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Château de Versailles

[Château de Versailles]

 

The prosperous, leafy and very bourgeois suburb of Versailles, 21km southwest of Paris, is the site of the grandest and most famous château in France. It served as the kingdom’s political capital and the seat of the royal court for more than a century, from 1682 to 1789 – the year Revolutionary mobs massacred the palace guard and dragged Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette back to Paris, where they eventually had their heads separated from their shoulders.

 

CHÂTEAU DE VERSAILLES

 

The splendid and enormous Château de Versailles was built in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV – the Roi Soleil (Sun King) – to project the absolute power of the French mon- archy, which was then at the height of its glory. Its scale and decor also reflect Louis XIV’s taste for profligate luxury and his boundless appe- tite for self-glorification. Some 30,000 work- ers and soldiers toiled on the structure, the bills for which all but emptied the kingdom’s coffers. The château has undergone relatively few alterations since its construction, though almost all the interior furnishings disappeared during the Revolution and many of the rooms were rebuilt by Louis-Philippe (r 1830–48). The current €370 million restoration program is the most ambitious yet and until it’s completed in 2020 at least a part of the palace is likely to be clad in scaffolding when you visit.

 

About two decades into his long reign (1643–1715), Louis XIV decided to enlarge the hunting lodge his father had built at Versailles and turn it into a palace big enough for the en- tire court, which numbered about 6000 people at the time. To accomplish this he hired three supremely talented men: the architect Louis Le Vau (Jules Hardouin-Mansart took over from Le Vau in the mid-1670s); the painter and interior designer Charles Le Brun; and the landscape artist André Le Nôtre, whose workers flattened hills, drained marshes and relocated forests as they laid out the seemingly endless gardens, ponds and fountains.

 

Le Brun and his hundreds of artisans decorated every moulding, cornice, ceiling and door of the interior with the most luxurious and ostentatious of appointments: frescos, marble, gilt and woodcarvings, many with themes and symbols drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. The King’s Suite of the Grands Appartements du Roi et de la Reine (King’s and Queen’s State Apartments), for exam- ple, includes rooms dedicated to Hercules, Venus, Diana, Mars and Mercury. The opulence reaches its peak in the recently re- stored Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors), a 75m-long ballroom with 17 huge mirrors on one side and, on the other, an equal number of windows looking out over the gardens and the setting sun.

 

The château complex comprises four main sections: the palace building, a 580m- long structure with multiple wings, grand halls and sumptuous bedchambers and the Grands Appartements du Roi et de la Reine; the vast gardens, canals and pools to the west of the palace; two much smaller palaces (outbuildings almost!), the Grand Trianon and, a few hundred metres to the east, the Petit Trianon; and the Hameau de la Reine (Queen’s Hamlet).

 

Text by Lonely Planet ...

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Taken on August 24, 2013