Thursday, 3 July 2014

La Machine de Marly

The school our two granddaughters' attend sits alongside the River Seine. Built in the 1870s by a Welsh family called Ansell, it was known as Llesna Court, believed to be the family name spelt backwards. Before becoming the British School in Paris it was owned by a wealthy Parisian businessman called Monsieur Joly. 
The school is almost opposite La Machine de Marly which in turn is overlooked from the hillside above by Madame du Barry's Pavillon De Musique. 
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Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, had the Pavillon De Musique built in the grounds of the château in Louveciennes so that she could have views over the River Seine to Paris, it is where she spent most of her time. She commissioned Fragonard to paint a series of panels called Progress of Love for the pavillon, but at the eleventh hour Madame du Barry rejected them in favour of more pedestrian canvasses by Vien.  The Fragonard panels are now housed in the Frick Collection, New York.
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The rejected Fragonard panels. There are now copies in situ at the pavillon
The machine at Marly - Alfred Sisley

La Machine de Marly completed in 1684 was used to pump water from the river which was then transported via pipes and aqueduct to the fountains in the gardens at Versailles. This view by Sisley shows a much later version of the pumping system which was adapted and changed several times over the centuries
A 19th century print showing a birdseye view of the water gardens, Versailles
The water system today although greatly changed still uses much of the same network of hydraulics installed by Louis XlV.
During the mid C17, when many in Paris were living frugal lives, suffering starvation, stench and disease, Louis XlV was having extensive engineering works done to draw water from the Seine with the construction in 1681 of la Machine de Marly; 14 waterwheels designed to pump 6000 cubic metres of water that were required daily to operate the fountains 10 kilometres (7 miles) away in Versailles. This was almost the same amount of water used per day by the whole of the city of Paris. 
The water from the Seine had to travel 162 metres up the steep hillside to Louveciennes where it then travelled along an Aqueduct consisting of 36 arches. The water travelled on through a series of tanks and reservoirs to the gardens at Versailles.
Charles X later under Napoléon lll built a second Marly Machine and to restore river traffic built the locks on what is known as the Island of La Loge and Gautier in the Seine
When La Machine de Marly was converted to steam and electricity in the C19 this building housed the boilers - behind it there are pipes running up the hillside
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This old photograph shows the network of pipes leading into the main pipe which continues up the hill. The pipes were a replacement for the original Archimedes screws which lifted the water up the slope in the C17
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These old postcards give a good impression of the size of the wheels (30ft in diameter) and the pipe running up the hill to Louveciennes  
The northern end of the aqueduct where the water came up from la Machine de Marly
a cemetery now sits beneath some of the arches of the aqueduct

This is by no means a comprehensive post on La Machine de Marly - it can only be a skeletal outline of something that was considered to be one of the great wonders of the world during the C17 and beyond. It has gone through several reincarnations and was visited by many of the leaders of the world - Peter the Great, Queen Victoria, President Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was greatly interested in the pumping system as he was looking for ways to transport water to his mountain top home in Monticello. 

38 comments:

  1. Rosemary, I'm thrilled to read this story of the fountains and their water source - an amazing feat, but as you say (and as we've being saying similar about the recently visited Russian palaces!), a sad one when we consider the millions of people starving and living despicable lives while these majestic edifices were built for the elite of the time. No wonder there were revolutions!

    Great story, wonderful pics - love the vintage p-cards, especially with old 40 centimes stamp. When I catch up I'll post on the Peterhof Palace and water features, much of which was inspired by Versailles of course. I just wish we could have spent longer there and been able to wander alone to take it all in.

    Happy upcoming weekend - big holiday here, plus Bob's b'day - fireworks for all!
    Hugs Mary -

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    1. Dear Mary - it is lovely that your comment confirms the visit of Peter the Great both to the Machine de Marly and also the Palace of Versailles before commencing on the Petehof Palace and the water gardens in Russia - thank you.
      These wonderful buildings, monuments and gardens over much of Europe were accomplished when ordinary people were living in appalling, squalid conditions, and it is, I think, important to pause and reflect.
      Have a good Independence Day, and Happy Birthday to Bob - may the champagne flow♡

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    2. Ah the extravagant follies of the wealthy aristocracy. In spite of how appalling the expenditure is one one hand, on the other I am glad they have been preserved.

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    3. Our world today would be a lesser place without these historical buildings, monuments and gardens which we all love to see and visit.

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  2. The area your son lives in looks to be so peaceful, and yet Paris is so close. Perfect.

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    1. You are right Jessica - it is only 20 mins from central Paris on the RER trains which are extremely regular and cheap in comparison with here.

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  3. Absolutely fascinating. I'm not too proud to confess knowing absolutely nothing about any of this before. Excellently narrated and illustrated!

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    1. Dear Mike - I was fascinated by the extent that Louis XlV would go to just to create his fabulous water gardens. This post is the result of that curiosity, and my DiL kindly ferrying us around the area to put more meat on the bones.
      Thank you I am pleased that you found it fascinating too.

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  4. Hello Rosemary,

    This is all most intriguing. We can well imagine that in the C17 this would have definitely been a wonder of the world. The engineering knowledge is astounding and seems well ahead of its times.

    As always with these early industrial buildings, The architecture of Le Machine de Marly was also carefully considered so that it may be a joy to look at as well as highly practical in its operation.

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    1. Dear Jane & Lance - It is interesting that the original hydraulics are still in use. However, I understand that today a more sustainable approach is also employed by using rainwater which is collected in cisterns located throughout the gardens and used to replace water lost due to evaporation.

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  5. Dear Rosemary,

    I have always wondered how Louis XIV made all those fountains work. What a shame he did not spend at least some of the money for the relief of his people. I was just reading a biography of Alexander II of Russia, who liberated the serfs. When aristocrats of his court complained, he said something to the effect, "Better for this change to come from the top rather than the bottom."

    I, too, would like to get away to Madame du Barry's pavillion!

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    1. Hello Mark - wise words from Alexander II, just look what happened in France following the extravagances and lifestyle of Louis XlV and his son Louis XV - Madam du Barry was of course taken to the guillotine.
      If you wish Mark, it is possible to rent Madame du Barry's beautiful little Pavillon De Musique for special events.

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    2. I've read of Madame du Barry's execution and shake my head at the multiple chances she had to escape her fate. It just goes to show how she and others were not grounded in reality.

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    3. I recall that Madam du Barry visited England in search of her stolen jewellery and was advise to stay when the reign of Great Terror began, but didn't heed what was said.
      Being out of touch with reality, or delusional, seems to be a human failing when people reach the top of the pole - I think of so called celebrities, and politicians today.

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  6. I had never heard of the Machine de Marly before, it was fascinating to read about it though and to see your photographs Rosemary! xx

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    1. It was quite an amazing achievement Amy, especially when you are acquainted with the steep hill that the water had to climb before entering the acquaduct. It is marvellous that so much of it still remains, and is in fact still in use.

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  7. What a perfect interior.

    Greetings,
    Filip

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    1. It reflects how the interior of the Pavillon would have looked.

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  8. Hello Rosemary, Beyond the engineering, it is impressive how good-looking are all of the buildings connected with the Marly waterworks. I have noticed that many waterworks and pumping stations in the U.S. are also attractive, such as the Victorian water station in Chicago and the one set up in Cleveland, among many others.

    Your granddaughters are lucky to attend a school in such an interesting and historic setting.
    --Jim

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    1. Many of the old Pumping Stations in the UK were similarly housed. These are now being conserved as historic buildings. Most of ours were built by the Victorians who had a great sense of dignity and style which we are now appreciating more.

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  9. Rosemary, So interesting regarding the water and how it was carried via the large pipes.
    Those panels look so lovely seems a shame they were rejected.
    Regards,
    Margaret

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    1. I expect that it was the fickleness of Madam du Barry - I wonder what she would think if she knew that copies had been installed in her pavillon now?
      Taking the water to the fountains in Versailles was a major feat at the time.

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  10. Beautiful post and so interesting! It´s really a pleasure to take a look at your lovely blog Rosemary...
    Have a great weekend,
    Titti

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    1. That is such a very kind comment Titti - thank you, you have made my evening, and I am delighted that you found it interesting.

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  11. Love those Fragonard panels Rosemary. We had a box of chocolates given to us as children one Christmas that was shaped like a treasure chest that had a lovely metal latch to open it, with a Fragonard on the top which I kept as a secret keepsake. I would spend hours trying to copy the painting. Although I am sure the chocolates were gone in seconds.

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    1. From what you say, it sounds as if the lovely box is now lost to memory, and you have it no longer.

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  12. Always such a treat to read about buildings and the people who lived in them once, and about features as the Marly Machine on your blog. I had never heard of it and so you taught me something new, again.Thank you!
    Have a great weekend Rosemary,
    Marian

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    1. The distance involved in getting water from the river to Versailles was a huge undertaking in the C17 and one that was a great achievement. Glad you enjoyed learning about it Marian - thank you.

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  13. What a fine, classical-looking building houses that massive engineering works. The complexity of transporting vast quantities of water uphill and then for such a distance was an achievement. I imagine you were able to get close to the Machine de Marly because the grounds are open to the public. That quarter of the city must be a pleasant residential area. The school is another beautiful building in a lovely riverside location.

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    1. Dear Linda - the buildings and works that housed the Machine de Marly are right beside the busy road that leads into central Paris with the River Seine opposite. The aqueduct sits high up on of the hillside above and runs across the top of the little community of Louveciennes. People must drive past it all the time and not have a clue as to what its function was and is.

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  14. I can't imagine why she rejected those panels? They certainly add a touch of elegance to the room. I was trying to imagine what one would have done (all day) back then, with all of the servants doing everything for you...even dressing you. I guess being dressed though took up half of the day!
    The water works was an amazing fete of engineering!
    Thanks for the visit. I am always so happy to see you! Janey

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    1. Dear Janey - I suspect the whole court etiquette was a minefield to cross each day, and as you suggest dressing would have been a big part of each day - powdered wigs etc. I know that she and the court travelled extensively and this would have been a slow stately procedure back then.

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  15. That was so interesting, Rosemary. I've always wondered how the water was brought uphill.
    The school - what an interesting place to spend a few years!

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    1. Possibly the big advantage that these two grandchildren are gaining from travelling with their parents is that they are both fluent in French and Norwegian, and because they have attended International schools they mix with children from all over the world.

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  16. How wonderful to attend a school with such beautiful views, near a river and across from so much history. PLUS be fluent in French and Norwegian. Your grandchildren will have a truly cosmopolitan outlook. :) Thanks once again for sharing these photos and such interesting bits of history, Rosemary. As always, very enjoyable.

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    1. Thank you Yvette - I researched this with much help from my DiL who drove us to the River Seine and then up into the hills. I thought that it was so interesting that Louis XlV would go to this much trouble and expense to have water flowing out of his fountains all the time when others were living in dire straits in Paris.
      One problem with living abroad is that my son feels that his girls have not got a proper feel for their English roots, but as you mention they do have a cosmopolitan outlook.

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  17. A totally fascinating post, Rosemary, and beautifully illustrated. Yet I can't help thinking what a difference that water and the money spent on enabling it to be transported would have made to the lives of the ordinary people of Paris. With extravagance on that scale happening over centuries, the French Revolution becomes much more comprehensible.

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    1. When you consider that the Machine de Marly was just the tip of the iceberg after having spend vast qualities of money on the palace at Versailles, it is little wonder that eventually the population rose up against the ruling classes.

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