isn't so huge. It is easier to walk about and see everything. Also, it is not as popular as Versailles, so you're not so over-run by tourists. The gardens down by the canal make a great location for a picnic lunch on a sunny day. The downside is the distance from Paris, which requires train and taxi and/or a car. The RER does not go here.

More info:

Vaux-le-Vicomte Official Website:

Events of interest:
  1. Dress up in 17th and 18th century garb and have dinner!
  2. They have medieval costumes for children to dress up in!
  3. They have candle lit dinners in the gardens (1000s of candles).

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