Versailles is surely one of most breathtaking establishments throughout Europe and the world. Used as the French royal residence for over a century, it comprises an extravagantly opulent palace, two background estates and expansive gardens with a lake in between, permeated with groves. Whatever superlative you choose to describe the Versailles, it would prove insufficient. Some things cannot be described, only experienced, and Versailles is certainly among them.
A bit of history
The Versailles complex was born from Louis XIV’s desire to create something he can flaunt with, and what would be unbeatable in its splendour. He commissioned an unmatched trio of architects and artists of his age – Charles le Brun, Louis le Vau and, particularly, Andre le Notre – to bring something into existence that will fully describe his personal style and affinity toward the arts. After decades of hard work, the result exceeded everybody’s expectations and Versailles remained the crown jewel among European royal and imperial residences. Despite numerous attempts, no one ever succeeded in making it the second best.
Although incomplete, Versailles becomes the royal residence in 1682, and remains as such until 1789. The beginning of the French Revolution had Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette transferred to Paris, where they were beheaded a few years later. Instead of being reestablished as the royal residence, it became the Museum of the History of France in 1837, whose main objective was to reconcile the divided population in France during those difficult times.
The Versailles Palace
The Versailles Palace exudes utmost opulence at every step. Marble walls, crystal chandeliers, gilded objects, stucco works and magnificent frescoes and paintings mark the beginning of one’s experience upon stepping indoors. As you advance from one room into another, you’ll realize that each room was carefully arranged to reflect the same degree of luxury in quite a different way. Be it a state or a private room, Louis XIV’s intention was to amaze his guests wherever and whenever he could. It even went so far that his bedroom wasn’t off limits, too, as long as he wasn’t there, anyway. Such a strategy was his way of ruling and running foreign policies.
Works of art and rooms
The majority of extraordinary artworks relates to the French history, religion and Roman/Greek mythology. Various portraits of French monarchs and their families are present everywhere, while allegorical frescoes and paintings illustrate numerous significant events of the French history. Certain ceiling paintings place Louis XIV next to the God, or as a driving force behind certain religious events. Candleholders with cherubs, paintings with mythical motifs and similar artworks allude to various scenes from the mythology.
If you are somewhat familiar with the Roman mythology, you’ll be able to figure out names of certain rooms by related motifs (The Mercury Salon, Mars, Diana…). The history aficionados should look out for their highlight in the Battle Gallery. A multitude of the decisive moments of French history is on display through paintings and sculptures of their main protagonists. Among them are Napoleon I’s victories, Jean D’Arc’s entry into Orleans, Charles Martel’s victory over the Saracens, etc. Don’t forget to take a closer look at the Crusades Room, the Salon of War and, especially, the Hall of Mirrors.
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The Versailles gardens
If the Palace of Versailles delights you, the gardens will render you dizzy. The ingenious performance of Andre le Notre, the chief gardener (who was also an engineer, architect, artist, etc.) had a swampy ground, unevenly staggered, transformed into a majestic pleasure garden. The symmetry is obvious wherever you glimpse; alleys alternate with squares with fountains; flower beds, allegorical sculptures and hidden spots are literally everywhere.
Majestic fountains and sculptures are also mythology-inspired, and you’ll find a multitude of those illustrating famous scenes from Greek and Roman mythologies. The scene between Zeus and Latona, Apollo killing the Python, the season fountains, the Mirror fountain and others will be introduced to you, as you make your way through the lovely environment.
Next to the palace is an orangery, created by another great architect of Louis XIV, Jules Hardouin Mansart. It features numerous tree species from different countries, and some of them are approximately 200 years old.
Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon
Meaning the Great Trianon and Small Trianon, these “backyard” establishments were used by monarchs as sanctuaries when the official life in the main palace grew overly exhaustible. And, those were royal residences in their own right.
The Petit Trianon was Marie Antoinette’s favourite refuge, which was arranged according to her desires. Although it was initiated by Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress, it remains a memory of the ill-fated French Queen of Austrian origins. The estate was given to her by her husband, Louis XVI, and she lived there a life far from the court, indulging herself with arts, games and music. The Petit Trianon is richly decorated, but moderate when compared to the Versailles Palace. An interesting element to note is its façades; each is different. The queen had the neighbouring Queen’s Hamlet created, inspired by thatched roof hamlets from Normandy.
The Grand Trianon was also created by Jules Hardouin Mansart and personally overseen by Louis XIV himself. This establishment was commissioned for the convenience of the king and his mistress. It is also known as the Marble Trianon (for obvious reasons once you lay eyes on it) and the Floral palace. The second name relates to the rooms of the Grand Trianon; each has a view onto a garden. The interior features stylish furnishings and beautiful decoration.
What to do and how to do it
When making a visit to the Versailles, you should allocate a full day. The complex is a short walk distant from the RER C terminus, coming from Paris. You might need to queue an hour or so to enter the property, but don’t be discouraged. An unforgettable experience waits for you in there.
The best option for a visit is to purchase the Paris Museum Pass, in order to skip additional queuing for the ticket. Depending on the packages, the prices range between 10 EUR (11.40 USD) and 30 EUR (34 USD). Gardens are, in general, free of charge, except on certain dates. Consult the official website for details.
Anytime you have had enough of walking, a train that circulates within expansive gardens can pick you up for a fee. Make sure to take with you sufficient water and some snacks before you enter the Versailles complex.
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