The Fountains of Versailles in the 21st Century


Promenade de Louis XIV en vue du Parterre du Nord dans les jardins de Versailles
Etienne Allegrain

During the reign of Louis XIV in the 17th century, the King himself was fond of giving tours of the gardens and fountains of Versailles to visiting dignitaries. The quantity of water available for the fountains was always an issue, and it was inefficient to play them all simultaneously if they could not be seen by the royal party. Many of the fountains are in bosquets, or groves surrounded by hedges. The royal fontainiers would use a system of runners with whistles who signaled ahead to turn on the next set of fountains as the King approached.


The Service des Fontaines now runs a computer-based system to control almost all aspects of the Fountains of Versailles. The services of several dozen fountain workers, needed in the past, to start the fountain play of the entire gardens for the Grandes Eaux, are replaced by a small team and a computer. Remote controlled valves can be opened and shut and water levels monitored.


Each fountain can be set to either automatic or manual control. The amount of flow to individual fountains can be adjusted, and the supply can be switched between the traditional gravity-fed or pumped. The graphics of the visual user interface are remarkable.


An on-site filtration system can switched in and out of the water supply, which is recirculated.


The reservoir system that feeds the fountains has been in use since the 17th century.  Each is monitored by the computer system, with alarms for water levels that are too high or too low. Cast iron pipes from the era of Louis XIV are still in use.


The fountains of Louis XIV depended on an "open system" of water supply, drawing from collection of rain-fed local streams and ponds, as well as the Machine de Marly which filled the Louveciennes reservoirs. Today, a “closed system” is used, still relying on gravity-fed supply to the fountains from an interconnected system of reservoirs. The main Monbauron reservoir, in the city of Versailles, supplies lower reservoirs on the Chateau grounds, feeding fountains at lower and lower elevations, all of which finally drain into the Grand Canal. Pumped recirculation returns the water back up to Monbauron, closing the system. Loss of volume varies with climatic conditions, but the goal is to run the entire fountain season without adding external water.


Local rain-fed streams and ponds, les étangs et rigolles, were a highly developed supply system for the fountains during the reign of Louis XIV. Over the centuries, the network has deteriorated, but there is current interest in reestablishing some of the waterways to take advantage of the large catchment area it represents. To the south of the Orangerie at the Chateau lies a reservoir, which is tied into the fountain system, known as the pièce d'eau des Suisses. Reconnection of the étangs et rigolles  to feed it could offer an important link in the effort to maintain a self-supporting, natural water system.

Restoration of the Latone Fountain


Original interior lead supply pipes from the 17th century
The Latone fountain, a centerpiece of the Chateau gardens, is undergoing its first major restoration since construction by Louis XIV in 1689. Historically authentic reconstruction and repair is taking place largely on site and in public view. 

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