Palace of Versailles
Palace and Park of Versailles is a luxurious palace and park ensemble located in the suburbs of Paris. This architectural monument is known for its gardens, fountains, luxurious interiors, and most importantly for its extraordinary size, because Versailles is the largest palace in Europe. Just think: at the same time in the Versailles Palace can accommodate 20 thousand people!
The façade overlooking the park has a length of 570 m. Visually, it is dominated by horizontal lines, and only the graceful pilasters deliberately break this rhythm. The huge Hall of Mirrors occupies practically all the space of the first floor of the main building. An elegant gallery divides it into two salons: one for wars (de la guerre) and one for peace (de la paix).
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What to see
Of course, the main attraction of the Versailles palace and park ensemble is the palace itself. Upon entering Versailles, you will receive a plan of the palace, which you can use to plot your itinerary. At the Palace of Versailles, a must-see is the Royal Chapel, which is among the most beautiful architectural monuments of the Baroque era. After walking through the chapel and the network of glittering gilded and crystal rooms, you will find yourself in the throne room and the famous Gallery of Mirrors, where the Versailles Peace Treaty was signed after World War I. Also a must-see is the Queen’s Chambers in the palace’s north wing, where almost every square inch of the walls and ceiling is decorated in gilt.
Every room in the palace was given a symbolic meaning, and no room – not even those reserved for courtiers or members of the royal family – remained private. The center of the palace was not the throne room or the study. Much more importance was attached to what was going on in the monarch’s bedchamber. Here the most important ceremonies took place every day, and no one dared to be embarrassed by their majesties’ nakedness. Such a ceremony required no less than a hundred courtiers to perform the most complicated choreographic rituals.
You can, of course, enjoy the luxury of the palace’s interior, but you can also spend a whole day strolling through the Versailles park. The manicured gardens, the fragrant flowerbeds, the musical fountains, everything that pleases the aesthetic sense is there. In the park of Versailles there are two more palaces: the Grand Trianon (palace in the Italian architectural style) and the Petit Trianon (a more modest building, designed for Madame de Pompadour, the famous favorite of Louis XV). The park is also home to Marie Antoinette’s village, a small farm with a thatched roof. The modest decoration of the Petit Trianon and the elegant austerity of Marie-Antoinette’s village will give your eyes, tired of the glow of the Palace of Versailles, a welcome respite, while the fountains, synchronized with music, will be a real treat for your ears.
The Palace of Versailles is located about 13 km southwest of Paris. The easiest way to get to Versailles is by subway (RER) on line C – you will need to get to the station Versailles – Rive Gauche, which is located near the palace itself. There are also trains to Versailles from Gare Montparnasse (station Versailles Chantiers) and Gare St-Lazare (Versailles – Rive Droite station). Metro and train tickets are the same at €2.80 each way.
Hours of operation at Versailles are different during high and low seasons, so before you go to Versailles be sure to check out the palace’s website: http://www.chateauversailles.fr/homepage. The site is available in several languages, but Russian is not one of them.
You can buy tickets on the palace website, in the FNAC stores (http://www.fnac.com/localiser-magasin-fnac/w-4), at the tourist bureau, which is located near the station Versailles – Rive Gauche, and finally at the ticket office of the palace.
When buying tickets to Versailles it is very important not to get confused, as they have many varieties. First, you can visit the palace with a museum card – Paris Museum Pass (http://en.parismuseumpass.com/). With the same card you can visit many other attractions of Paris, but if you are not going to walk around all the museums of Paris in a short time, it just does not pay off.
A full ticket to Versailles costs 25€ during the days of the fountains and 18€ when the fountains are not working. For €15, you can visit the Palace of Versailles on your own, with its famous Mirror Gallery, the apartments of the King and Queen, frescoes, paintings and sculptures.
In addition to the main palace, the Versailles palace complex also includes the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon and Marie Antoinette’s village. For €10 you can buy a ticket to both the Trianons and Marie Antoinette’s Village. Admission to Versailles Park is free, but on fountain days it will cost you €8.50.
If you go to Versailles in summer, don’t forget to bring a hat or cap: there is almost no shelter from the sun in the gardens, so you can easily overheat.
It’s difficult to imagine that in the early 17th century there were swampy marshes where the Palace of Versailles stands today, with its immaculately manicured gardens. But despite such unfavorable natural conditions, this area to the south-west of Paris attracted the attention of Louis XIII, who in 1624 ordered to build there a small hunting lodge. In 1661, Louis XIV was reminded of the château by Louis XIV, who felt it was not safe for him to stay in Paris.
According to legend, when King Louis XIV was only 5 years old, he strolled through the picturesque Tuileries gardens and looked into a puddle. The sun was reflected in the water. “I am the sun!” – the boy shouted joyfully. From that day on, the servants and family affectionately called Louis “the sun king.” Even in his youth he dreamed of something big, perfect and unique, something that would astound all of Europe – better than the Louvre, Vincennes and Fontainebleau put together. It took Louis XIV an entire 50 years to realize his dream! The “Sun King” transformed his father’s hunting castle into the largest palace in Europe! The painter Charlevy Lebrun was entrusted with the interior decoration and André LeNotre with the design of the gardens.
The “Sun King” was able to arrange a truly sunny palace in Versailles worthy of his grandeur. Eight hundred hectares of marshes, on which the king’s father so loved to hunt, were drained and their place taken by magnificent gardens, parks, alleys and fountains.
In 1682, Louis XIV became quite uncomfortable in the familiar Paris, and the monarch decides to move to Versailles. At that time the palace was not yet completely finished, and in general not quite suitable for life, but the autocrat was adamant. The king had dreamed of the Palace of Versailles for so long that he could wait no longer – and the entire royal court is forced to follow Louis.
The palace complex of Versailles was created to glorify France, and this original plan was successfully accomplished. Magnificence of interior decoration, perfect gardens and alleys, magnificent fountains, the scale of the palace-park ensemble – all this made guests of the French court swoon in admiration.
Versailles palace was the center of political life of France up to the Great French Revolution in 1789. Along with the fall of the autocracy, of which Versailles was a symbol, the palace began to fall into disrepair.
Palace of Versailles
Is there any other place as aesthetically harmonious as the Palace of Versailles? Its external decoration, the elegance of the interior and the park area are in the same style, the whole complex deserves to be strolled through by members of the aristocracy. Every tourist is sure to feel the spirit of the times of kings, because in the palace and park area it is easy to try on the role of a powerful autocrat, in whose power the whole country. Not a single photo can convey the true elegance, because every meter of this ensemble is thought out to the smallest detail.
There is probably no one who doesn’t know where this unique construction is located. The famous palace is the pride of France and the most recognizable royal residence in the world. It is located near Paris and used to be a freestanding structure with a park area. As the aristocracy grew in popularity around Versailles, numerous houses were built to house builders, servants, retinue and other people allowed into the court.
The idea for the palace ensemble belonged to Louis XIV, known as the “Sun King”. He himself studied all the plans and sketched pictures and made adjustments to them. The ruler identified the Palace of Versailles as a symbol of power, the most powerful and indestructible. Only the king could personify complete opulence, so luxury and wealth are felt in every detail of the palace. Its main façade sprawls over 640 meters, and the park occupies more than a hundred acres.
Classicism, which was at the peak of popularity in the 17th century, was chosen as the main style. Several of the best architects were involved in creating this large-scale project, which went through several stages of construction. Only the most renowned masters worked on the decoration inside the palace, creating engravings, sculptures and other art treasures that still decorate it today.
History of construction
It’s hard to say when the Palace of Versailles was built, as work on the ensemble continued even after the king settled in the new residence and held balls in the exquisite halls. Officially, the building received the status of a royal residence in 1682, but it is better to mention the history of the cultural monument in order.
Originally, since 1623, the site of Versailles was a small feudal castle where royalty and a small retinue were accommodated while hunting in the local forests. In 1632, the French kings’ holdings in this part of the country expanded with the purchase of a nearby estate. Minor construction work was underway near the village called Versailles, but it wasn’t until Louis XIV came to power that the global redevelopment began.
The Sun King became early ruler of France and forever remembered the Fronde rebellion, which was partly the reason why the residence in Paris caused unpleasant memories for Louis. Moreover, as a young ruler, he admired the luxury of the castle of the Minister of Finance, Nicolas Fouquet, and wished to build a Versailles palace, superior in beauty to all the existing castles, so that no one in the country would doubt the wealth of the king. Louis Lévaux, who had already proven himself in other large-scale projects, was hired as the architect.
During Louis XIV’s lifetime, work was carried out on the palace ensemble. Besides Louis Lévaux, Charles Lebrun and Jules Ardouin-Mansard worked on the architecture; the park and gardens belong to the hand of André Lenôtre. The main treasure of the Palace of Versailles during this phase of construction is the Mirror Gallery, in which paintings alternate with hundreds of mirrors. Also during the reign of the Sun King, the Gallery of Battles and the Grand Trianon appeared, and a chapel was erected.
In 1715, power passed to the five-year-old Louis XV, who, together with his entourage, returned to Paris and did not rebuild Versailles for a long time. During his reign the Salon of Hercules was completed and the Small Apartments of the King were created. The erection of the Petit Trianon and the completion of the Salle de l’Opera are considered the great achievements of this stage of construction.
The components of the palace and park area
It is simply impossible to describe the sights of the Palace of Versailles, as everything in the ensemble is so harmonious and exquisite that every detail is a true work of art. The following places are definitely worth visiting during the tours:
At the front entrance to the palace complex there is a gate made of gold, decorated with the coat of arms and the crown. The square in front of the palace is decorated with sculptures, which are also found inside the main room and throughout the park. You can even find a statue of Caesar, whose cult was valued by French masters.
It is worth mentioning the park of Versailles because it is an exceptional place, enchanting with its diversity, beauty and integrity. Here one finds amazingly decorated fountains with musical arrangements, botanical gardens, greenhouses, swimming pools. Flowers are gathered in unusual beds, and shrubs are given certain shapes each year.
Significant episodes in the history of Versailles
Although the Palace of Versailles was used as a residence for a short time, it played a significant role for the country – in the 19th century it received the status of the national museum, where numerous engravings, portraits, paintings were moved.
With the defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the mansion became the property of the Germans. They chose the Hall of Mirrors to proclaim themselves the German Empire in 1871. The French were hurt by the chosen place, so after Germany’s defeat in World War I, when Versailles was returned to France, the peace treaty was signed in the same room.
Since the 50s of the 20th century, there was a tradition in France, according to which all visiting heads of state had to meet the president in Versailles. Only in the 90s it was decided to move away from this tradition because of the great popularity of the Versailles Palace among tourists.
Monarchs of other countries who visited the French landmark marveled at the elegance and luxury of the royal residence and often tried to recreate equally exquisite palaces with similar architecture when they returned home. Of course, a similar creation is nowhere to be found in the world, but many castles in Italy, Austria and Germany have some similarity. Even the palaces at Peterhof and Gatchina are made in the same classicism, borrowing a number of ideas.
From historical descriptions we know that in the palace it was very difficult to keep secrets, because Louis XIV preferred to know what was on the mind of his courtiers to avoid conspiracies and revolts. The castle has many hidden doors and secret passages that only the king and the architects who designed them were aware of.
During the reign of the Sun King almost all decisions were made in the Palace of Versailles, because statesmen and close associates of the autocrat were located here around the clock. To be part of the entourage, one had to reside in Versailles regularly and attend daily ceremonies in which Louis often dispensed privileges.