'The forest gave birth to hunting, and hunting - the passion of the kings of France - gave birth to the palace of Compiègne'. Such were the words of Philippe Marini, the senator/mayor of Compiègne, in describing the influence of this forest. The third largest French national forest after those near Orléans and Fontainebleau, Compiègne (combined with the neighbouring forests of Laigue and Retz) constitutes a mass of trees stretching 32,000 hectares.
Ever since the beginnings of French royalty, Compiègne forest has attracted monarchs and princes bitten by the hunting bug. François I cut eight broad avenues whose meeting point forms the Puit du Roi. Louis XIV designed the great octagon, laid down 54 new routes, and built stone bridges over the streams. Napoleon I connected the forest to the château by created the 4.8km long 'Perçée des Beaumonts'. And the architect Léré, during the reign of Charles X, designed the 350 characteristic signposts which mark the forest paths.
Hunting was thus the main force of attraction bringing the kings, and subsequently emperors, to Compiègne. During the Second Empire, Napoleon III returned to this glorious hunting past by recreating the office of grand veneur and by creating posts for officers of the hunt. There were two types of hunt: mounted hunting and hunting with firearms. The former was one of the main attractions during the famous Compiègne 'Séries'. Most of those invited to the series took part, whether on horseback (for those with the distinctive 'button' of the imperial hunt) or in carts (for the rest). In the evening, all the guests in the château would take their place at the windows to watch the torch-lit 'curée'.