The Palace of Fontainebleau, located 55 kilometres from the centre of Paris, is one of the largest French royal châteaux. The building is arranged around a series of courtyards. The city of Fontainebleau has grown up around the remainder of the Forest of Fontainebleau, a former royal hunting park. This forest is now home to many endangered species.
By the late 18th century, the château had fallen into disrepair; during the French Revolution, many of the original furnishings were sold, in the long Revolutionary sales of the contents of all the royal châteaux, intended as a way of raising money for the nation and ensuring that the Bourbons could not return to their comforts. Nevertheless, within a decade Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte began to transform the Château de Fontainebleau into a symbol of his grandeur, as an alternative to the empty Palace of Versailles, with its Bourbon connotations. Napoleon hosted Pope Pius VII there in 1804, when he came to consecrate the emperor, and again in 1812–1814, when he was Napoleon’s prisoner. With modifications of the château’s structure, including the cobblestone entrance wide enough for his carriage, Napoleon helped make the château the place that visitors see today. At Fontainebleau Napoleon bade farewell to his Old Guard and went into exile in 1814. Fontainebleau was also the setting of the Second Empire court of his nephew Napoleon III.
Today, part of the château is home to the Écoles d’Art Américaines, a school of art, architecture, and music for students from the United States. The school was founded by General Pershing when his men were stationed there during World War I.