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Versailles is the biggest palace in Europe

Versailles is the largest palace in Europe. This page will give you a little background before you visit. Try to choose a day of "Les Grandes Eaux" when the fountains are playing (generally on Sundays during the Summer months). For greater detail, and to check the opening times and costs of your visit click here for the official site. Click here for the Official site in French.

Versailles

The Palace of Versailles is the biggest in Europe.  It was built by King Louis XIV – who was also known as the Sun King because of his choice of the sun as his symbol. Look out for the Sun symbols everywhere inside and outside of the Palace. 

Here is the Entry Gate to the Palace. Above is golden sun symbol of King Louis XIV. Wear comfortable shoes, since the cobble stones are hard to walk over.

Gate of Versailles

Louis XIV came to the throne in 1643 at the age of five. His mother was regent during his childhood. This period was marked by continuing civil war between various groups of nobles who wanted to gain control over the young king.

As Louis reached his majority, he determined that he alone would have the absolute power in the land.  The civil wars had caused great economic hardship and set family against family. Louis wanted to re-unite the country under his control. Until this time, the Royal Family had lived in the Palace of the Louvre. Louis decided that he would construct a new Palace, out of the city, safe from the revolts of the Paris mobs. He selected the site of an old hunting lodge, surrounded by marshy land. However, fate was to intervene!

The Minister of Finance (Nicolas Fouquet) invited Louis to a special celebration at his new château at Vaux le Vicomte. The idea was to flatter and impress the King, but unfortunately, this backfired. The King claimed that Fouquet had been stealing the money to build it from the public purse. Fouquet instantly found himself arrested and imprisoned for life. Louis took the chateau as his own, and then commissioned artists to copy the design and plan a much bigger version for Versailles.

Vaux le Vicomte

This is the château of Vaux le Vicomte. Some say that Louis was jealous of his Finance Minister's beautiful creation and used the pretext of embezzlement as an excuse to lay claim to it for himself.

Louis also helped himself to tapestries, statues and even the orange trees to re-locate them to his own palace. It took 60 000 workmen some twenty years to drain the marshes and create the beautiful palace.

gardens
It was hoped that the creation of the fountains and lakes would assist in the drainage of the marshes.

Louis seems to have had bursts of enthusiasm in its construction every ten years, each one coinciding with a treaty to end a war, and a new mistress! His wife, Queen Anne of Austria, only visited the palace twice! Versailles eventually became the second capital of France, a palace that was a town, housing some 30, 000 people. 

garden
View of the gardens at Versailles.

All the nobles were expected to live at Versailles.  This was the way in which Louis exercised control over his court and broke the power of the trouble makers.  There were very strict rules of etiquette.  The Palace in its size and opulence was a symbol of the King’s absolute power and his centralised control. 

The cost of running the Palace was enormous; some historians suggest that it was as much as 25% of the government’s income.

The orange trees became an orchard; cossetted in their sheltered courtyard. The drained marshland became a system of lakes and streams throughout the royal estate, which fed the fountains in the little groves and woodlands.  Even in Louis’ day, the landscapers could not get all the fountains to play simultaneously (much to his disgust!) 

orangerie
The sheltered location of the orangerie enables these fruits to grow well in the temperate climate. In the winter, the trees are dressed in "coats" to protect them from the cold and frosts.

In the further parts of the estate, lie the Grand and Petit Trianon, the little palaces to which the Royal Family retired for a quiet life.

There is also Le hameau, the little village built specially by King Louis XVI for his little Austrian wife, Marie Antoinette. It has all the aspects of village life. She spent many hours playing here, with specially groomed and scented farm animals.

le hameau
The water mill in Le Hameau

Inside the main part of the Palace, one of the famous rooms is the Hall of Mirrors.  Louis built this to reflect the sunlight.  His throne was placed at the end of the room in a position where the sunlight was focussed and from which it radiated.  The mirrors were some of the biggest in existence at this time, so were extremely expensive. this made this one of the most costly rooms in the Palace.  The room contains 578 mirrors; is 73 m long, 10.50 m wide, and 12.30 m high.

Hall of Mirrors

The Hall is also famous because the Peace Treaty of Versailles was signed here at the end of World War 1 (1919), when Germany accepted blame for the war.

 

L'insolite!
 

French version
English version

To find out more about Louis XIV, his life and his times, click here.


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