The lack of water supply was always a problem at Versailles. The amount of water available was never sufficient enough to slake Versailles’ insatiable thirst.
As for the ruler King Louis XIV, he was more interested in water for his 1400 fountains in his garden. The volume of water required for his fountains exceeded the amount available to the whole of Paris!
So, whenever the king strolled through his gardens at Versailles, several servants had to operate the controls so that wherever Louis happened to be, the fountains were functioning as desired by the king. If this failed, then the overseer would be fined.
The undying quest for adequate supply of water inspired amazing schemes and inventions-of which the best known was the enormous Machine de Marly.
Work started on the machine in 1681. Its purpose was to raise a constant supply of water from the Seine.
Fourteen gigantic waterwheels, each 36 ft wide, moved 221 pumps to bring water 162 meters up the hillsides from the Seine. The Machine de Marly was by far the most extensive and costly plan of Louis XIV.
But after its completion in 1684, work began on an aqueduct to carry the water to two reservoirs near Versailles.
The machine was not very efficient, because it suffered frequent breakdowns, necessitating expensive repairs. Furthermore, maintenance required the permanent services of about sixty staff members.
Here’s the irony. Most of the water pumped by the Marly Machine ended up being used to develop a new garden at the Château de Marly. However, even if all the water pumped at Marly (an average of 3,200 cubic metres per day) had been supplied to Versailles, it still would not have been enough: the fountains running à l’ordinaire (that is, at half pressure) required at least four times as much.
Destroyed in 1817, it was replaced by a “machine temporaire” during 10 years and then a steam engine entered in service from 1827 to 1859. From 1859 to 1963, the pumping at Marly was assumed by another hydraulic machine conceived by the engineer Xavier Dufrayer. Dufrayer’s machine was scrapped in 1968 and replaced by electromechanical pumps.
Two administration buildings from the original Machine complex of 1684 still exist next to the Seine.
The building which housed the steam-driven pumping machine from 1825 can still be seen next to the river as well.