In the midst of a state forest of oaks, birches, moorland, heath and lakes, the story of Rambouillet has for long been bound up with the history of the kings of France and enjoyed its Golden Age during the reign of Louis XVI. Since 1896 the château and its 250 hectares of grounds are a presidential residence.
Rambouillet is also 13,000 hectares of state owned forest, a national hunting park, a multitude of paths and trails to explore on foot, by bicycle or on horseback, stretches of water offering water-based pursuits.
Founded in 768
The first mention of Rambouillet appears in a deed of gift by which Pépin le Bref gives the forest of Iveline, near Rambouillet (Rambolitum), and all its dependencies, serfs and forest wardens, to the Abbey of Saint Denis, with the exception of what has already been donated to various churches and abbeys. This parchment manuscript in Latin bears the handwritten signature of the King.
The town is said to owe its name to water and the forest
‘Raimbon’ (the end of a branch), ‘Fountain of Rambeuil’ and Ru rumbo villae (‘village located between two brooks’) are some of the explanations suggested for the town’s name. A similar toponymy is found in the very name of the forest of Yveline (Silva aequalina, ‘forest rich in water’), and in the name chosen for Rambouillet by French revolutionaries, ‘Plaintsbois’. At the centre of a vast limestone plateau, the old village of Rambouillet did indeed nestle at the bottom of a basin between the valleys of two brooks, the Moulinet and the Rambo.
A village built along a road
The historic heart of the town has retained the shape of the street village built along the Orleans Road, which became the Chartres Road in the 18th century. In 1783, Louis XVI purchased the Rambouillet estate and had large-scale work undertaken to modernise the small market town. The town could thus have acquired a true centre if the French Revolution had not interrupted the King’s plans. Rambouillet therefore retains in its urban shape a reminder of the simple Ancien Régime post relay it formerly was.
Rambouillet develops rapidly in the 18th century
The town of Rambouillet is little more than two hundred years old. Limited to the west and to the south of its main street by the site of the château and the extension of the estate, urbanisation spread to the north hillside from the 18th century onwards. The town developed and Louis XVI created the suburbs of Pierre Fitte and La Garenne to the south and Groussay to the west. Urban areas were then negotiated between the King and local inhabitants. The town was subsequently to expand to the east, following the direction of the ‘great paved road from Paris to Chartres’.
Expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries
The arrival of the railway in 1849 marked the beginning of a period of strong urban growth. The commercial and industrial bourgeoisie built opulent-looking urban villas and a new urban centre was created on the hillside. Urban development spread to villages such as Grenonvilliers to the north. It was in the twentieth century, however, and in particular after World War II, that the town grew the most, the population rising from 7,500 in 1939 to approximately 26,000 today.
The town today
The old centre is characterised by alignments of traditional type town houses. Moving away from the heart of the town, homes take on a more suburban residential form. The outer districts were formerly neighbouring hamlets. To the east, the district of La Louvière is ‘separated’ from the town centre by the railway line. The urban landscape in Rambouillet is indeed strongly marked by two dividing lines, the railway line and the RN 10 main road, which was diverted beyond the La Louvière district in 1956. This district presents a mixture of houses and flats typical of the fifties and sixties and of priority urban development areas. The Groussay and Grenonvilliers districts, meanwhile, have the look of a typical French suburb with their small groups of buildings consisting of blocks of flats. At the far east of the town, we see much more recent districts consisting exclusively of suburban houses.
[Service du patrimoine - Ville de Rambouillet ]