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The Ermenonville Forest

For lovers of history

Marquis René de Girardin (1735-1808) pursued a career in the French army, but his taste for knowledge and learning often proved stronger than his martial inclinations. At the court of Nancy, the marquis immersed himself in the spirit of the Enlightenment, though he was disappointed by the court's unfavourable opinion of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's writings. He inherited the Domaine d’Ermenonville from his maternal grandfather and moved there in 1762. For a dozen years, the marquis unceasingly worked at transforming the bottom of the marshy Launette Valley into a magnificent English-style garden, or in his words a "philosophical garden".

There, Rousseau's influence was omnipresent. As the marquis was not only a talented landscape architect but also a musician, he gave as a pretext an order for a copy of music to visit Jean-Jacques Rousseau on Rue Plâtrière in Paris. Thanks to the savoir-faire of Lebègue de Presles, doctor to Thérèse Le Vasseur, he succeeded in persuading the philosopher from Geneva to come reside at his Domaine d’Ermenonville.

On 20 May 1778, the writer set up residence in an isolated cottage built at the entrance to the château, where he was soon joined by his wife Marie-Thérèse Levasseur. During his six-month resident at Ermenonville, the philosopher divided his time between music and especially botany.

Did you know ?

Gérard de Nerval was born Gérard Labrunie in Paris in 1808. He was placed in the care of a nurse in Loisy, between Ermenonville and Mortefontaine, his mother's native region and where he would later borrow his nom-de-plume from a certain "Clos Nerval" (clos meaning an enclosed garden, vineyard or orchard).

It was in Oise that Gérard de Nerval composed his greatest works, such as Les Filles du Feu and Promenades et Souvenirs, the latter inspired by the solitary walks of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He added: "I will end up in the very same place where I was raised." So Rousseau became a "character" of Gérard de Nerval.

The Ermenonville Forest stands out for the presence of Scots pines on nearly half of its surface area, as well as by the presence of sand, which gives an impression of aridity. La Mer de Sable ("Sea of Sand"), located opposite the Chaalis Abbey, is a good illustration of this.

The forest is crossed by several watercourses, feeding its many ponds and marshes. The presence of the royal fern, a protected plant in Picardy, testifies to the significance of these wetlands.

The forest is part of the "Natura 2000" European network of nature reserves due to the existence of arid heaths. Also, as one of the three forests making up the Massif des Trois Forêts, the Ermenonville Forest is concerned by a Special Protection Area (SPA) due to the presence of birds deemed of European interest (such as the European nightjar), as well as by a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) due to its diverse habitats and many important species of plants and animals.

At the national level, the Ermenonville Forest is also a "listed heritage site" (since 1998) and home to 3 ZNIEFFs ("natural zones of ecological, faunal and floral interest"). The Oise department has also delimited 12 ENS ("fragile natural areas") within its territory.

Hidden treasures

Old trees of large diameter (over 50 cm), such as the Bénitier Saint-Hubert, as well as dead wood play a fundamental role in our forests, for they represent essential components of the sylvan ecosystem. Dead wood is important for several reasons: it constantly provides the soil with nutrients, thus improving its fertility; it facilitates the forest's natural regeneration; it accelerates the recycling of organic material thanks to insects and mushrooms; and finally it offers shelter to numerous animals, including birds, rodents and bats, most of which also feed upon decomposer insects.