The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte is a famous French castle located 50 kilometers southeast of Paris. Located near Melun, in the department of Seine-et-Marne, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte welcomes nearly 300,000 visitors each year. Built for the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, Nicolas Fouquet, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte has been classified as a historical monument since 1875 and its magnificent park laid out by André Le Nôtre extends over nearly 500 hectares. The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte has also been used as a setting for many films, notably in 1979 for “Moonraker”, the 11th opus of James Bond’s adventures. In this article, we will look at the history of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte, the artists who designed its incredible architecture, as well as the famous movies that have used this masterpiece of classical architecture as a setting.
The history of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte
In 1641, in search of an estate strategically located between the castle of Vincennes and the castle of Fontainebleau, Nicolas Fouquet, Superintendent of Finances of Louis XIV and Marquis of Belle-Île, bought the seigneurial lands of Vaux from a councillor in the Parliament of Paris. This acquisition allows Nicolas Fouquet to acquire the title of “Viscount of Vaux”. Originally, the estate was divided into two parts, combining a small castle (a chastel) and a farm located behind the dwelling, in the commune of Moisenay. Work on the park began in 1653 and the foundations of the castle, supervised by the architect Daniel Gittard, were completed in 1656. Initially, the facades of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte were to be covered with bricks but finally, it is the white stone of Creil which is retained. Michel Villedo, a master mason, was responsible for the construction of the building, supervised by the king’s architect, Louis le Vau. The masonry work as well as that of the frame were completed in 1657. The slate roof of the castle was completed in 1658, at which time the interior work could begin. Charles le Brun, a painter and decorator in charge of the interior design, moved to Vaux-le-Vicomte at the end of 1658. But in 1661, following a colossal debt, Louis XIV had Nicolas Fouquet arrested and the work on the castle was immediately stopped. His possessions were auctioned off and the black and white marble tiles were transferred to the Louvre, while the orange trees and the trees commissioned by the landscape architect André Le Nôtre were dispersed to the Palace of Versailles and the Tuileries Gardens. The castle is finally abandoned by the creditors to the benefit of the wife of Nicolas Fouquet. In 1684, four years after the death of her husband, the widow bequeathed the estate of Vaux-le-Vicomte to her eldest son, Louis Nicolas. In 1705, the last heir Fouquet died and the castle was sold to the Viscounty of Melun, to Marshal de Villars, general of the armies. In 1712, the victor of the battle of Denain is acquired the domain of Vaux-le-Vicomte without having seen it, and he starts important embellishment works. In 1763, Honoré Armand inherited the castle but only kept it for one year. In 1764, the marquis César Gabriel de Choiseul-Praslin bought the estate which took the name of Vaux-Praslin. In 1793, the castle had to be demolished by order, but the Praslin heiress donated the paintings and decorations of the estate to the republic, thus suspending the demolition of Vaux-le-Vicomte. During the 19th century, major renovation work was carried out by the Duke of Praslin, heir to the estate, and in 1875, Alfred Sommier, a wealthy art lover, became the new owner. In 1967, Jean de Vogué, nephew of Edme Sommier, offered the estate to his son, Count Patrice de Vogué, as a wedding present. Nowadays, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte is still owned by the de Vogué family.
Description of the castle
The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte covers an area of 2500 m² and has about a hundred rooms, spread over 3 levels. Of feudal tradition, the castle is rectangular in shape and surrounded by a large moat. It consists of a central body with a rotunda room facing the gardens. 4 pavilions adjoin the central body of the castle: the 2 pavilions on the garden side are rectangular in shape, while the 2 others on the courtyard side are square. The central lounge, located in the heart of the rotunda, offers a breathtaking view of the gardens, the main courtyard and the vestibule of the castle. The king’s apartments are located on the first floor, on the garden side. The basement contains the castle’s kitchens and the officers’ rooms. Thanks to a longitudinal corridor, the kitchens communicate with the buffet on the first floor. The apartments of Fouquet and his wife are located on the second floor of the castle, a space that also houses an anteroom and a study. It is worth noting that today, the room in Fouquet’s apartment is the only one that has retained its original decor. The central hall, with its unique architecture, includes 2 floors inspired by Italian architecture. With its 19 meters long, its 14 meters wide and a height that culminates at 18 meters, the central lounge is primarily a room intended for receptions. The grand salon of Vaux-le-Vicomte also allows direct access to the garden of the castle. In 1880, 4 huge rooms were added to the rotunda by Alfred Sommier, the owner of the place, whose wish was to furnish the empty spaces of the castle.
The park and the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte
The park of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte covers a total area of nearly 500 hectares. The estate is also surrounded by a stone wall 13 kilometers long. The French gardens designed by André Le Nôtre are located to the south of the castle and are structured around well-ordered paths. The gardens are mainly decorated with trees, hedges, ponds and statues. The 3D optical effects of the flowerbeds are made from looted bricks and 257 plane trees, perfectly aligned, draw the main entrance of the castle. This exceptional alignment, 1400 meters long, creates a tunnel effect and is even classified as a historical monument. The garden is divided into 3 parts:
- The first part consists of a courtyard and a forecourt.
- The second part extends from the castle to the small canals.
- The third part extends beyond the small canals.
In order to play with optical effects, André Le Nôtre decided to work on a slowed down perspective: the further away the elements of the garden are from the castle, the longer or higher they are. This allows the gardens of Vaux-le-Vicomte to be perceived as smaller and therefore more accessible. An imposing gate with 8 pillars decorated with busts of Greek gods separates the front yard of the castle from the road. The gardens are mainly composed of terraces and flowerbeds. Plant cones decorate the perimeter of the gardens and the parterre de la couronne, located to the left of the castle, is famous for its golden crown located in the center of a basin, in homage to the king whose bedroom was located on the same side. The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte is also reflected in the square pool located 500 meters from the building. A large canal, 875 meters long and 35 meters wide, feeds the basins and small canals of Vaux-le-Vicomte. On the other hand, the canal and the waterfalls remain invisible from the castle, thanks to a difference in level deliberately created by André Le Nôtre. A huge golden lead statue of Hercules is installed above the Gerbe pond, at the end of the Vaux-le-Vicomte park.
Famous films shot at the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte
For several decades, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte has been used as a backdrop for movies, TV series and commercials. The most famous films shot at Vaux-le-Vicomte are the following
- A Golden Widow (1969), this film directed by Michel Audiard is the first film to have been shot at the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte.
- La folie des grandeurs (1971), by Gérard Oury, with Louis de Funès and Yves Montand.
- Let the party begin (1974), by Bertrand Tavernier.
- Moonraker (James Bond) in 1979.
- La fille de d’Artagnan (1994), directed by Bertrand Tavernier, with Philippe Noiret and Sophie Marceau.
- Ridicule (1997), by Patrice Leconte.
- The Man in the Iron Mask (1997), with Gérard Depardieu and Léonardo di Caprio.
- The Visitors 2 (1998).
- Le pacte des loups (2001).
- Vidocq (2001), with Gérard Depardieu.
- Les aristos (2006), directed by Charlotte de Turckheim.
- Raid dingue (2017), directed by Dany Boon
The castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte was also used as a set for the famous musical “The Sun King” as well as for episodes of the television series “Versailles” produced by Canal +.
Nowadays, the large stables of the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte house the museum of the crews, a place dedicated to old cars. From May to October, the estate also organizes candlelight evenings with nightly visits by candlelight. For an outing with family or friends, we invite you to visit the website www.vaux-le-vicomte.com to organize your stay. Located in the Ile de France, the castle of Vaux-le-Vicomte is accessible from Paris by public transport from the Lyon train station or by car via the A4 freeway, direction Troyes.