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Grand Canal in Versailles
Grand Canal in Versailles

Grand Canal designates three world’s marvels : the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal in China, the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy and the Grand Canal in Versailles, France. Created in 1670 and one of the jewels of the Palace of Versailles, the Grand Canal is shaped like a large cross. The longer arm is 1 670m long and 62m wide, while the shorter one is 1 070m long. The Grand Canal was built in the perspective of the Palace of Versailles by gardener André Lenotre. Palace of Versailles.

Grand Canal history

The Grand Canal is the masterpiece of André Le Notre, the gardener of Sun King and designer of Versailles Gardens. He created a 1 670m long east-west perspective in the axis of the Palace by digging the canal. The works lasted from 1668 to 1679. In 1669, Louis XIV ordered rowing boats and ship models. In 1674, the Republic of Venice sent the King two gondolas. In the summer the King’s fleet sailed along the Grand Canal. In the winter, the Grand Canal was left to skaters. It was the setting for nautical spectacles until 1789.

Grand Canal in XVII century
Boats on Grand Canal in XVIIth century

Grand Canal boats

Renting a rowing boat on the Grand Canal is one of the pleasures of Versailles. Boats can be found near La Flottille restaurant. Four people maximum are allowed per boat (5 including children). The minimum time is 30 minutes.

The presence of an adult is required. An identification paper is required as deposit. The cost is 12 euros for 30 minutes and 16 euros for one hour.

Canoes on Grand Canal in Versailles Park
Canoes on Grand Canal in Versailles Park

Grand Canal visit

Most visitors focus on the main Palace of Versailles and skip Versailles Gardens, their statues, fountains and their three marvels: the Grand Canal, Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon.

Take a full day to visit both. Spend much time in Versailles Gardens. Go to one of two good restaurants: La Flottille or La Petite Venise. The visit of Versailles Gardens, the Grand Trianon, Petit Trianon and a lunch at La Petite Venise are included in Palace of Versailles full day tour from Paris. Information. Map of Palace of Versailles and Gardens.

Grand Canal in Versailles
Grand Canal in Versailles

Palace of Versailles is a must do

You come to Paris for at least two days. Visit Palace of Versailles, a Unesco world heritage sight and one of the most visited sights in and around Paris. It takes half a day to visit Versailles on a tour from the City of Lights with skip the line ticket. Versailles is crowded. We recommend to come in winter and to avoid Tuesdays. If you have a full day, combine the visit of Palace of Versailles with Giverny, the house and gardens of Monet, near Versailles. Detailed Information. Alternatively, take public transport from Paris to Versailles.

The Hall of Mirrors in Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors in Palace of Versailles

Detailed history of Grand Canal in Versailles

Opposite the Palace of Versailles stretched to the west vast "stinking marshes", as they were called at the time, which had to be drained. In 1667, a large canal was excavated which extended the Royal Alley (now the Green Carpet) in such a way as to create a perspective of an unprecedented amplitude, opening onto infinity.

But it is also true that at Versailles everything was designed and wanted by the king, whose achievements very often had a marked symbolic and initiatory character. Thus this East-West axis which was accentuated by the Grand Canal would not only represent the course of the sun but would represent in several places the Sun King in the guise of Apollo.

The Grand Canal, sixty meters wide, forms a cross which is nearly one thousand seven hundred meters long in the east-west direction and one thousand in the north-south direction. It was carried out in two stages: from 1667 to 1669, then from 1671 to 1672.

From 1669 a real miniature fleet sailed there: brigantine (two-masted ship), rowboats, galiote (small galley) armed with 32 small cannons, Provencal feluccas ...Other ships were built on site by carpenters from Le Havre and Dunkirk. The crews resided in small houses built near the north crossing of the Grand Canal in a place which would be called "Little Venice" because the Venetian gondoliers (about fifteen) who came to Versailles with the gondolas offered to the king in 1674 by the Republic of Venice would take root there.

The court settled permanently in Versailles in 1682. Colbert, who was at the origin of the powerful war fleet with which France was now equipped, then had scale models of the Royal Navy built there, including a galley and a high-powered ship. All these boats, magnificently and richly decorated, should indeed help to show everyone how powerful Louis XIV was. The foreign ambassadors to be impressed were taken to Little Venice where the ships presented bore witness to the perfect mastery of the seas now acquired by the Royal Navy.

But this flotilla, which anchored in the eastern octagon basin at the head of the Grand Canal, was also part of all the celebrations that were organized at Versailles. The canal was illuminated, the king was seated in a gondola with the ladies of his choice, the musicians were installed on another ship, the court followed on various boats and all this company glode slowly on the canal listening to violins and oboes or admiring the fireworks that were being fired. The Marquise de Sévigné recounted: “we left the game at six o'clock… we are going on the Canal in the gondolas. There is music there. We come back at ten o'clock…. " During the Revolution, the canal was filled in and served as wheat ground. Louis XVIII returned it to its original vocation.