Like Giverny and Versailles, the town of Fontainebleau is very close to Paris.
Only 38 miles to the south of the capital, the town and its castle offer a delightful full or half day tour out of Paris. Plan on the trip taking 45 minutes from the center of the capital. Fontainebleau is in the department of Seine-et-Marne (77), which has superb forests and many interesting historical monuments and tourist attractions to visit – Provins, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Moiret-sur-Loing, Melun, Meaux, Blandy-les-Tours, Barbizon and of course the famous and magnificent royal town of Fontainebleau.
History of Fontainebleau Castle
The very first mention of Fontainebleau castle in historical records dates back to the time of Louis VII in 1137. Later on the original building was extended by Saint-Louis (Louis IX, 1226-1270). However the castle really earned its claim to fame in 1268, when King Philip the Fair (1285-1314) was born there.
Throughout the 100 Years’ War the castle was abandoned as the seat of government but it was given a new lease of life during the Renaissance under Francis I (1494–1547). The feudal castle was rapidly transformed into a building of typically Renaissance style. Although the king had initially set up court at Blois castle, he much preferred Fontainebleau and had it completely rebuilt. So Fontainebleau was instrumental in returning the seat of power to nearby Paris. Francis 1 was a scholar and an art enthusiast. He adorned his castle with numerous works of art, including canvasses by the Italian masters such as the the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
He also established a magnificent library at the castle, which was to become the predecessor to the country’s National Library. Henry II, Henry III, and Henry IV all lived there in succession and each king added their own stamp to the building. Both Louis XIII and Louis XIV, even though the latter was very busy with the construction of the Palace of Versailles, loved to visit Fontainebleau.
The 18th century and the French Revolution were sad chapters in the history of Fontainebleau, as the castle was emptied of its furnishings and Seine-et-Marne’s Ecole Centrale took over the building. It was thanks to Napoléon 1 that the castle was refurnished and refitted in 1804.
Fontainebleau : an exceptional history
Fontainebleau is the only castle in France which can claim to have hosted successive dynasties of French kings under its roof, from the Capetians, to the Bourbons and even the Bonapartes. Every era and every monarch and his queen has contributed to the construction and embellishment of this truly remarkable building.
Facts and figures about Fontainebleau
Eight dynasties of kings
1530 works of art
484,000 square feet of floor space
Three gardens laid over 320 acres
12 acres of buildings
40,000 pieces of furniture
Around a hundred clocks which are rewound every week!
A visit to Fontainebleau includes three distinct visitor attractions.
The castle is open every day other than Tuesdays, January 1st, May 1st and December 25th.
October through March : 9.30 a.m. to 5 p.m. (last entry at 4.15 p.m.)
April through September : 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. (last entry at 17.15 p.m.)
The gardens and courtyards
The gardens and courtyards are open every day.
November through February : 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In March, April and October : 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
May through September : 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The park is open every day of the year and all day long.