Discovering Saint-Germain-en-Laye, an absolute must

History and heritage | Museums
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A day in Saint-Germain-en-Laye ! 

The Sun King, who died at the Château de Versailles, was born and baptized at Saint-Germain-en-Laye Castle. Paris is indeed surrounded by royal residences which are as many visits to undertake: Saint Germain Castle, built along the Seine from the twelfth century on, became the majestuous residence of many kings including Saint Louis, Francis I and Henry II – an exhibition is currently devoted to the latter for the 500th anniversary of his birth. This is the opportunity to learn everything about this little known king as he died very young following a duel. The son of Francis I, his wife was Catherine de Medicis and his twenty –year- older favorite, was the beautiful Diane de Poitiers.

Each of the kings who stayed at Saint-Germain contributed to the expansion of the castle.

Inhabited as early as 1122 by Louis VI, who decided to build a residence near the Saint Germain priory and the Laye game forest, the chapel was later built by Louis IX (known as Saint Louis) in 1238. This radiant Gothic chapel invents the daring formulas subsequently applied to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris: a single nave with 3 spans and very high glass windows cutting almost all the walls, the whole set being covered with a slate roof with an arrow. Saint Louis welcomed there Emperor Baudoin II of Constantinople who gave him the precious relics of the Christ’s Crown of Thorns. Subsequently, Charles V fortified this residence on a pentagonal plane. It was then transformed by François 1er as a Renaissance castle (brick and stone) with Italian decorative elements such as the terrace and the window pediments. His son Henry II began the construction of a new castle with terraced gardens on the Seine, of which nothing remains today, alas! Louis XIV, who had the gardens redesigned by Le Notre, was the last king to stay at the castle before he moved to Versailles, and in 1862, Napoleon III decided to transform it into an Archeology museum. This is its current use since it has become the National Museum of Archeology featuring valuable prehistoric pieces, among other things. In addition, it presents temporary exhibitions and events such as Opera en plein air which features Tosca by Puccini in the gardens this season. A few RER stations away from the center of Paris, this is to be discovered without delay!