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Versailles: The Palace Built By The Sun King

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About 20 kilometers southwest of Paris you will find the palace of Versailles, so spectacular, that it attracts about 3 million visitors per year.

The grounds alone, comprising two thousand acres of gardens, 50 fountains, sculptures and a canal, accommodate approximately 6 million tourists per year.


A document dating from 1038 mentions the name of Hugo de Versailles in conjunction with these lands, and in the early 1600s, King Louis XIII, who loved hunting in the surrounding forests, began construction of a lodge here.

On May 6, 1682, Louis XIV installed his court at Versailles, after having spent a fortune on building what he hoped would be, and certainly was, the most lavish, opulent, extravagant abode exuding power and wealth, in France. His goal was to outdo the stunning effect his financial secretary, Fouquet had achieved, with his newly constructed chateau, Vaux le Vicomte. Green with envy, Louis grabbed the team of brilliant men responsible for Fouquet's palatial digs. Louis le Vau was principal architect, Charles le Brun was responsible for painting and decor, and landscape genius, Andre le Notre, laid out the spectacular gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

Lavish, extravagant, powerful, palatial, jaw-dropping artistry has a tremendous emotional impact upon 21st century visitors. Imagine its effect upon the soul, as it was experienced during the height of the reign of Louis XIV, when it took a village of thousands of inhabitants, just to keep the place running smoothly.


Louis was a stickler for routine, including strict protocol for the regal ceremonies of rising in the morning and going to bed at night. Every detail and activity of the day had to be attended to with exactitude. Monarchs who succeeded Louis, felt crushed by the rigors of court etiquette and sought asylum away from the grand chateau. Marie Antoinette, wedded to Louis XVI, took refuge in her Petit Trianon on the premises and pretended to be a shepherdess.

Even a knock on the King's door required finesse. In fact, one never knocked. Rather, only a scratch with a fingernail, in particular, the left pinky fingernail, was permitted. Therefore it became common for courtiers to grow that nail longer than the others. Every single movement, spoken word and action was dictated by protocol. Men, preparing to sit, first slid the left foot ahead, placed both hands on the sides of the chair,and then lowered themselves softly onto the seat. Wedgies and split seams in skin-tight garments, were to be avoided at all costs.

Inside the chateau itself, the King's and Queen's apartments are intricately appointed. But the most eloquent declaration of sovereignty, is the Hall of Mirrors, designed by architect Jules Hardouin Mansart. At the beginning of the French Revolution, when the angry citizens of Paris descended upon the chateau on October 5, 1789, destitute, hungry and eager to rip apart the royal gluttons, they must have been stunned by the discovery of this 233 foot-long ballroom studded with 17 mirrored windows.


The crafting of the mirrors themselves, was quite a complicated affair. It was established that all the work on the chateau was to be executed in France. However, the expert glass makers were to be found in Venice, Italy. In fact they held a monopoly on the glass trade. Glass at the time was considered to be quite a luxury, but The Sun King prevailed and Venetian glass makers came to France to make the glass. Is the following, fact or legend? It is believed that after the production of the glass for the palace, assassins were sent from Italy, to murder the craftsmen, in order to prevent the secret formulas and processes from being revealed to the outside world.

In the Hall of Mirrors there are 17 mirrored arches framing 17 windows that look out upon the palace's gardens. Each arch contains 21 mirrors, totalling 357.

One of the most romantic evenings recounted in French history, has to be the night King Louis XV met his soon-to-be mistress, the Marquise de Pompadour. It was the night of February 25, 1745. Called, the Bal des Ifs (Ball of the Yew Trees), this masked, gala event, must have been magical, having taken place in the glittering, scintillating, Hall of Mirrors. On that night, the King went costumed as a yew tree and the Marquise de Pompadour was Diana, Goddess of the Hunt.

In the palace there are 700 rooms, 2,153 windows, 67 staircases and 6,000 paintings.


In the 2,000 acre garden courtesans wandered among 200,000 trees and extensive flower gardens. There were 150 varieties of apple and peach trees to be found in the vegetable garden.

Some of the famous guests at Versailles include Ben Franklin (in 1766 and 1778), and Ronald Reagan (1982). Music has been performed there from Mozart to Pink Floyd.

It is best to peruse the very informative website to decide what you would most like to see on your visit. Rentals of bikes and motorized carts will aid you in exploring the grounds. There are options for dining, and one can even rent a boat to row on the canal.

Remember that this is one of the most popular destinations in France and crowds can be hefty, especially in the height of the tourist season, which includes major holidays and summer months. If you can, come early in the day and plan to see the indoor sights before the place fills up. Then spend the afternoon in the gardens.


Chateau de Versailles
www.chateauversailles.fr
By Train From Paris: RER C
By Bus From Paris: Ligne (Line) 171 from Pont de Sevres
The Museum is Closed Monday/See website For Specific Information About Openings and Closings

Be sure to check for special events in the summer such as Les Grandes Eaux Musicals, when the fountains put on a show, accompanied by music.



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