Research

Archaeological Excavations at Versailles

Although some of the operations in the grounds of Versailles since the beginning of the 20th century can be considered archaeological in that they have revealed ancient remains, it is only in the last twenty years that one can truly speak of archaeology at Versailles.

In fact, before 1990, there had been only four excavations. The first, at the beginning of the 20th century, had a purely historical objective: to uncover vestiges of the Porcelain Trianon, and in particular to find earthenware shards. The three others were, in fact, excavation works for new terraces, part of a larger restoration programme that included: renovating the southern branch of the Grand Canal in 1932, which revealed the remains of the round fountain located between this branch and the Menagerie; terracing on the Saint Anthony plain, which led to the fortuitous discovery of medieval tombs in 1960; and an abortive project to restore the Grove of the Three Fountains, in 1980, which uncovered vestiges of the Encelade Grove. However, these operations were not followed up with any excavation report, and only the first two were covered in the local specialist press.

Grille Royale (Royal Railings and Gates): view inside the north excavation pit of Le Vau's gate. 2006.
Grille Royale (Royal Railings and Gates): view inside the north excavation pit of Le Vau’s gate. 2006.
© Château de Versailles / Jean-Marc Manaï

The 1990s opened with the launch of a major policy of replanting in the park of Versailles, after the storm of 3 February 1990. This replanting was to include laying out the groves to the original design of André Le Nôtre, as they were when he died in 1700. Before the works started, this project entailed a detailed historical and archaeological study. The archaeological operation was divided into two parts: probes during the preliminary study and more extensive excavation once the work had started. Since 1990, around twenty archaeological excavations have been undertaken in the park of Versailles, the majority in the formal gardens laid out by Louis XIV in front of the palace. Some excavations have, nevertheless, been carried out elsewhere, notably in the main courtyard of the palace and the grounds of the Trianon.

Operations carried out since 1990

Grille Royale: general view of the northern section of the overlapping foundations laid down by Le Vau and Mansart successively. 2006.
Grille Royale: general view of the northern section of the overlapping foundations laid down by Le Vau and Mansart successively. 2006.
© Château de Versailles / Jean-Marc Manaï

• 1990: probes in the Encelade Grove.

• 1994: excavations of the two Quincunxes, before they were replaced with the Girandole Grove and the Dolphin Grove.

• 1995: general excavation of the Encelade Grove.

• 1999: probes in the Grove of the Three Fountains.

• 2001: probes around the railings of the Grille Royale and excavations of the lower part of the Grove of the Three Fountains.

• 2002: probes in the Star Grove and Round Green Grove and excavations of the two fountain and cascade systems in the Grove of the Three Fountains.

• 2004: probes in the guardroom of the Swiss Guard, under the main courtyard, and the excavation of a pool in the garden of the Lantern Pavilion.

• 2006: excavations of the Grille Royale and probes in eastern half of the garden of the Pavillon Frais de Trianon.

Pavillon Frais de Trianon: photographic montage of the layout of the east pool. 2007.
Pavillon Frais de Trianon: photographic montage of the layout of the east pool. 2007.
© Château de Versailles / Annick Heitzmann

See the online article in the Bulletin du Centre “Fouilles archéologiques de la Grille royale du château de Versailles” by Annick Heitzmann and Justine Vorenger (in French).

• 2007: general excavation of half of the garden of the Pavillon Frais de Trianon.

• 2008: probes in the Queen’s Grove in search of remains of the former Labyrinth.

• 2009: a stratigraphic study of the western section of the garden of the Pavillon Frais de Trianon [see the downloadable document at the bottom of the page for a description of the porcelain objects found in this garden].

• 2011: excavation planned for the Round Green Grove, the former Water Theatre. Read the article on this subject in the Carnet du CRCV (in French).

• 2012: planned excavation at Mortemets (Park of Versailles).

• 2013: planned excavation of the original fountains in the Marly Park, La Rivière waterfall and the Nappes fountain.

•2014: first year of the three year excavations plan programed for the Domaine de Marly estate: the third Pavillon du Levant (Eastern pavilion) and the Bassin des Boules ( Balls Pond); surveys in the Grand Trianon gardens.

•2015: second year of the three year excavations plan programed for the Domaine de Marly estate: the Pavillon Royal (Royal Lodge); surveys near the Queen’s house at Trianon; excavation of the Le Vau wall in the Cour des Princes (Prince’s Courtyard) at Versailles.

•2016: symposium at the Château de Versailles auditorium “25 years of Royal Archeology” and exhibition at the Musée-Promenade Museum at Marly-Louveciennes “Remembering life at Versailles and Marly, 25 years of Royal Archeology”.

Alongside this work carried out by the Palace of Versailles, several other operations have been conducted by the Institut national pour la recherche en archéologie préventive (INRAP). Two diagnostic archaeological operations were carried out in 2006: one in the Cour Royale and the other in the courtyard of the Grand Commun. The latter was then followed up with a full excavation of the courtyard. See article on surveys (in French).
From 2012 to 2016, the Inrap has assisted the overall plan for the layout of technical areas and public entrances at the Château de Versailles: it has carried out a diagnosis and has monitored works on the Terrasse de Midi (Southern Terrace) and in the Cour des Princes (Prince’s Courtyard).

For all aditional information, refer to “Surveys and Excavations carried out at Versailles and Marly” (in French) or contact Annick Heitzmann:

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Surveys and Excavations

 


Excavation of the Green Round Grove: study of a jeton from the Chambre des Comptes of Henri III by Guillaume Divry:

PDF - 179.7 kb

Excavation of the Green Round Grove: study of a coin: Liard de France with old bust by A. L. (in French):

PDF - 510.2 kb

Probes in the Queen’s Grove (former Labyrinth), Annick Heitzmann and Adeline Bats (in French):

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Shells studies on the site of the Labyrinth, Catherine Dupont and Océane Lierville (in French):

PDF - 539.7 kb

Shells studies on the site of the Grille Royale Catherine Dupont and Océane Lierville (in French):

PDF - 711.6 kb

Excavation report of year 2012 (in French):

PDF - 5.3 Mb

A Study of Trianon’s Pavillon Frais Porcelain by Dominique Maisonneuve (in French):

PDF - 647.9 kb
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