My hotel was near Gare d’lEst so I took Metro line 4 to St.Michel station before transferring to RER Line C which travels to the suburbs and the vicinity of Versailles Rive Gauche. The journey took about 1 and a half hours all in and the walk from the Versailles Rive Gauche station to the Chateau’s main gate was about 15 mins but the queue to purchase admission tickets was over 30 mins.
The Palace of Versailles has been listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979 and is situated in the Ile-de-France region of France which is some 20km southwest of the French Capital. It was the seat of political power in France from 1682 when Louis XIV moved from Paris, till the tragic end of the royal family which culminated in the French Revolution of October 1789.
Construction of the Royal Chapel was completed between 1699-1710 during Louis XIV’s 4th and last building campaign. The design was done by Hardouin Mansart and the building project finished by his brother-in-law, Robert de Cotte. The front altar was sculpted by Van Cleve out of marble and decorated with gilded bronze.
The Royal Chapel houses a royal gallery dedicated to St. Louis and the fresco paintings of famous artists like Jouvenet, Coypel and La Fosse embellish the chapel ceiling. This upper level of the Chapel is where the King and members of the royal family heard daily mass. Today, the chapel is no longer a place of worship but is used as a venue for state and private events as well as musical concerts.
Louis XIV is deemed as one of the most remarkable monarchs in history. He reigned for 72 years and in 54 of them he personally controlled the French government in absolutism. Some of his achievements include making France one of Europe’s strongest powers through fiscal and administrative reforms; development of trade and manufacturing; revamping the army and racking up military victories and also the enhancement of culture where music, art, theatre, architecture and the sciences were lifted to a higher plane of refinement.
The Salon of Venus served as the main entrance to the Grand appartement du roi or King’s Grand Apartments which was designed by Charles Lebrun and consisted of 7 rooms named after Roman gods and associated with different planets.
This Venus Salon named after Venus, the goddess of love is also associated with the planet Venus. It was used mainly as the buffet room where lavish banquets for the guests were displayed.
The Mars Salon was originally meant to be used by the guards but because of its position, it was gradually included in the evening soiree and became a ballroom where music was played for dancing. This room was dedicated to Mars, the god of war thus the many paintings and portraits flow with the theme. The main painting on the ceiling is that of ‘Mars in a Chariot’ by Claude Audran.
The Apollo Salon served as the throne room until 1689 and was symbolically important as Apollo was the god of the sun and Louis XIV identified with it most, as his nickname was the ‘Sun King’. The ceiling frescos consists of ‘Apollo in the Chariot of the Sun accompanied by the Seasons’ by Charles de la Fosse and hanging portraits of Louis XIV and Louis XVI.
The manicured gardens of Versailles is nothing less than impressive. Much hard work has been put in to replant trees and shrubs that have been destroyed in the devastating storm of Dec 1999. Who would have thought that Versailles which started out as a Royal Hunting Lodge would undergo such amazing transformation after 4 ambitious building campaigns under the reign of King Louis XIV! Versailles is today famous for the Palace and the surrounding gardens which both come under UNESCO Heritage Listing in 1979 and is also one of the wealthiest cities near Paris.
This spectacular room is decorated with marble, paintings, antiques and gilded bronze trophies from King Louis Xiv’s collection. It is my favourite room in the Versailles. This central gallery connects the King’s and Queen’s private chambers. The hall has 17 mirror-clad arches that reflect the 17 arcaded windows that look into the gardens. The ambience is just magical and I can imagine the swirling skirts and stately ballroom dancing with live musicians playing! The ceiling paintings completed between 1672-1678 depict the ‘War with Holland’ and the chandeliers and candelabra dating from 1770 were reconstructed in 1980 from archived documents.
During the 17th century the Hall of Mirrors was used by King Louis XIV when he walked from his private apartment to the chapel. This room holds much history and one notable occasion was when French Prime Minister Clemenceau signed the ‘Treaty of Versailles’ that ended WWI on 28th June 1919. Today, the Hall of Mirrors is still used for state occasions and receptions for visiting head of states.
The present brocade on the walls of the alcove and bed have been rewoven as part of an initiative to restore Versailles by the present government during the 1950s and though accurate for this period it is not what originally hung in the Chamber of Louis XIV.
The Grand Appartement de la Reine(Queen’s Grand Apartments) is a suite of 7 rooms that mirrored the Grand Appartement de la Roi(King’s Grand Apartments). It served as the residence of 3 Queens of France, Marie-Therese d’Autriche, wife of Louis XIV; Marie Leszczyska, wife of Louis XV and Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI.
This is the Grand Perspective that leads one’s gaze from the Water Parterre to the horizon. This view which preceded in the reign of Louis XIV was developed and prolonged by the gardener Andre Le Notre who widen the Royal Path and dug out the Grand Canal.
The Grand Canal is 1500m long and 62m wide and it physically and visually prolongs the east-west axis of Versailles. Built sometime between 1668-1671, it was a venue for boating parties. In 1674, Louis XIV ordered the construction of Petite Venise(Little Venice) at the junction of the northern transversal branch, where the yachts and caravels from Netherlands and the gondolas and gondoliers received from the Doge of Venice were housed.
The Latona Fountain lies in the Latona Basin which is situated between the Chateau and the Grand Canal. On the top most tier of the wedding-cake style fountain is a statue of goddess Latona with her children Apollo and Diana.
The Chateau of Versailles is impressive looking from the outside and even more so, on the insides as the grandeur and opulence of the Ancien Regime is displayed so magnificently.
The Bassin de Neptune(Basin of Neptune) is an artificial pool created by Le Notre in 1679-1684 with sculptures by Adam, Bouchardon and Lemoyne dating from 1740 onwards. Neptune carrying his trident, his wife Amphitrite with a sceptre and 2 others of Oceanus on a unicorn and Proteus with sea creatures and plants.
The Gardens of Versailles cover a large area of about 800 hectares and much of it is landscaped in the classic French Garden style. There are some 200,000 trees, 50 fountains, over 300 sculptures that adorn the gardens and 24 marble statues that decorate the Water Parterre.
If you are planning to visit anytime soon, it is a good idea to catch the Petits Trains(Mini trains) near the Basin of Neptune or rent a Golf Buggy to see the extensive gardens. This allows you to hop off and on and visit the Petit Trianon, Grand Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet more conveniently. What a wonderful day it was as we enjoyed fine weather and got to be surrounded by beauty within and without the Chateau of Versailles. A definite must see and do item on your itinerary!