Saturday, 4 July 2015

Great Stables, Chantilly

According to legend the Prince of Bourbon-Conde believed in reincarnation and, naturally,  thought he would return as a horse. So the Great Stables (Les Grands Ecurie ) that he built at Chantilly were to be a palace for horses. According to the Prince of Ligne the Great Stables were "superior to the palaces of many kings".

The Great Stables were commissioned by Louis-Henri de Bourbon, Prince of Conde (1692-1740). He was the son of Louis III de Bourbon and Mademoiselle de Nantes, the legitimate daughter of King Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. A grandson of the King, he was a member of the Regency council, then the King's Council after the coronation of Louis XV in 1722, before becoming prime minister in 1723.

Louis- Henri de Bourbon- Conde inherited the Chantilly Estate in 1710. Among the 'improvements' he made to the Estate were the Great Stables, built between 1719 and 1735  from the architect Jean Aubert. The Great Stables were his masterpiece. Monumental in scale, the facade is 186 meters long.

In the centre of the facade is the pavillion crowned with a 28 meter high dome surmounted with a statue of  Fame,  melted down during the Revolution, and  replaced in 1989.

Inside the domed pavillion is a fountain decorated with shells and simulated stalactites. The basin was once adorned with lead figures of horses and dolphins but these were lost in the Revolution. Four lead stags still adorn the pavillion.

The Great Stables housed 240 horses the majority of which which were used by the prince and his guests for hunting.

This magnificent building has been  described as the most beautiful stables in the world. It was the site of festivities held in honour of Chantilly's many illustrious visitors including Louis XV; Gustav III, King of Sweden and Grand Duke Paul, the future Tsar Paul I of Russia.

Behind the stables were three courtyards . Around one of them  were the coach houses where the Prince's Berlins (coaches) and caleches  (open carriages) were housed. Another courtyard was a riding school, 40 meters in diameter used for the training and display of Haute Ecole horsemanship that was surrounded by monumental arcades supported by  Ionic columns.

The third courtyard were surrounded by the kennels. The Prince kept seventy five couple of hounds for his favourite pastime; hunting.

The stables were still under construction on the death of Prince Louis-Henri de Bourbon-Conde. Some of the intended sculptures were still missing from the north-west facade. However the Conde princes continued to use the stables until the Revolution, when Prince Louis V Joseph de  Bourbon-Conde fled France and sold his horses and hounds. The military occupied the stables which saved them from the fate of the chateau which was burnt down.

In 1814, the Prince of Conde returned to Chantilly and resumed hunting, continuing the equestrian tradition of Chantilly.

Today the Grand Stables are the magnificent backdrop to Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly). The first race was run here on the right-handed track on 15 May 1834. In 1886 the Duke of Aumale donated the racecourse and stables, with the rest of the Chantilly Estate to the Institut de France. Chantilly hosts two of the French Classics, in the first week of June the Prix de Jockey Club, the French 'Derby' for three year old colts and the Prix de Diane, the French 'Oaks' for three year old fillies.

In 1982 the living Museum of the Horse was opened in the Great Stables and in 2006 the museum was acquired by the Foundation for Safe-Keeping and Development of the Chantilly Domain, presided over by HH Aga Khan V.

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