Visit time : half-day.
If Versailles is the pinnacle of an era and of a king (Louis XIV), Fontainebleau illustrates eight centuries of French history. Over thirty rulers resided within these walls, and each one has left his mark, his extension, and his style, making the Palace a patchwork of architectural techniques. Though it witnessed great pages of French history, it is itself a symbol of the adaptation of Italian Renaissance art in the 16th century, allowing visitors today to admire the exceptional richness of its decorations and furniture. From the ground to the ceiling, precious wood flooring, woodwork, tapestries, fireplaces, paintings, sculptures ... every square meter of the Palace is richly decorated, offering its visitors continuous delight.
The Palace of Fontainebleau, its park and its gardens were classified as a World Heritage site in 1981. The architecture and decor of the Palace of Fontainebleau exerted considerable influence on the artistic evolution in France, and also in Europe. François I intended to make a new Rome of this royal residence. It was in this spirit that he brought renowned Italian artists, whose intervention marks the decisive stage in the introduction of the aesthetic formulas of the Renaissance into France. Used by French kings from the 12th century onward, the medieval royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, standing at the heart of a vast forest in the Île-de-France, was transformed, enlarged and embellished in the 16th century by François I. From then on it was one of the most important and prestigious sites of the French Court.
Royal residence, the “house of the centuries,” Fontainebleau has retained the imprint of every reign and every style: Henri IV, Louis XIII, Louis XV and Louis XVI didn’t hesitate to embellish this royal palace, which Napoleon I preferred above all the others.
Criteria for selection
Criterion (ii): The Palace of Fontainebleau, whose decoration follows the evolution of French art over three centuries, has had considerable influence on the development of pictorial art, to the point of giving its name to several schools of painting.
Criterion (vi): It was the scene of many important events in history: Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (October 22, 1685), the first abdication of Napoleon I (April 6, 1814).
Source : UNESCO / ICOMOS
Transformed into a vast palace over the centuries, the story of Fontainebleau began in the 12th century. At the time, there was only the massive square tower on the site. Typical of medieval architecture, it was certainly one of the first buildings built there. A chapel was quickly added, the Chapel of the Virgin and Saint Saturnin. In the next century, Saint Louis founded a convent hospital with new buildings near the present Chapelle de la Trinité (Chapel of the Trinity), along the main courtyard (Cour du Cheval Blanc or Courtyard of the White Horse). This monastery housed Mathurin monks. Charles VII undertook a large expansion of the outer wall, and the monastery was enlarged in the 16th century by François I. Over the century, the tower and the medieval walls were refurbished and adapted to the needs of the court, and it was gradually transformed into a veritable palace.
The Renaissance (16th century)
François I (1494-1547) felt a certain attachment to the castle, and stayed there regularly. Under his reign the castle would grow and transform into a real palace. The construction of the palace began in 1528, when the King began an ambitious campaign of demolition and expansion of the former royal residence.
The first building of the Palace was constructed between 1528 and 1540 under the direction of Gilles Le Breton, designer of the Cour Ovale (Oval Courtyard) that rests today on the oldest foundations of the palace in the eastern part of the complex. On the side of the Oval Courtyard, François I rebuilt the castle on these primitive foundations. Campaigns for construction and renovation succeeded one another and were supplemented by large beautification projects undertaken during the Renaissance by Italian artists. The front of the Aile de la Belle Cheminée (Beautiful Fireplace Wing) is probably the best example of Renaissance architecture, completed by Francesco Primaticcio, called Primatice. Buildings bordering the Courtyard of the White Horse were constructed : Ailes des Ministres (North Ministers’ Wing) to the north, the Aile de Ferrare (Ferrara Wing) in the west, and the Aile de la Galerie d’Ulysse (Ulysses Gallery Wing) in the south.
The realization of the Galerie François I (François I Gallery) that connects his chamber to the chapel was decorated by Italian artists and is now probably one of the finest achievements of French Renaissance decor. From 1533 to 1540, Rosso Fiorentino, a pupil of Michelangelo, worked on the painted decoration and stucco in the François I Gallery. He realized an ambitious iconographic program in which the themes of the monarchist propaganda were conveyed by the fables and myths of the Greco-Roman world. The French artists who also worked on the decoration of the gallery evolved in their technique and would lead an artistic transition to a style now known as the School of Fontainebleau. This contact with Italian architects, painters and sculptors pushed French artists to radically transform their own practice. If Gilles Le Breton, in his early work, seems to have escaped their influence, Fontainebleau was a revelation to Philibert de l'Orme, and then to Jacques Androuet du Cerceau.
Primatice devoted the most productive phase of his career at Fontainebleau to working on the frescoes of the Salle de Bal (Ballroom), the Duchesse d’Etampe’s chamber and the Galerie d'Ulysse (Ulysses Gallery). Very few rooms he decorated survived, but the memory of his exquisite and refined creations through a number of drawings and engravings that have exerted considerable influence on the trends of his time.
Fontainebleau is closely associated with memories of other famous artists: a statue of Hercules from Michelangelo stood at the base of the Cour de la Fontaine (Courtyard of the Fountain); Benvenuto Cellini's Nymph of Fontainebleau was conceived for the Porte Dorée (Golden Gate); Serlio drew the plans for different parts of the Palace and conceived the entrance to the Fontaine Belle-Eau with its rustic grotto supported by telamons.
The 17th century
The reign of Henry IV
Like François I, Henri IV was particularly attached to his residence at Fontainebleau, his favorite after the Louvre. It is he who made the last significant expansions: new buildings were constructed, gardens and courtyards were landscaped and beautified, and the channel was widened. These new developments gave the Palace its current configuration.
Including the Galerie de la Belle Cheminée (Gallery of the Beautiful Fireplace) and the Galerie des Cerfs (Gallery of Stags), the Palace was richly decorated, designed by a new generation of French artists (Toussaint Dubreuil, Ambroise Dubois, Mathieu Jacquet, Martin Fréminet) inspired by the lessons of Italian painters, associated with the Second School of Fontainebleau in the course of the 17th century. Under Louis XIII, the Escalier en fer à cheval (Horseshoe Staircase) was rebuilt and the decoration of the Chapelle de la Trinité (Chapel of the Trinity) was completed.
From a historical and political perspective, the 17th century was rich with historical events. During its stay at Fontainebleau, the royal family lived important moments: weddings, births, baptisms, deaths, murders, arrests ... Alliances were formed at Fontainebleau: international treaties for peace and trade ... On September 16, 1629, the ratification of the Treaty of Peace between France and England was signed. On October 17, 1685 the Edict of Fontainebleau, or Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was signed in the cabinet of Madame de Maintenon.
The 18th century
The need to accommodate the court
The imprint of Louis XIV on Fontainebleau is relatively small, except for the creation of the Grand Parterre, entrusted to André Le Nôtre, some outbuildings and some interior decoration. Under Louis XV, the construction of new housing for the court led to considerable demolitions. Numerous decors and interiors, including openings, allowed for better circulation in the apartments. Under Louis XVI, the modifications mainly concerned the Grands and Petits and Appartements (State Apartments).
The wedding of Louis XV and Marie Leszczynska (Princess of Poland), held September 5, 1725 in the Chapelle de la Trinité, is undoubtedly the most important event of the Enlightenment. It is also the only royal wedding celebrated at the castle. Artists came to perform in the new theater in the Aile de la Belle Cheminée, which also visited by Rousseau, Voltaire and Molière. The theater witnessed the creation and revival of fine performances. Hunts, rides, games and shows all punctuated the stays of the court in the 18th century.
The 19th century
The First Empire
At the end of the 18th century, the French Revolution had spared buildings but the Palace furniture was widely dispersed. Napoleon decided, from his coronation in 1804, to restore and refurnish the castle. During this period the Jardin Anglais (English Garden) was created. The king that defined the castle as "the true home of kings, home of the centuries" would mark his stay at Fontainebleau by a legendary farewell to his guards at the foot of the Escalier en fer à cheval on April 20, 1814 before his exile to the Island of Elba.
Pope Pius VII stayed at the Palace on the way to Paris in 1804 to attend the coronation of Napoleon in Notre-Dame de Paris. He returned to the Palace in 1812 to the apartments that had been built specifically for him for the coronation of 1804, though this time as a captive. See "Appartement du Pape."
The Restoration and the July Monarchy
The following rulers (Louis XVIII and Charles X) stayed very little at Fontainebleau. It was not until Louis-Philippe that a new campaign of general restoration was conducted on the occasion of the marriage of the Duke of Orléans with princess Hélène of Mecklenburg-Schwerin. During this period, the court then stayed there briefly but regularly, mainly for hunting. The son of Louis-Philippe moved into the Appartement des Chasses (Hunting Apartment). Restorations and improvements continued. The decoration was continuously enriched with new works. Note in particular the great contemporary paintings in the Appartement des Chasses or the decoration in the Galerie de Diane (Diana Gallery).
The Second Empire
During the Second Empire, Napoleon III stayed regularly at the Palace, which became a resort. The apartments gained in comfort and more and more visitors came for longer and longer stays. The Palace experienced its last improvements : the creation of a new theater, the Musée Chinois (Chinese Museum), and the decoration of the Galerie des Cerfs. The Jardin de Diane (Diana Garden) was enlarged. Napoleon III and Eugenie finally left in 1868, leaving behind a palace with over 1,500 rooms in the heart of a 130 hectares parks and gardens. During World War II, the Palace was occupied by the Germans. Once France was liberated, it was used as the headquarters of NATO until 1965 before becoming the Musée National du Château de Fontainebleau (National Museum of the Palace of Fontainebleau), its official title.
4 Rue Royale, 77300 Fontainebleau
Website - tel : 01 60 74 99 99.
Open daily :
Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. year round.
Sunday and holidays: May through October: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. / 2 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. ; November through April: 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The Tourist Office is located close to the Palace entrance. Efficient and competent team. Bicycles available for rent. Many guides and maps available.
Musée Napoléon 1er
Founded in 1986, the Napoleon I Museum is included in the visit of the Grands Appartements (State Apartments). Located on the first floor of the Aile Louis XV (Louis XV wing), the collection of works of art, objects and furniture retraces the life of the Emperor and his family, giving visitors a clear idea of the pomp of the their daily life. This museum features an impressive collection of furniture, art, paintings, sculptures, jewelery, swords, costumes, hats, ceramics, historical documents and memorabilia that belonged to the imperial family.
At the Palace
Attelages de Fontainebleau
Website - tel : 01 64 22 92 61 or 06 81 50 09 20
Adult : €7.50 / child: €5. Open every day. Duration: 20 minutes
At the top of the Grand Parterre, near the Porte Dorée, carriages wait to help you discover the Grand Parterre and the Palace of Fontainebleau. Other options are possible, check with the Attelages de Fontainebleau for specific availabilities.
Jeu de Paume
Entrance from the Cour du Cheval Blanc. The jeu de paume, along with hunting, was a favorite among the members of the court. This ancestor of tennis was "the game of kings, the king of games." The game even inspired many French idiomatic expressions, still in use today. Built under Henri IV, the jeu de paume court was rebuilt in 1732 after the major fire of 1702. It was restored again in 1812.
If you want to try your hand, information and reservations are available through the game coordinator, tel : 01 64 22 47 67
Rental fees for a boat of 3 people: 30 minutes / 1 hour: €9.50 / €18.
From May to September: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
April and October, on weekends : from noon to 6 p.m.
On the Etang aux Carpes. Accessible via the Cour de la Fontaine.
Hot Air Balloon
Website - tel : 03 80 97 38 61.
Fly over the Palace of Fontainebleau, the forest and its surroundings, its pristine nature and small villages. For the whole family.
Other activities in the area
The Forest of Fontainebleau
Classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. With an area of 25,000 hectares and a rich and diverse fauna and flora, the forest of Fontainebleau is a favorite place of nature lovers. Many outdoor activities are offered: rock climbing, walking, riding or cycling. For these activities and others, information is available at the Tourist Office.
Foot and bike paths
The path routes offered by the Tourist Office allow visitors to discover the forest of Fontainebleau on foot or bike on 1,600 kilometers of forest roads and walking routes, including 300 kilometers of marked trails.
Highly regarded in the climbing community, Fontainebleau welcomes thousands of climbers each year. The forest is full of boulders for all levels.
900 kilometers of bridleways furnished by nature.
Getting to Fontainebleau
From Paris, take highway A6 (Porte d'Orléans or Porte d'Italie), exit Fontainebleau
Nearby classified sites
Paris, Banks of the Seine: 70 km (43.5 mi), time: 1 hour
Versailles: 73 km (45 mi), time: 1 hour
Chartres: 115 km (71 mi), time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Provins: 54 km (33.5 mi), time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
Gare SNCF de Fontainebleau-Avon ( 3 km from the Palace)
Website - tel : 32 46 .
From Paris : Gare de Lyon towards Montargis Sens, get off at the Fontainebleau-Avon station (duration: about 45 minutes). Then take the bus line 1 to the city center and the Palace.
Website - tel : 01 64 22 23 88 .
From the Fontainebleau-Avon train station, take the line 1 bus to the city center or the Palace (every 15 minutes).
Website - tel : 01 44 55 61 00.
From Paris, departure from 2 Rue des Pyramides, 75001 Paris
Website - tel : 01 64 09 73 57 .
Transfers / shuttle for train stations and Paris airports, 7/7 and 24/24h.
Sleeping / Eating
The selection of accommodation proposed below consists of establishments that offer quality services at competitive rates, they are considered as references in their respective categories. The prices shown are for the off season, based on 2 people.
Hôtel Victoria ***
112 - 122 Rue de France, 77300 Fontainebleau
Website - tel: 01 60 74 90 00.
Price from €100.
Hôtel de Londres
1 Place du Général de Gaulle, 77300 Fontainebleau
Website - Tel: 01 64 22 20 21
Aigle Noir Hôtel ****
27 Place Napoléon Bonaparte, 77300 Fontainebleau
Website - Tel: 01 60 74 60 00.
The selection of restaurants proposed below consists of restaurants that offer a good price/quality value.
Tea Room of the Palace
Ideally placed to take a break or eat a snack during the visit. You will find it at the Golden Gate (between the Oval Courtyard and the Fountain Courtyard). Pleasant terrace overlooking the Carp pond.
Le Bistro 9 - Wine bar and restaurant
9 Rue Montebello, 77300 Fontainebleau
Tel : 01 64 22 87 84.
Main course around €20.
L’Axel Restaurant - Gourmet cuisine
43 Rue de France, 77300 Fontainebleau
Website - tel : 01 64 22 01 57.
"Lunch menu" (during the week) €33. Other "menu" from €55.