Versailles House of The Sun King
03 May, 2016
When you first set eyes on Versailles, you realise why it was the jewel in Louis XIV’s crown. Starting with what had been his father’s hunting lodge, the Sun King had Europe’s largest palace built. The opulent interiors and splendid gardens could accommodate up to 20,000 people. The king had the leading artists and architects at his disposal – Louis Le Vau and Hardouin-Mansart designed the building; Charles Le Brun, the interiors, while André Le Nôtre remodelled the gardens. Everything was ready to receive the court.
Europe’s Largest Palace
The main rooms in the residence were on the first floor. There we find the Chambers of the King and Queen, arranged around the Marble Court, the latter set behind the last railing in the access to the palace from the street. If you have seen films like Marie Antoinette, by Sofia Coppola, or the television series, Versailles (we can wholeheartedly recommend both), you will know that their chambers were anything but private. The queens of France used to give birth before the court, while the kings went through the daily waking routine known as le lever du Roi (the king’s rising), attended by courtiers and family members, who came to see the monarch getting up.
The king had areas where he worked, including the Council Chamber, where he received his ministers and family, or the room known as the Louis XVI Library, characterised by the sovereign’s globe of the world and its priceless Neoclassical panelling. The chambers of the king and queen are connected by the Antechamber or Oeil-de-boeuf(Bull’s-eye)Roomon account of the large round window. The story goes that, on the night of 6 October 1789, when a group of revolutionaries stormed the palace in search of Queen Marie Antionette, she fled through this room to her husband’s chamber and safety. The following day they abandoned the palace forever.
Also on the first floor, on the side of the palace giving onto the gardens, are the State Apartments. The most famous of these is the 73-metre-long Hall of Mirrors, with its views over the gardens, where major official ceremonies were held. It was there that in 1919 the Treaty of Versailles was signed, marking an end to World War I. Other rooms well worth seeing include the War Drawing Room, located next to the Hall of Mirrors and featuring a large relief of Louis XIV on horseback trampling his enemies under foot, the Apollo Drawing Room and the Hercules Drawing Room, which houses the monumental painting, Feast in the House of Simon, by Veronese, a gift from the Republic of Venice to Louis XIV.
Household Chapel and Opéra Royal
Also on the first floor is access to the Royal Chapel, used by the king and his family, and to the Battles Gallery, the outcome of a renovation by Louis-Philippe on former apartments used by nobles. It was turned into a gallery of historical paintings housing works by the likes of Delacriox and Gérard.
A must-visit site on the ground floor are the priceless Apartments of the Mesdames Adélaïde and Victoire, the daughters of Louis XV, who never married and lived here until the time of the Revolution.
Another grand edifice in the Palace of Versailles is the Opéra Royal. This theatre, built in 1770 to mark the engagement of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, is not open to the public. It does, however, host an interesting opera season which is the perfect excuse to spend an evening there and feel like a regular courtier.
Gardens, Fountains and Lost Palaces
After a visit to the palace, the best thing is to wander around the huge gardens and enjoy the fountains. Various shows are staged on different days, so it is worth checking out the programme before planning your visit.
The gardens are laid out in formal fashion, with geometrically-shaped pathways lined with tree groves, hedges, flowers, fountains and ponds. Fountains such as Neptune, Latona, the Colonnade and the Dragon Fountain provide some of the most impressive sights. It is rewarding to stroll among them and end off by heading for the Trianon, one of the jewels of Versailles. Here you will find two buildings – the Grand Trianon, a palace commissioned by Louis XIV as a retreat from court life and to host his mistresses, and the Petit Trianon, built for Louis XV but which became Marie Antoinette’s favourite retreat. She also had a quaint little theatre built in it. Be sure to also visit the Queen's Hamlet, where Louis XVI’s wife had an estate of twelve buildings modelled according to the aesthetic of a rural village, peasants and farm animals included. She would seek refuge here to get away from the demands of court life.
Book your Vueling to Paris and head for Versailles, which is just a half-hour’s train ride away. You won’t regret seeing such a splendid palace and feeling like a king for a few hours.
Text by Aleix Palau for Los Viajes de ISABELYLUIS
03 May, 2016