For lovers of history
Created by the Marquis René-Louis de Girardin between 1766 and 1776, the Ermenonville Gardens were wonderfully innovative for their time.
Breaking with the symmetry of the French traditional garden, based upon the parks designed by André Le Nôtre at Versailles, Vaux-le-Vicomte and Chantilly, the Ermenonville Gardens were adorned with so-called "fabriques" (small installations designed for meditation) and numerous stones engraved with poems and other inscriptions. During the Age of Enlightenment, among the enlightened aristocracy, gardens were meant to be not only charming and pleasant but also favourable to philosophic reflection. A temple of modern philosophy, where Rousseau's name is engraved alongside other great names, wonderfully illustrates the direct, harmonious link established by the marquis between Nature and Culture, which served as the guiding principle for his gardens.
In May 1778, Jean-Jacques Rousseau discovered this site, following an invitation by the marquis, a keen admirer of his books and thought. The philosopher fell immediately in love with this park that conformed to his ideal and to his writings, including Julie, or the New Heloise, in which he describes (in Letter 10 of Part 4) the Vergers de Clarens, an idyllic garden where everything seems so natural that man's touch is hardly apparent.
The philosopher spent his last days at the marquis's estate, where he was laid to rest prior to the Convention's decision to transfer his ashes to the Panthéon in 1794. The memory of Rousseau so deeply marked the park that it eventually adopted his name. His cenotaph occupying the Île des Peupliers ("Isle of Poplars") was modelled after a classical tomb. It is adorned with bas-reliefs by the sculptor Jacques-Philippe Lesueur evoking the treatise Emile, or On Education, as well as allegorical figures of Nature, Truth, Music and Eloquence.
Neglected during several decades, the park progressively lost its original design as conceived by the marquis. Since 2004, the department of Oise, the current owner, has greatly invested in bringing the park back to life and rehabilitating this exceptional heritage site, a verdant celebration of the encounter between Nature, Culture and Philosophy. In 2012, the French Ministry of Culture awarded the park the prestigious "Centre Culturel de Rencontre" label, lending concrete expression to the Departmental Council's ambition to make this park a leading cultural and artistic site.
Did you know?
Rousseau – considered the Father of the French Revolution, even after his ashes were transferred with great pomp to the Panthéon in 1794 – inspired such a cult following that the Île des Peupliers became during several decades a veritable pilgrimage site, attracting many famous figures, including Queen Marie Antoinette and the Consul Bonaparte.
The Grotte des Naïades ("Naiads' Grotto") originally served as the entrance into the gardens created by the marquis. Visitors first had to pass through this dark, subterranean passageway and climb a few steep steps leading to the light of the gardens; this gateway was meant to symbolize the efforts necessary to escape the obscurity of ignorance and attain the enlightenment of knowledge. Once out of the grotto, visitors discover a striking view of the small pond and the "Temple of Philosophy" perched upon its promontory.
The perspective is reminiscent of the paintings by Claude Lorrain, an important source of inspiration for the large parks and gardens of England created during the 18th century, which in turn inspired the Marquis de Girardin, though he rather desired his gardens to inspire painters.