A magnificent palace with sumptuous interiors and splendid gardens, Versailles represents the glory of Louis XIV’s reign. Starting in 1668 with his father’s modest hunting lodge, the king commissioned the largest palace in Europe, with 700 rooms, 67 staircases, and 1,800 acres (730 ha) of landscaped parkland. Architect Louis Le Vau built a series of wings that expanded into an enlarged courtyard. They were decorated with marble busts, antique trophies, and gilded roofs. Jules Hardouin-Mansart took over in 1678 and added the two immense north and south wings. He also designed the chapel, which was finished in 1710. Charles le Brun planned the interiors and Andre Le Notre redesigned the gardens.
RESIDENTS OF VERSAILLES
In 1682, Louis XIV declared Versailles the official seat of the French government and court. During his reign, life in this sumptuous Baroque palace was ordered by rigid etiquette. Under Louis XV (1715-74), it became increasingly opulent with the help of Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress, who set a taste for elegance that soon spread across Europe. In 1789, Louis XVI was forced to leave Versailles when it was invaded by a Revolutionary Parisian mob. The palace was subsequently looted and left until the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830-48), who converted part of it into a museum of French history.
Andre Le Notre (1613-1700), France’s greatest landscape gardener, created magnificent chateau gardens. His superb architectural orchestration, Classical vision and sense of symmetry are seen in the sweeping vistas of Versailles, his greatest triumph. The gardens are styled into regular patterns of flowerbeds and box hedges, paths and groves, ornate pools of water, and fountains. Geometric paths and shrubberies are features of the formal gardens. The Petit Trianon, a small chateau built as a retreat for Louis XV, is found in the gardens.
INSIDE THE CHATEAU
The lavish main apartments are on the first floor of the vast chateau complex. Around the Marble Courtyard are the private apartments of the king and queen. On the garden side are the state apartments, where official court life took place. These were richly decorated by Charles Le Brun with colored marble, stones, and wood carvings, murals, velvet, silver and gilded furniture. Starting with the Salon d’Hercule, each state room is dedicated to an Olympian deity. The Salon d’Apollon, dedicated to the god Apollo, was Louis XIV’s throne room. The climax is the Hall of Mirrors, stretching 230 ft (70 m) along the west facade. Great state occasions were held in this room, where 17 mirrors face tall, arched windows. Another highlight is the Chapelle Royale, with the first floor reserved for the royal family and the ground floor for the court.
The wing’s original apartments for great nobles were replaced în 1837 by Louis-Philippe’s museum of French history.
Louis XIV statue
Erected by Louis-Philippe in 1837, this bronze equestrian statue of Sun King stands where a gilded gateway once marked the beginning of the Royal Courtyard.
Hercules and Mars flanks the clock overlooking the Marble Courtyard.
Paved in black and white marble, this inner courtyard is surrounded by Louis XII’s old chateau, the facades of which were enhanced by le Vau and Hardouin-Mansart. The three arched windows of the king’s first-floor bedroom are fronted by a glided balcony.
The palace’s main opera house and theatre was completed in 1770, in time for the marriage of the future Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It was intended for lavish spectacles.
Separated from the Ministers’ Courtyard by elaborate grille work during Louis XIV’s reign, this narrow space was accessible only to the royal family.
The chapel, opera and picture galleries occupy this wing, which originally housed royal apartments. Masses, concerts and operas are still held in this extravagant setting.
Mansart’s last great work, this two-storey Baroque chapel was Louis XIV’s final addition to Versailles.
Mansart’s original gateway grille, surmounted by the royal arms, is the entrance to the Ministers’ Courtyard.
PURSUIT OF QUEEN MARIE-ANTOINETTE
On 6 October 1789, a Parisian mob invaded Versailles seeking the despised Marie-Antoinette, whose frivolous behavior had earned her fierce public criticism. The queen fled through the anteroom known as the Oeil-de-Boeuf to the king’s rooms. She and the king, Louis XVI, were later removed to Paris by the cheering and triumphant mob.
1668: Le Vau starts the construction of the chateau.
1671: Decorator Charles Le Brun begins work on the chateau’s interiors.
1833: Louis-Philippe turns the chateau into the Museum of the History of France.
1919: The Treaty of Versailles is signed in the Hall of Mirrors, ending World War I.