Apollo, the Greek Sun God riding a horse-drawn chariot.

The Sun God Apollo riding his horse-drawn chariot.

At a focal point between the formal gardens and groves that make up le Petit Parc and the Grand Canal in the opulent grounds of the Palace of Versailles is the Bassin d’Apollon. This large, artificial pool and fountains takes its name from the Greek Sun God Apollo, who is depicted riding a horse-drawn chariot in the pool’s elaborate centrepiece.

For some reason I have recently become quite taken by quadrigas – that classically inspired representation of a chariot drawn by four horses. Having seen what must surely be the most well known example on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin earlier this year, it was good to see another but altogether very different example at the Palace of Versailles.

Apollo riding a quadriga.

The Sun God Apollo riding a quadriga.

André Le Nôtre placed the Bassin d’Apollon at the physical and symbolic centre of his design for the gardens as commissioned by Louis XIV – also known as the ‘Sun King’. It is said that the young king enjoying taking part in court performances, and was once called upon to play the sun in the ‘ballet de la nuit’. Taken by the sun as provider of life, the young Louis then chose this ultimate celestial body as his symbol. And the Greek God Apollo, god of light and the sun, was frequently used in symbolic representations of the French Sun King.

At the centrepiece of the Bassin d’Apollon, the Sun God Apollo rises from the watery depths in his sun chariot drawn by four horses. The quadriga is surrounded by whales and Tritons – biological and mythological messengers of the sea.

The quadriga looking towards the Sailor's Gate.

Looking over the fountains towards the Sailor’s Gate.

As great as the Apollo-Sun King centrepiece of the pool is, it takes on quite a different character as a fountain – as it was originally intended. During the weekends from April to October the fountains are turned on at 11 am and 3.30 am, while music is piped through a public address system (a bit too loudly, I thought).

The fountains of Apollo at the Palace of Versailles.

The ‘fountains of Apollo’ in all their glory.

Artistic Splendours of France Tour – Day One

The Rose on the north Transept, dedicated to the Virgin Mary

North transept rose window, 1235 AD

The first day of the Artistic Splendours of France tour, and the first stop was the Palace of Versailles – to the south west of the city of Paris. We did not go in to the Palace itself, because by 9.30 am the queues were already quite daunting. Although it has to be said they were then nothing like they were when we left at about midday. Crowds and queues really should be expected from the beginning of June as Versailles is, after all, not only the most visited château in France but one of the most popular attractions in the Paris area. In any event, to do the Palace of Versailles proper justice, a day is required at least. It would be a great day, and there are a few restaurants and coffee shops discretely located around the grounds.

After watching the musical fountains display at the Apollo Fountain we left Paris for Chartres to visit what is considered to be the finest Gothic Cathedral in France, which is known for its spectacular stained-glass windows.