Even if you see Versailles in pictures you are mesmerized by its grandeur and splendor.
You wonder at the extravagance.
You also wonder how much planning it would have taken to design and build such 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 its permanent home, but only after major renovations.
For next forty years, Louis XIV lived in the midst of permanent building site. Versailles was enhanced and first converted to a sumptuous palace fit for a king and then 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 unbelievable amount of money to bring it to the stage it is today.
We left our hotel early enough to get to the train to Versailles. Our daughter had pre-booked the tickets, wise move, because the line to buy tickets was so long that it would have taken us half of the day to get in. We were one of the first fifty people to get inside the palace.
After watching a short movie about the palace in the first room, our daughter gathered my husband and I 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.”
I was bit reluctant to run past magnificently decorated rooms but I am glad we did. When we reached the Hall of Mirrors we were spellbound. Most importantly it was almost empty other than a girl in pink dress and her family.
You don’t have to see anymore to be convinced why French Revolution started. The Hall of Mirrors used as a ballroom was the proof of royal extravagance..
Other very lavish apartments we visited were of Louis XV’s daughters’ Apartments. They were symmetrical with the Dauphin’s and the Dauphine’s apartments. Also turned into museum rooms by Louis-Philippe they were only recently restored to their original condition as princely apartments. Mesdames of France, as the six daughters of Louis XV were known, lived here from 1752. Only two of them, Adélaïde and Victoire, remained until the Revolution, since neither princess married and both lived to an 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 has several groves hidden between the woods. Theses groves are decorated with fountains, vases and statues, accessed by secret paths are designed by Andre Le Notre. These groves used to bring surprise and fantasy to the Louise XIV’s guests and people of his court when they went there for light meals, to listen to the music or to dance. There were also theatre performance and gambling in open-air drawing rooms exclusively dedicated to entertainment and amusement.
The Grand Trianon
In the northwest of the gardens there is an another palace. Commissioned by Louis XIV for his mistress Marquise of Montespan, it used to be 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 though 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.