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The Compiegne Forest

For lovers of history

Napoleon III was the first to order serious digs carried out within the forest, called "Cuise-les-Compiègne Forest" up until the reign of Louis XV.

Thanks to the emperor, traces were found of prehistoric, rural dwellings.

The Gauls built imposing settlements here. Upon his arrival in Gaul, Julius Caesar decided to develop the local agriculture (fields of wheat), which led to the construction of the first towns nearby.

Later, the Carolingians spent considerable effort on clearing and reconquering the forest: they built villas, each attributed its own hunting ground.

The forest was subject to significant fragmentations starting with the end of Charlemagne's reign. In this manner, several new forests were formed: Chantilly, Ermenonville, Halatte, Retz, Laigue, Coucy and Compiègne.

However, the strengthening of royal authority contributed to preserving the forest's unity. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, it benefited from a royal policy of extension or "reunification". Today's forest covers 14,422 hectares.

Did you know ?

The Compiègne Forest was the hunting reserve of the kings of France beginning in the Middle Ages, notably during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI, as well as for the Emperors Napoleon I and Napoleon III. While on holiday at the Imperial Palace of Compiègne, they would enter the forest by crossing the château park. Certain Gobelins tapestries represent their hunting forays, especially those of Louis XV.

As a result, the forest was very early on crisscrossed by numerous paths to facilitate this activity. Over 300 posts were installed during the 19th century at the various crossroads by Jean-Marie Huvé, architect under King Charles X. Under Napoleon III, a red marking was added to indicate the direction of Compiègne and avoid people getting lost.

The Compiègne Forest still stands out for the diversity of its animal life, especially game. Tours are organized to teach visitors how to detect the presence of cervids and to learn all about the various species.

Several sectors have been the subject of conservation efforts for decades. Indeed, the forest includes several types of nature reserve:

  • At the European level, two "Natura 2000" sites encompass the forest: a Special Protection Area (SPA), to protect bird species deemed of European interest, and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), to protect its diverse habitats and many important species of flora and fauna

  • At the national level, the forest includes a ZNIEFF ("natural zone of ecological, faunal and floral interest")

  • At the departmental level, the forest is home to no less than 13 "fragile natural areas".

Hidden treasures

The forest comprises 40% beech trees, 30% oak trees, 15% hornbeams and 15% pines and various other trees. Beech trees are found principally on the hills. Nature lovers will appreciate the old tree groves of La Fortelle, La Loge Lambert and Le Four d'en Haut. Beech wood is highly prized by cabinetmakers, lending even greater value to the Compiègne Forest.

While beeches are tending to disappear, hornbeams may be considered invasive. Veritable hornbeam groves have appeared over the years, although this species was originally introduced only temporarily.

Following the violent storms that struck the forest between 1984 and 2000, the ONF (French forestry service) favours the site's natural regeneration over large-scale tree plantings.

The forest's two oldest trees are respectively a yew and an oak, believed to be between 700 and 900 years old.