Bougival during the reign of the Sun King
In the 17th century, Bougival had 500 inhabitants, but not far away, in Versailles, Louis XIV undertook considerable building work which would eventually disrupt this quiet village of fishermen, winegrowers and small farmers.
Indeed, in 1662, Louis XIV decided to build the Château of Versailles and later that of Marly. For 20 years, every possible solution was examined, and some were implemented, to deliver water to the fountains, ornamental lakes and canals in the gardens. However, the requirements were substantial and no suitable solution was found for providing the plateau of Versailles, situated at almost 150 metres above the level of the Seine, with the huge amount of water required.
In about 1675, Colbert called upon Arnold de Ville, the son of a master blacksmith from Liège. He knew that his compatriot Rennequin Sualem, a brilliant but illiterate carpenter, had already built a machine for the Château of Modave (in the Pays de Huy region near Namur in Belgium) enabling water to be brought up from the Hoyoux to the château. The difference in level was 50 m but this time the challenge was even greater because machinery needed to be built which would be capable of taking water from the Seine up a distance of more than 160 metres.
After 5 years of building work carried out by over 1800 men, under the responsibility of Louvois, the Marly Machine was inaugurated by Louis XIV on 16 June 1684. It was composed of 14 wheels of 12 metres in diameter driven by the Seine’s current which powered 257 pumps with a flow of over 2500 m3 per day.
It was a real technological feat for the time, an object of both amazement and terror. The Machine was referred to as an “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Louis XIV used to enjoy showing it to his distinguished guests. For the inhabitants of Bougival, fishing was no longer possible, the port ceased to exist and the mills on the Drionne came to a halt because all the streams, springs and other rivulets were diverted to the reservoirs delivering water to Versailles. Moreover, the noise of this gigantic assembly of wooden beams could be heard as far away as Fourqueux, over ten kilometres away. Louis XIV died on September 1st 1715.