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Grandstands and galloping tracks: the gardens of the Palace of Versailles are preparing for the Olympic equestrian events

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Versailles, France –

The gardens of the Palace of Versailles are preparing to welcome Olympic riders and tens of thousands of visitors during the equestrian and modern pentathlon events during the Paris Games this summer.

Temporary facilities, including grandstands, are being built at the park, where up to 40,000 people are expected to attend the cross-country portion of the event.

The main arena will accommodate more than 16,000 seated spectators for dressage and show jumping competitions. Located at one end of the Grand Canal, the largest basin in the park, it will offer a spectacular view of the palace, home of Louis XIV and Marie-Antoinette.

“It’s a real opportunity to be able to organize such an event in such an astonishing and iconic location. We feel very honored and respectful,” said Anne Murac, head of the Versailles site for the Paris 2024 organizing committee.

On the west side of the park, temporary air-conditioned stables remain to be built. A nearby track, with grass and sand surfaces, has already been laid out to allow horses to warm up before the competition.

In addition, the 5-kilometer (3-mile) cross-country ski trail is carefully prepared, Murac said.

“We work the soil very deep to put in sand and drainage to make sure the cross country track is consistent and can keep the horses and riders safe,” she said.

Floating bridges, tested last summer, will allow horses to cross the Grand Canal during the cross-country.

Several water hazards are in preparation. A newly created pond will be shaped like the royal lily, or fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy. The horses will also pass through the water of the circular pool of a fountain which has not been filled for more than 40 years until now.

Murac said: “We wanted to integrate sport and culture and be able to promote French heritage.”

The five modern pentathlon events (swimming, fencing, horse riding, running and shooting) will also take place in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

The site will offer “a magnificent setting” for equestrian events, declared the president of the Palace of Versailles, Christophe Leribault. “Horses are so evident in the iconography of the palace,” including paintings, sculptures and fountains, he said. “So it’s a wonderful meeting between this old tradition and modern sport.”

After the end of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all temporary facilities will be removed, the ground will be completely replaced and the grass will be re-seeded to leave the venues as they were before, organizers said.

The palace itself will remain open to the public during the Games.

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