Versailles

FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE YVELINES VersaillesLocated about 21km southwest of Paris, Versailles (pop 89,400) was once the capital of the entire French kingdom from 1682 to 1789. Standing on an elevated plateau, Versailles is a neat city with a systematic grid network. Once a popular and modern European city, Versailles started off as just a small village. However, it quickly became prosperous due to its ‘trade-worthy’ location. The village was initially owned by the lords of Versailles. Its journey into the hands of the French monarchs began with Louis XII’s land purchase and his construction of a small château. Subsequent kings continued redeveloping the area, leading to a growth in the city’s population, wealth and reputation. This facilitated Versailles’s promotion as the capital of King Louis XV’s kingdom, in the early 18th century. Versailles also quickly became one of the largest European cities by the late 18th century. However, it lost its authority during the French Revolution, due to its position as a political seat of power. Following this, the city became a sleepy, nostalgic town until the 19th century- when various political activities (involving the Franco-Prussian War, World Wars I and II) revived the town. Today, Versailles has recovered from its slumber and is a chic, wealthy suburb of Paris that remains judicially important. It is also considered a must-see spot in France, thanks to its grand château.

The massive and splendid Château de Versailles [+33 130837800 http://en.chateauversailles.fr] is the city’s pride and joy. Mainly built by the Roi Soleil (the Sun King) Louis XIV, the palace reflects his love for ornate objects and self-indulgent designs. This luxurious palace is one of the most visited sites in France and was partially inspired by the neighbouring Vaux-le-Vicomte (which was built by Louis XIV’s finance minister Nicolas Fouquet, who was imprisoned after holding a fêtê for the king in the palace as he thought the minister would not have been able to build such a grand structure without embezzling from the monarchy).

FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE YVELINES Louis XIVA much smaller château (used as a hunting lodge) stood in these grounds before Louis XIV’s reign. The king decided to expand this château significantly, after two decades on the throne, as he was fuelled by jealousy that sprouted from an envy of Vaux-le-Vicomte. Aiming to outdo his neighbouring palace, the King hired Le Vau, Le Brun and Le Nôtre- the exact group that worked on Vaux-le-Vicomte. He commissioned them to create a palace that could house the entire court (approximately 6000 individuals) and assert the power of the French monarchy, whilst displaying the beauty of French art.

Le Vau had a stellar reputation for creating notable structures like Vincennes, Vaux-le-Vicomte and the Louvre. The Versailles palace was probably the last great building that was erected by the royal architect who has worked for the family since 1654. He was responsible for the creation of the sets of apartments, grand staircases and extending the wings of the château. However in 1675, he had to pass his duties down to Hardouin-Mansart, who eventually erected the Hall of Mirrors and installed many elements of French classicism in the palace. Le Brun was the main decorator- controlling the hundreds of artisans who worked on the mouldings, cornices, frescos and carvings that featured themes from Greek and Roman mythology. Le Nôtre on the other hand (responsible for the Tuileres landscape), created the formal French style gardens with a geometric design.

The sight of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly worth remembering. The entire complex is divided into 4 sections- the castle, the gardens, the Grand Trianon and the Domaine de Marie-Antoinette.

VERSAILLES STREET MAP

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1. Main entrance.  2. Cour Royale  3. Petit canal  4. Grande canal  5. Le Grand Trianon  6. Le Petit Trianon  7. Bassin d'Appolon  8. Bassin de Neptune  9. Hameau de La Reine  10. l'Orangerie  

 


 FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE YVELINES ENTRY GATE VersaillesYou will enter the castle [ad/ch €15/Free] via La Grille d’Honnuer and make your way to the royal courtyard. This 580m long complex has several wings and outbuildings and its main sights are spread out between the first and ground floors. The western end of the ground floor is home to the gleaming Appartements du Dauphine Prince Hértier. These rooms are preserved in 18th century style, right after housing Louis de France- the only son to survive King Louis XV. Fitted with white walls, marbles and gold trimmings, these apartments were also meant to house other important members of the royal family, such as brothers, sons and nephews.

In a nutshell, the château is home to 700 rooms, 67 grand staircases, more than 6000 paintings, 15 000 engravings and 5000 objet d’arts. Outside lie more than 800 hectares of park and wood lands, which sheathe about 200 000 trees and 210 000 flowering plants. This awe-inspiring size and grandeur is the reason why the palace sees more than 4 million visitors annually (and this is just the number of people who manage to enter the building). 

FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE YVELINES VersaillesThe eastern end of the ground floor is home to the Appartements de Mesdames – the residences of the daughters of Louis XV. These rooms match the style of the Dauphine apartments. Head down south of these chambers and you will find the royal chapel. This marble-floored, lofty chapel was completed only in 1710, as its construction was constantly interrupted by wars. Hence, its principle architect Hardouin-Mansart did not live to see it. A few of the castle’s 17th century belongings and collections are exhibited in the galleries that are located further east of the chapel. On the first floor of the castle is the Grand Appartements du Roi et de la Reine (King’s and Queen’s State Apartments). This section of the castle comprises of a suite of rooms that are named after the various Greek and Roman gods. The suite begins with the Venus Salon, nestling the Apollo Salon in the middle- which King Louis XIV best identified with making it a sumptuous house of colours. The room was said to be decked out in rich hues and furnished with gold and silver artefacts. However, most of the silver furniture and the throne were melted down in the 17th century. The suite’s beauty peaks at the famous and historic Galarie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) - a 73m long ballroom fitted with 17 mirrors, overlooking the château gardens. It used to function as a passageway and waiting room for courtiers. 


FRANCE ILE DE FRANCE YVELINES Château de versaillesThe château gardens are located behind the castle complex. This huge section was laid out between 1661 and 1710 and it features geometric terraces, flowerbeds, paths and ponds; as well as approximately 400 statues. Visitors will be welcomed into the gardens by 2 ornamental lakes that are adorned with 4 sculptures- symbolising the rivers of France. An Orangery – comprising of neatly lined orange, pomegranate and palm trees, lie west of the lakes while the huge Bassin de Neptune, a 17th century fountain with 99 water effects, lies east of it. If you head further up the garden paths, you will find the wide Apollo Ornamental Lake. Inspired by Louis XIV’s sun emblem, this lake leads you to the highlight of the gardens- the Grand Canal. The canal is a 1.6km long structure that was constructed by Le Nôtre to elongate and expand the view of the gardens. This glistening waterway used to host boating activities during summer and sleigh rides in winter. 

Lying next to the eastern branch of the canal is Le Domaine de Marie-Antoinette [ad/ch €10/Free]. This estate was created especially for the Queen and it comprises of more gardens, private rooms as well as a farm. This is also where the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon are located. The Trianons were designed by the King himself, as a place to escape court life. The Grand Trianon retains the pink columns and chequered floors of his times, with minor changes made by its later resident – Napoleon III. 

Purchasing a passport ticket [€18-25] will allow you to participate in all tours of the complex. The château also organises daily guided tours (no reservations) which are scheduled at the palace entrance, as well as themed tours (need reservations). Some of the more popular château events to participate in are the Grandes Eaux (Water Fountain Displays), Grandes Eaux Nocturnes (Water Fountain Night Displays), Jardins Musicaux (Musical Stroll) and the Serenade. Rates for these events vary between €7-22. 

Although tickets are sold at the ticketing office in the complex, it is recommended that you complete your purchase in advance, online- so as to escape the long queues.