The eccentric and fabulously wealthy 18th century prince, Louis-Henri de Bourbon construct the world’s most elaborate equine stables in the French town of Chantilly in 1719. The prince had mused that he would like to be reincarnated as a horse and thought it prudent that he commission a luxurious stables so he could enjoy his equine reincarnation in the style to which he’d become accustomed to as a prince.
This spectacular stables is not merely architecturally stunning, it is also home to a vast range of equine paintings, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics. Today the museum is also considered a “living museum” as it is home to 31 rare horse breeds.
The Stables, build over three centuries ago, was originally home to 300 hunting dogs and 250 horses, the grounds features beautifully manicured lakes and lawns. Prince Louis-Henri would host extravagant meals for members of the French aristocracy in the building. However, in recent times weather and poor maintenance had started to take their toll on the once glorious equine palace.
The vast cost of bringing the building back to its former glory was beyond the budget of the local government, politically it would very hard to justify spending millions on a stable whilst so many in France are still suffered from the financial collapse and subsequent austerity measures. What the building needed was a modern day prince with an equal love of horses and deep pockets.
In many ways it was fitting that the fourth Aga Khan became the saviour of Louis-Henri de Bourdon’s Grand Stables. Forbes magazine describes the Aga Khan as one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million. He is also one of the most influential figures in French racing and was the owner of Irish wonder horse Shergar.
“The mayor came to me and said, ‘Would you join us in financing the saving of Chantilly’s race course?’ said the Aga Khan, who has had an office in the area for “many many” years. “And I said, ‘But I’m not interested in only saving the race course. I’d like to widen the spectrum to the whole of Chantilly.'”
“It was the most stunning building built for horses in the world,” said Benoit Junod, the director for museums and exhibitions for the Aga Khan Development Network. “The prince was a cousin of the king and I think he wanted to create something which would rival the Palaces of Versailles. But in recent years it was falling into disrepair — there were problems with water seepage from the lake, the roof needed to be repaired.”
This weekend, the Grand Stables and the connected Museum of the Horse was opened after the completion of a $3.3 million renovation supported by the Aga Khan Development Network. If you take a walk inside the spectacular museum, you’ll see a collection of paintings and sculptures covering everything from mythical creatures to famous past thoroughbreds. The building also has 17 garages, once used to house beautiful carriages but now converted to a gallery and café.
If the building looks vaguely familiar to you then it’s possible you’ve already marvelled at its beauty when it doubled as the lair of evil French villain Max Zorin in the James Bond film ‘View To A Kill’, and now thanks to the generosity of the Aga Khan it still has views to die for.