Even if you see Versailles in photos, you are mesmerized by its grandeur and splendor. But, then, you wonder at the extravagance.
You also wonder how much planning it would have taken to design and build such a huge complex. How meticulous would have been the building process? Yet Versailles construction was a long process full of hesitations, unfinished projects, and false starts.
In the beginning, Versailles was just a hunting lodge build by Louis XIII. Louis XIV fell in love with this small but old-fashioned palace and made it his permanent home, but only after major renovations.
For the next forty years, Louis XIV lived in the midst of a permanent building site. Versailles was enhanced and first converted to a sumptuous palace fit for a king. Then it was made the seat of government complete with residence for court officials and servants. Later a magnificent chapel, a theatre, and grand stables were added to it. At least five kings spent an unbelievable amount of money to bring it to the stage it is today.
Led by our daughter, my husband and I left our hotel in Paris early enough to get to the train to Versailles. Our daughter had pre-booked the tickets, a wise move, because the line to buy tickets was so long that it would have taken us half of the day to get in. As a result, we were one of the first fifty people to get inside the palace.
The palace tour started with a short movie in the first room. The movie tells the history of the palace and the monarchs who lived there. After watching a short movie about the palace, our daughter gathered us (my husband and me) in a corner and declared, “We are going to the Hall of Mirrors first while it is still empty. Otherwise, there is no point to get in so early.”
The Hall of Mirrors, the most famous room in the Palace. It was built to replace a large terrace and it opens onto the Versailles garden. It is also the most extravagantly decorated room. It was used as the ballroom, its purpose was to illustrate the power of the absolutist monarch Louis XIV.
We ran past the room after room, corridors after corridors to reach the Hall of Mirrors. I was a bit reluctant to run past magnificently decorated rooms, but I was glad we did. When we reached the Hall of Mirrors, we were spellbound. But, most importantly, it was almost empty.
You don’t have to see any more to be convinced why French Revolution started. The Hall of Mirrors was the proof of royal extravagance.
The King and Queen’s Apartments
The other most impressive room after the Hall of Mirrors is the King and Queen’s apartments. The King’s apartment is in the heart of the palace and is predominantly red in color, while the Queen’s apartment is golden.
The King and Queen’s apartments were laid out on the same design, each suite having seven rooms. Both suites had ceilings painted with scenes from mythology; the King’s ceilings featured male figures, the Queen’s featured females.
The other very lavish apartments were Louis XV’s daughters’ apartments. They were in line with the King and Queen’s apartments.
The apartments were turned into museum rooms but were not open for people for many years due to the restoration work. Luckily, when we were there, they were recently opened. They are now restored to their original condition as princely apartments.
Mesdames of France, the six daughters of Louis XV as they were known, lived there since 1752. Adélaïde and Victoire, remained ther until the Revolution. Neither of them was married, and they both lived to old age.
Gardens of Versailles
If I thought the palace was spectacular, I was blown away by the gardens. Spread over 800 hectares of land, they are landscaped in classic French style. Only an aerial view can show the immensity of the gardens.
Versailles gardens have several groves hidden between the woods. These groves are decorated with fountains, vases, and statues, accessed by secret paths are designed by Andre Le Notre.
The groves brought surprise and fantasy to Louise XIV’s guests and his courtiers. Frequent parties were thrown there and the guests were entertained with music and fountain shows.
There were also theatre performances and gambling in open-air drawing rooms exclusively dedicated to entertainment and amusement.
The Grand Trianon
In the northwest of the gardens, there is another palace.
Commissioned by Louis XIV for his mistress Marquise of Montespan, the Grand Trianon was called Porcelain Trianon because of its white and blue ceramic décor.
It quickly deteriorated and was replaced in 1687–1688 by the current palace.
Napoleon lived at Trianon with his second wife Marie Louise of Austria. The Trianon is very much in use even now. Many state guests (including Queen Elizabeth II) are housed in the Trianon during their state visit to France.
I liked this little palace. It was not as magnificent as Versailles, but it was peaceful. I sat in the verandah and watched the sky. It was much lower and of perfect blue. I thought about my own home and realized I was ready to go back. You can only stay away from home for so long.
We spent the last day in Paris discovering some hidden gems. I will write about them in my next post.