Versailles Opens Renovated
(AP Online; 04/09/98)
By Christopher Burns, Associated Press Writer
VERSAILLES, France (AP) --- A golden fountain and garden where Louis XIV held his soirees nearly three centuries ago opened to the public at the Château de Versailles on Thursday, part of an effort to boost sagging attendance at the famed tourist attraction.
For the first time in about 250 years, the golden fountain of Encelade, the god of giants struggling under a pile of stones, sprang to life as French Culture Minister Catherine Trautmann and other officials watched in delight. Also opened at the chateau outside Paris were five newly renovated rooms once used by princes and princesses that had been closed since World War II because of lack of funds.
Officials hope the new attractions will draw more visitors to one of France's top tourist sites. Attendance is about 9 million people a year, but the number has declined slightly in recent years.
The 300-year-old Bosquet de l'Encelade, a manicured, circular garden surrounded by an elaborate trellis and nestled in the woods surrounding the château, showed "the wild side of a king who knew how to have fun," Trautmann said at the ceremony. Architect Pierre-Marie Lablaude, who oversaw the three-year project, said the garden was inspired by pleasure, merrymaking and dance.
As Louis XIV became older, he allowed the garden to fall into disrepair, Lablaude said. Pillaging after the French Revolution and a violent storm in 1990 further damaged the garden and snapped hundreds of trees in the château's sprawling woods.
Officials refused to say how much the renovations cost, but said the French futures exchange donated about half the funding for the garden. The ministry's director of architecture, François Barre, said he was in contact with a possible American donor to repair other gardens inside the chateau's park as part of a larger program to restore the park. He did not elaborate.
The first major American benefactor was a young soldier who after World War I decided to save Versailles from decay, millionaire John D. Rockefeller.