When Louis XIV, aka the Sun King, decided to build the palace to end all palaces at Versailles, he was as interested in the grounds as in the palace itself. He envisioned a paradise of gardens, 50 fountains, many interconnected canals and little wooded glens. All this took a tremendous amount of water–which the landscape of Versailles did not have. But he was the King, and ALL the water in the land was his by right. So he set his engineers to work changing the course of every river he could get his hands on.
It was impossible to operate all or even very many of the fountains at the same time, even as they were being built. Workers developed a system of tracking the king and warning other workers with whistles, so that whenever the king strolled into view of a particular fountain, water could gush forth.
By 1685, Louis had exhausted all the nearby sources of water. By this time, he had taken up with Madame de Maintenon–whose Chateau happened to sit directly on the River Eure. Never one to do things by halves, Louis ordered his engineers to divert the water 50 miles from Maintenon to Versailles. And he wanted the job done in grand fashion, as the Caesars had done it. So a viaduct was begun. During the year 1685, 10,000 troops were pressed into service for the grand building project. In 1686, 20,000 troops were hard at work. Unfortunately, Louis had embarked on one of his many wars, and it was hard to justify using 1/10 of his entire military force to water his gardens. He was short of cash, too. The project was abandoned, still 18 miles short of Versailles.
Today the viaduct is a romantic ruin that only adds to the charm of the Chateau de Maintenon.
The River Eure runs undisturbed, and the Chateau’s gardens are well watered. Louis XIV had to do without, for once in his long life.
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!