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Marly machine - Expo Paris 1867

Marly machine at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

There was no thought of exhibiting the model of the new hydraulic machine of Marly, built several years ago, when, at the last moment, the Emperor gave the order.

To accommodate this model, a small pavilion was built in the Park, not far from and to the right of the Rapp gate, under the auspices of the Ministry of the Emperor's Household and Fine Arts: for the hydraulic establishment, having been built at the expense of the Civil List, depends on this ministry.

The Marly machine deserved the honours of the Exhibition. The old machine, famous for its lamentable groans, is no longer the one that exists today at Marly; it has been replaced by a new apparatus which is one of the most remarkable works of modern mechanics.

The pavilion on the Champ de Mars contains a model of one of the waterwheels, executed on a scale of ten centimetres to one metre, and a series of washes and watercolours representing the whole and the details of the establishment. We would be happy if the examination of the model of this admirable machine and the sketch representing the whole of the building and the hillside which dominates it would inspire the visitors of this exhibition with the desire to go and see the machine itself, because there is not, in the vicinity of Paris, a less frequented and more delightful canton than that of Marly.

All foreigners go to admire the great waters of Versailles and Saint-Cloud, and only a very few know the source of these powerful jets, of these abundant cascades.

Let them help at Marly, and they will learn that the torrents of water which they have seen gushing out at such a height, in the already very high parks of Versailles and Saint-Cloud, that these ascending cataracts which have filled them with wonder, have been borrowed from the Seine, at Marly, and are launched by the Seine itself. We will explain how.

When Le Nôtre had created the gardens of Versailles, Saint-Cloud, Marly and Saint Germain, the magnificent basins with which the flowerbeds had been decorated remained dry, because the châteaux were built on hills. It was then that Rennequin built the legendary machine to raise the waters of the river to the heights of Louveciennes, from where they flowed into the basins of the royal parks. The majestic and picturesque aqueduct of Louveciennes was built to receive the water. It develops its arches over a length of 600 metres and rises 23 metres above the ground and 158 metres above the Seine. From the water tower, which ends the thirty-sixth and last arcade, the pipe that emptied into the reservoirs ran.

Rennequin could not read, and like all ingenious and inventive but ignorant minds, he had devised something very complicated. The machine consisted of 221 pumps set in motion by 14 wheels. The left branch of the river had been dammed on purpose to produce the waterfall that turned the wheels. Some of the pumps raised the water into a first basin, others took it from this height and threw it into a higher sump, from where a third group of pumps raised it onto the tower. This machine was built between 1676 and 1682 and cost a whopping three million six hundred and fifty thousand francs, which in today's terms represents ten or twelve million. This immense mechanical toy soon broke down and, at the beginning of the century, there were only two wheels left in working order. The great waters of Versailles were only played on solemn occasions, as it was necessary to spend thirty thousand francs to offer this spectacle to the crowd. There are now great waters every Sunday in summer, alternately in Versailles and Saint-Cloud.

Despairing of the hydraulic apparatus, it was replaced by a fire pump. The construction, entrusted to M. Cécile, lasted from 1811 to 1826. This machine, very beautiful for its time, raised the water in a single jet on the aqueduct with the help of eight pumps; it was a great progress, but it was hard to burn coal when you had in front of you an enormous waterfall which was no longer useful. In 1855, the Emperor ordered the construction of a new hydraulic machine. Mr. Dufrayer, the eminent architect of the civil list, set to work and in 1858 the new building was inaugurated; but the additional work was not completed until the end of the present year.

The total expenditure, borne by His Majesty's private coffers, amounted to two million.

The new machine consists of six large wheels, each twelve metres in diameter, and four pumps. The apparatus is sheltered by a stone and brick building, covered in zinc, built on the river perpendicular to the bank. When the twenty-four pumps are in operation (the sixth impeller has not yet been completed), they will together raise 16 million litres of water per day to a height of 156 metres. This small river, instead of being discharged into the aqueduct as in the past, is carried directly, without passing through the aqueduct, through a pipe 60 centimetres in diameter and 2,280 metres long, to the reservoirs of the Deux-Portes, which form veritable artificial lakes of 35,000 cubic metres in capacity.

Now the aqueduct and the fire pump are no longer in use: but they are nevertheless preserved as historical souvenirs, and can be visited, as well as the present machine, without having to ask for any permission, which always has its price.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée