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Champ de Bataille, a new take on Le Nôtre

Champ de Bataille, a new take on Le Nôtre

Éric Boucher - 2009-12-02

A French Baroque masterpiece, the Chateau du Champ de Bataille needed a worthy setting. Geometrical gardens were required to prolong the architectural lines, in great French tradition, with immense perspectives and large pools. Jacques Garcia, owner of the chateau, shows us round this Pharaonic site where work started in 1993.

There are disasters that are to be interpreted as preordained as was the case with the big storm of 1993 that destroyed the landscaped gardens at Champ. Not a single big tree remained standing; Jacques Garcia, who had bought the chateau a year earlier, thought about selling it off but finally took the momentous decision, never previously considered,  of transforming the landscaped grounds into a French-style garden!
 
Although Le Nôtre exercised his genius mainly in Île de France, there existed a drawing of a garden for Champ which was believed to be by him. On this basis, Jacques Garcia began excavation work. Digging was to substantiate this hypothesis: underlying layers revealed the presence of a garden modelled on the afore-mentioned drawing. Yet did this mean an exact reconstitution was called for?  As with all the places he has taken care of, Jacques Garcia took time to discover its soul and find its spirit without falling prey to anachronism. At Champ, Le Nôtre's style was to be found again, yet without executing a pastiche. There was no question of recreating a fake 17th century garden from scratch: the goal was to take ancient and antique elements and place them in a contemporary context. 'Using original documents, I have invented very modern things so as not to be falsely but really contemporary.'
 
The gardens in a few figures
The grounds as a whole extend to approximately 45 hectares. Walking around them, it's hard to imagine that everything you see was designed recently and that more than a million cubic metres of earth had to be excavated to reach the original 17th century levels. The perspective recreated from the chateau stretches for almost a mile. To avoid some perspectives ending in a view of the surrounding fields, distant parts of the grounds had to be raised by 10 metres in some places... The alleys now seem to overlook the sky and infinity. Last but not least, a 550 m canal was dug and fountains laid out. 
 
In line with this approach, the gardens at Champ are interspersed with works of art of classical antiquity: Roman sarcophaguses, columns, statues and even the steps of the staircases on each side of the great waterfall are of Phoenician origin and are more than 2,000 years old. 'Le Nôtre was fascinated by Italian taste and, even if he created a French-style garden, the source of everything is Italian taste. I wanted to rediscover this very French source, because Champ is an extremely French place but based on classical antiquity.' 'Leda's Treasure', for instance, is a little temple which is matched by the Roman-style triumphal arches at the entrance to the chateau. This marvel, entirely invented by Jacques Garcia, is composed of columns and statues of classical antiquity, a Roman period cornice and blocks of stone from a wall around the city of Rouen dating from the 13th century. The interior is lined with semi-precious stones. 
 
The central part of the garden, with its clipped box embroidery-like parterres, is also decorated with authentic 17th century statues and vases of the same period, all added by the present owner. The large waterfall is directly inspired by that at Saint-Cloud of which Jacques Garcia has been allowed to make lead mouldings of the masks and vases. The various follies are the other key element of these gardens as they profoundly demonstrate Jacques Garcia's approach: 'I hate breaks, I am against abrupt changes'. For instance, a given folly comes from Marly, and another is a magnificent remains of the staircase at the Tuileries Palace destroyed in 1871… Everything relates to surviving evidence of a bygone age and places of historical significance, as if Jacques Garcia was seeking the missing link in the French cultural heritage.
 
Practical information
The chateau and gardens are open to the public from Easter to All Saints' Day.
Tel.: 02.32.34.84.34  

A French Baroque masterpiece, the Chateau du Champ de Bataille needed a worthy setting. Geometrical gardens were required to prolong the architectural lines, in great French tradition, with immense perspectives and large pools. Jacques Garcia, owner of the chateau, shows us round this Pharaonic site where work started in 1993.

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