Pièce 86 - Description par Harold Clunn de Saint-Germain-en-Laye

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Description par Harold Clunn de Saint-Germain-en-Laye


  • 1933 (Production)

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« [p. 204] The first railway constructed in Paris was that of the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Paris à St. Germain, whose station in the Place de l’Europe was the predecessor of the Gare St. Lazare, opened in 1842. The first train to leave Paris was that which travelled to St. Germain on Saturday, 26 August 1837, on the occasion of the Fête des Loges. King Louis Philippe, who had intented travelling, was prevented by the Chamber from entering this supposed dangerous conveyance, but was represented by Queen Amélie and her children. The duc d’Orléans travelled on the seat next to the driver. It was proposed in the first place to build the railway station near the Place de la Madeleine, but finally the Place de l’Europe was chosen for that purpose. At first the line went only as far as Le Pecq, and thence the journey had to be completed by coach. The line was nineteen kilometres long and the journey occupied thirty-five minutes. The first-class fare in closed or open carriages was two francs fifty centimes, second-class, one franc fifty centimes, and third-class, in the open luggage van, one franc.
[p. 306] The pleasant old town of St. Germain-en-Laye, containing a population of 22,000, dates back to the tenth century and grew round a convent in the forest then known as Ledia. It became a royal residence in the time of Louis VI, and is noted for its delightful situation and the salubrity of its air. On that account it is much favoured by English and American visitors as wall as Parisians. For an old town, St. Germain possesses streets which may be considered fairly wide and well paved, and includes several fines squares.
The real founder of St. Germain was Louis VI, known as Louis le Gros. Previous to that time the site of the town formed a part of the forêt de Laye, where the kings of France came to hunt. The château owes it origin to a dungeon built by Louis le Gros about 1122, which dominated the course of the Seine. During the reign [p. 307] of Saint Louis extensions were carried out, and in 1238 was erected the fine Gothic chapel which is still in existence. The original château was destroyed during the Hundred Year War, when, in 1346, both château and monastery were burnt by the Black Prince. The chapel, however, was spared.
The present palace was commenced by Charles V between 1364 and 1370, but it was Francis I who reconstructed it on a grander scale in 1539. Here he celebrated his wedding with Claude de France, daughter of Louis XII. The architects were Pierre Ier Chambiges and Guillaume Guillain, but the work was not completed until 1555 in the reign of Henri II, who made St. Germain his habitual residence. He built a second château of smaller size which was afterwards enlarged by Henri IV, but this was abandoned in 1660 by Louis XIV in favour of the larger palace, and, after being left to go to ruins, was destroyed in 1776 with the exception of the Pavillon Henri IV.
Louis XIV frequently resided at St. Germain, where he died in 1643, a few months after the death of Richelieu, his great minister ; and Louis XIV was born here on 5 Septembre 1638. After the death of his mother, Anne of Austria, this monarch took up residence at St. Germain, but, finding the palace too small for his requirements, founded the more sumptuous palace of Versailles, and presented that of St. Germain to Mme de Montespan. In 1688 Louis XIV gave it to James II of England as a residence after his exile and there the English king died en 1701. Neglected by Louis XV and Louis XVI it was turned into a military school by Napoleon I, and afterwards became a military prison. Between 1862 and 1902 it was completely restored and transformed into a museum of national antiquities.
On Saturday, 1 Septembre 1854, the palace of St. Germain was visited by Queen Victoria, who displayed a special interest in the apartments occupied by James II, and particularly the oratory in which he was accustomed to pass much of his time in prayer. The tomb of James II, which was erected by Georges IV in 1824, was renovated at the expense of Queen Victoria. On 10 Septembre 1919 the Treaty of St. Germain was signed in the château between the Allies and Austria.
The terrace, which is approached from the park or parterre, was constructed between 1669 and 1673, after the plans of Le Nôtre, and is 2,400 yards long and 30 yards wide. It is situated 190 [p. 308] feet above the Seine, and extends along the borders of the forest. From here a magnificent panorama can be obtained of the valley of the Seine and distant Paris, including Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur, the Eiffel Tower, and Mont Valérien. The grande allée of lime-trees which separate it from the forest was planted in 1745. The containing wall of terrace was formerly topped with a wooden fence, but this was replaced during the Second Empire, between 1855 and 1857, by the present cast-iron railing. At the end of the terrace, but still in the forest, is the Château du Val, constructed by Mansart in 1673, under Louis XIV, as a rendezvous for shooting. It is now used as a Home for members of the Society of the Légion d’Honneur.
The magnificent forest of St. Germain, which is entirely walled in, comprises an area of about 11,000 acres. It occupies the land enclosed by the peninsula of the Seine extending from St. Germain to Poissy on the west and to the agricultural park of Achère on the north. The roads are straight and well kept, the principal avenue leading to Les Lodges, a country house originally built for Anne of Austria in 1644 and now an educational establishment for the daughters of members of the Légion d’Honneur. Near this spot the Fête des Loges takes place at the end of August and lasts ten days.
In the town of St. Germain, opposite the château, is the church of St. Louis, erected on the site of an earlier church. Building was commenced in 1766, but was interrupted in 1787 and not resumed till 1826. The church was finally completed in 1827 and consecrated on 2 December of that year. The Hôtel de Ville is situated in the Rue de Pontoise near the station, and at the junction of the Rues de la République and de Poissy is a bronze statue of Thiers (1797-1877), who died at the Pavillon Henri IV. The old town contains many narrow and picturesque streets centred round its two main thoroughfares, the Rues de Pologne and de Poissy. Both of these lead to the Place du Marché, which is bordered on its western side by an ancient block of colonnaded buildings and shops.
Several excellent hotels standing in their own private grounds are situated close to the park of the château, notably the Pavillon Henri IV, the Pavillon Royal and the Pavillon Louis XIV. These being principally residential, and so conveniently situated for exploring the forest, make St. Germain a most pleasant place in which to spend a holiday. On 20 March 1927 The Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de l’Etat inaugurated their new service of electric [p. 309] trains from Paris (Gare St. Lazare) to St. Germain, which now perform the journey in twenty-four minutes. »

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Harold Clunn, The Face of Paris, The Record of a Century’s Changes and Developments, Londres, Simpkin Marshall, 1933, p. 204 et 306-309

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