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Tennis and Versailles: say what?  Tennis and Versailles are not usually synonymous with one another. In fact, they are two words that rarely occur in the same sentence. And yet, the precursor to tennis was regularly played in French courts, a sport actually favoured by French nobility.

Ever wondered how and where tennis started? Well, here’s a little info on the origins of tennis:

As with most sports- and a lot of other history, no one is quite sure on the exact origin of tennis. However, it’s widely believed that the precursor to tennis was actually played without rackets. Instead, players were encouraged to use the palm of their hands as ‘bats’- hence the name ‘jeu de paume’- the name of many of France’s oldest tennis courts- and quite literally meaning ‘game of the hand’.

There is a lot of talk that games similar to tennis have been around since time immemorial, with many claiming that the Ancient Egyptians, Romans and Ancient Greeks all had their own version of the game.

However, many historians now believe that the origins of tennis actually lie in 12th century monastic cloisters in Northern France. The monks would shout ‘tenez’ (tenez/ tennis- what’s the difference?!) literally meaning ‘hold, receive, take‘ as they hurled the ball over makeshift nets and against walls of the monastery. It’s said that the game became so prolific, that at one point, the pope tried to ban tennis!

It wasn’t until Henry VII Henry VIII and his courtesans came along that rackets were brought into the Jeu de Paume game and tennis as we know it was officially born. Tennis courts were built far and wide- many of which can still be found today (including at Hampton Court Palace- the official residence of Henry VIII).

Tennis became known as the sport of the nobility and ‘Jeu de Paume‘ courts were set up all over France.

Why Versailles?

On a fairly recent trip to Versailles (where I wrote an ‘alternative’ guide to Versailles that doesn’t include the Château/ Palace), I wandered into the ‘Jeu de Paume’. Today, you can visit the old tennis court. It’s now a free museum located in the heart of the old town part of Versailles.

This was a tennis court turned political battlefield. Today, the building is filled with marble busts of former politicians and French courtesans alike, it’s a great place to find out more on the history of Versailles.

It was also the site of the ‘Tennis Court Oath‘. This is the building where many rich French men congregated to vow to stick together no matter what- even in spite of the high tension within society prior to the French revolution.

Address: Rue du Jeu de Paume, 78000 Versailles

Opening Times: 2-6 P.M.

This maroon doorway leads to one of the world’s oldest surviving tennis courts…

jeu de paume versailles town

jeu de paume origins of tennis versailles jeu de paume versailles

Via History, Wikipedia

About Author

Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, Paris, pizza, and history, though not necessarily in that order. A fan of all things France related, she runs when she's not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming her weight in sweet food. Currently based in Paris after studies in London, she's spent most of her life living in the beautiful Devonian countryside in South West England!

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