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Orangerie - Château de Versailles

The Versailles Orangerie (French: L′Orangerie du Château de Versailles) was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart between 1684 and 1686, replacing Le Vau’s design from 1663 - that is to say, before work on the palace had even begun. It is an example of many such prestigious extensions of grand gardens in Europe designed both to shelter tender plants and impress visitors. In the winter, the Versailles Orangerie houses more than a thousand trees in boxes. Most are citrus trees, but there are many tender Mediterranean plants including oleanders, olive, pomegranate, and palm trees, totaling over 1,055 altogether. From May to October, they are put outdoors in the Parterre Bas.


The allure of citrusEdit

View of the Orangerie in 1695 as painted by Étienne Allegrain and Jean-Baptiste Martin
Parc de Versailles, with the orange trees in boxes

The sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) was introduced to Europe by the fifteenth or sixteenth century.[1] At first, they were an expensive food item. Medieval cookbooks tell exactly how many orange slices a visiting dignitary was entitled to. Citrus soon became the fashion of the nobility and rich merchants. By the sixteenth century, sweet oranges had become well-established and had assumed commercial importance in Europe.

In France, the first orangerie was built and stocked by Charles VIII of France at the Château of Amboise.[2] There is general agreement that the arrival of the sweet orange in Europe was linked with the activities of the Portuguese during the fifteenth century, and particularly by Vasco de Gama's voyages to the East. Although the Romans had been acquainted with lemons and probably sour oranges as well as citrons, the different types - sour oranges, lemons and sweet oranges - reached Europe centuries apart. By withholding water and nutrients, and by using pruning techniques, French gardeners were able to make citrus trees bloom throughout the year, to the delight of Louis XIV. Citrus motifs formed themes in sculpture, mosaics, embroidery, weaving, paintings, poems, and songs throughout history, and orange blossoms remain prized as floral ornaments at weddings.[3]


The central gallery is flanked by two side galleries located under the Escaliers des Cent Marches. The three galleries enclose the lower bed (parterre bas), also called the bed de l'orangerie. The walls of these galleries are 4-5 meters thick (13-16 feet) and the central gallery is over 150 meters long (500 feet), facing south to optimize the natural warming effects of the sun. As a result a frost-free environment is maintained without the use of artificial heating year round.[4]

At the center of the Parterre Bas is a large circular pool with a jet d'eau water feature, surrounded by formal lawns planted with topiary. From May to October, the orange trees and other trees are exposed in the lower bed. There are over 1,000 different containers altogether, with several Pomegranate (Punica granatum), Olive (Olea europea), and Orange (Citrus sinensis) trees that are over 200 years old.[5]

Under Louis XIVEdit

Originally completed in 1663, the Orangerie was intended to supply the much smaller hunting lodge of Versailles and the small retinue which Louis XIV would bring with him in the summer. In 1688, after the Court had officially relocated to Versailles, the Orangerie was enlarged by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The pavilion that resulted was modelled on the theories of the horticulturalist Jean-Baptiste de la Quintinie, whose writings detailed a system for protecting exotic plants from the cold without the use of artificial heating.[6]

Louis XIV had a love for orange trees and had them potted in solid silver tubs and placed throughout the state rooms of the Palace to perfume the air.[7] The Orangerie was intended to supply the palace with specimens and supply the Court with fruit year round. In 1664, a year after the first Orangerie was completed, Louis XIV's disgraced former Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet was convicted of maladministration and his belongings confiscated by the Crown. These included over 1,000 orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte, which were transferred to the Orangerie.[8]

Numbering several thousand trees by the 1790s, the Orangerie was the largest of its kind in Europe and a major attraction for visiting diplomats and foreign royalty. In 1698 the British Ambassador to France, William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland, reported back to King William III that he had been taken to view the orange trees at Versailles, but compared them unfavorably to William's own collections in Holland.[9]

Location in the gardenEdit

The Versailles Orangerie is under the flowerbed known as "parterre du midi". Its central gallery is 155 metres in length, and its frontage is directed towards the south. The “Parterre Bas” is bordered on its south side by a balustrade overlooking the Saint-Cyr-l'École. This separates it from the Swiss Pond.


  1. ^ Ramón-Laca, L. (Winter 2003). "The Introduction of Cultivated Citrus to Europe via Northern Africa and the Iberian Peninsula". Economic Botany. 57 (4): 510. doi:10.1663/0013-0001(2003)057[0502:tiocct];2. JSTOR 4256736.
  2. ^ Hyams, Edward (1971). A History of Gardens and Gardening. New York: Praeger Publishers. p. 101.
  3. ^ Scora, Rainer W (Nov–Dec 1975). "On the History and Origin of Citrus". Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club. 102 (6): 370–1. JSTOR 2484763.
  4. ^ "The Orangery". Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  5. ^ "The Orangery". Retrieved 2017-07-03.
  6. ^ Leroux, Jean-Baptiste (2002). The Gardens of Versailles. Thames & Hudson. p. 378.
  7. ^ Nancy Mitford (1966). The Sun King. Sphere Books Ltd. p. 11.
  8. ^ Nancy Mitford (1966). The Sun King. Sphere Books Ltd. p. 11.
  9. ^ Nancy Mitford (1966). The Sun King. Sphere Books Ltd. p. 183.