FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Palace of the Salamander King

Posted in France, Paris by folkestonejack on May 26, 2019

Our long weekend in Paris gave us a perfect opportunity to get out from the city and see the ‘true abode of Kings and the Palace of the ages’ at Fontainebleau which has a history going back to 1137. My grasp of French history is pretty limited, so I had no idea that one of the key players in its restoration was Napoleon who refurbished the palace in a manner worthy of the ancien régime after its sacking in the revolution.

A view of the Palace from the Grand Parterre

The magnificence of the rooms in the palace can’t be overstated. There are so many rooms that simply take your breath away as you enter with their ornate decoration and craftsmanship. The rooms of the Napoleon Museum are equally compelling, albeit in a different way. It is quite something to see Napoleon’s cloak and hat, along with his travel kit and some of the imperial regalia used in his coronations in Paris and Milan.

One of the things you can’t help but notice as you explore the palace are the symbols that its occupants stamped upon the place. King Francis I (1515-1547) used the salamander as his personal emblem, accompanied by the motto Nutrisco et extinguo (I nourish and I extinguish). The symbolism of the salamander, able to walk through flames unharmed and extinguish them, was meant to show the triumph of virtue over the evils of the world.

The salamander is especially evident all the way down the beautifully decorated renaissance marvel that is the Francis I Gallery. Salamanders can be seen on the stucco decoration, carved onto the walnut wainscoting and on the chairs that line the space. From the moment we learnt about it, salamander spotting became quite a feature of our exploration of the palace. You never had to wait too long before encountering another!

A salamander on the Golden Gate

In contrast, Napoleon sought to draw a parallel with the mighty Roman empire and adopted the eagle (for its association with military power) and the bee (for its association with long life and hard work). These symbols can be seen in some of the restored rooms of the Imperial residence and in the museum, though the royals were understandably eager to remove these when they returned to Fontainebleau after the restoration of the monarchy.

Now that we’ve seen Fontainebleau, I think I will have to add the Château Royal de Blois and the Château de Chambord to my wish list for a future adventure (and more salamanders!).

Practicalities

We took a double deck TER train from the Gare de Lyon in the direction of Montargis, using a 1-5 zone Mobilis ticket costing 17.80 euros per person (following everyone else and compositing it using the square looking machines at the end of the platform before boarding). The journey takes about 40 minutes. On arrival at Fontainebleau-Avon station we took the ‘Ligne 1’ bus destined for Les Lilas, getting off at the ‘Château’ stop right outside the gardens. All incredibly easy.

The official English language website advertises a ‘Discover the Palace’ guided tour in English which includes rooms such as the Francis I Gallery, the Ballroom and the Stags Gallery, stating that some of these are otherwise closed to the public. However, on arrival at the Palace the ticket office said that there were no such tours in English – only the audio guide. It was hard to establish what you miss by exploring on your own, other than to say that you can currently see the Francis I Gallery and Ballroom on your own, but not the Stags Gallery.

We had thought that we would participate in one of the French language tours to see the the Impérial Théâtre but the timings turned out to be a bit strange with only two tours offered each day at 16h15 and 17h15. As this would have meant many hours of hanging around after our morning exploring the chateau we decided to pass up on this occasion. Nevertheless, as first time visitors we easily filled three hours with our steady progress through the rooms and would have been slower still had we used the audio guide exhaustively in every room.

The ticket prices are incredibly reasonable at 12 euros for an adult plus 4 euros for an audio guide. The nearest equivalents in the UK would easily be at least double that price.

Gallery

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