After we reached Paris late at night, the very next morning we headed out to Chateau de Versailles. Located just 16 km southeast of the capital, it is one of the most remarkable and most visited landmarks in France, and the entire world as a matter of fact. Standing as a symbol to the greatness of the French kings and a testament to the 17th and 18th centuries art, it has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list some 30 years ago. Organized around three main courtyards opening up to the Place d’Armes, dominated by the equestrian statue of Louis14th, the Versailles Palace stretches on a total surface of 815 ha, out of which 93 ha are gardens. The Petite Trianon and the Grand Trianon, the Queen’s Hamlet, the Grand Canal, the Menagerie, and the Orangerie are all defining elements and symbols of Versailles, whose fame precedes them. Surprisingly, at the origins of this mighty complex lies a hunting lodge built by Louis the 13th. Between 1661 and 1710, his son, Louis the 14th,turned it into the center of royal power. But it was Louis the 15th, and his heir, Louis the 16th, that added a touch of elegance and grandeur to the edifice, turning it into the imposing and opulent palace we are faced with today. The residence of the kings of France, the Versailles once represented the absolute monarchy adopted by Louis 14th, who, in 1682, moved the Paris royal court right here, where it remained until the French Revolution in 1789, when the royal family was forced to return to the capital.
The interiors simply glitter. The Versailles redefined greatness and extravagance. and continues to be the very definition of opulence. It surpassed any expectations we might have had. All walls and ceilings are magnificently decorated, all pieces of furniture are art works and jewels in the true sense of the word, and numerous statues and paintings complement each and every chamber of this monumental palace.
The centerpiece of the Versailles is the King’s Grand Apartment, with its seven rooms, most of them dedicated to Greek gods. We passed through the opulent Apollo Salon, the Diana Salon, and the Venus Salon, which were used by the Sun King as game rooms. The Abundance Salon, in which the king’s guests lied down to taste delicious coffee and wine varieties in the afternoon, and the Hercules Salon, with its restores ceiling representing Hercules’ apotheosis, and a huge painting in the background, The Meal at the House of Simon by Veronese, offered by the Republic of Venice to King Luis the 14th in 1664, both led us to the Mercury Salon, initially used as the king’s bedroom, and the Mars Salon.
The Queen’s Grand Apartment and the Queen’s Bedchamber, the Dolphin’s Apartment, the Royal Chapel, a wonderful example of baroque architecture and design, Marie-Antoinette Apartment, and all the cabinets and salons in Versailles witnessed exceptional historic events. We felt as of we traveled back in time, in the middle of the glamorous royal French court, admired by the entire Europe of the time. We visited the famous Hall of Mirrors, neighbored by the Peace Room and the War Room. Along 73 meters, the Hall of Mirrors boasts floor-to-ceiling glass windows and mirrors, while the frescoes above tell the story of the life of Louis the 14th. The king would pass through this salon and by the large windows overlooking the gardens and parks of the palace each day on his way toward his apartment. The Hall of Mirrors was often used to host large receptions, royal weddings, and meeting between ambassadors.
The Versailles Palace lived to see both the rise of the Bourbon Dynasty in France, as well as its downfall. It assisted the birth of Louis the 15th, and in 1770 the marriage of Louis the 16th with Marie Antoinette de Lorraine, archduchess of Austria, which was celebrated in the Royal Chapel. On the 5th of August 1789, during the French Revolution, Versailles was taken over by the mob and the royal family was moved to Paris. The furniture, paintings, mirrors, curtains, pendulums, and all explicit royal emblems were taken down from the walls and ceilings. All works of art were sent to the Louvre, which became the French Arts Museum in 1792. The gardens were devastated, the flowers were torn, and potatoes and onions were planted instead. After the royal family left, the palace never managed to regain its former glory.
It was Louis Philippe who saved the Versailles from ruin by transforming it into a museum of French history in 1837. A few decades later, in 1870, the palace became the main headquarters of the Prussian army when France was defeated. The Hall of Mirrors served as hospital. On the 18th of January 1871, the same Hall of Mirrors saw the king of Prussia, Guillaume I, being crowned as the Emperor of Germany. In the memory of this terrible humiliation, the French Government decided that the peace treaty that marked the end of World War 1 be signed by the representatives of Germany in the already notorious Hall of Mirrors in 1919. This marked the moment when France regained its provinces, Alsace and Loraine, lost in 1871.
During the Paris Commune, in 1871, the French Government and Administration were headquartered in the Versailles. This is also where the French Parliament activated until 1879. After the palace and its gardens have been empty for more than 20 years, in 1892 a thorough restoration program began, meant to preserve the Versailles.
With both feet back on the ground, we stepped out of the palace and into its the amazing gardens which seem to stretch long over the horizon. The gorgeous fountains built in the 18th century enchanted us with their unique architecture. The Fountain of Apollo, the Petite Trianon, and the Grand Trianon, the infinite alleys and floral decorations were all designed with one purpose: to impress.
The Versailles is more than the emblem of Paris and France, it is unique in the world, counting more than three centuries of tumultuous history, survived in times of glory, peace, and war, and countless monuments which stand as a symbol of power and wealth. The process of converting this immense complex into the Museum of French History in 1837 was praised by Victor Hugo, who noted that it was like “donating this magnificent book cover called Versailles to this magnificent country called France. ”