My first recollection of the Palace of Versailles was in Junior High history class when we studied World War One. The signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended WWI, took place at the palace on 28th June 1919. Since then, I’ve read about and seen numerous documentaries about the French Revolution and, of course, the famous (or is it infamous) Marie Antoinette.
Versailles was the focal point of France’s Royal court from 1682 until 1789. It’s easy to envision it as a Royal Playground ~ Opulence is how most people describe it. It’s that and then some. It was built by Louis XIV because he wanted to remove himself and his courtiers from the intrigues of politics in Paris. It housed over 6,000 courtiers and, from what I’ve read, the gossip, jealousies and back stabbing would make a viper pit more enjoyable. By removing the nobles from Paris, it made Versailles very insular. That’s why I’m fascinated by General Lafayette who plays a part in the history of the palace of Versailles.
Marquis de Lafayette (Gilbert du Motier) went to Versailles at the age of 17. Even though he had a huge fortune and ties by his marriage to a powerful family close to Louis XVI, his independent spirit led him to a military career rather than a highly sought after court position. He was impassioned with the American Revolution and secretly organized a voyage to the New World against the king’s wishes. Quite a bold move for such a young man. By the age of 20, Lafayette was a Major-General in the American army and a close friend of George Washington’s. I’ve read that George Washington treated him like a son. Lafayette helped the Colonial Army win several battles, including the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 ~ losing this battle led England to grant independence to the Americans. After his experience in the Americas, Lafayette returned to Versailles and was welcomed by the King and Queen. But the ideas of liberty he learned while in the US were not forgotten and in June 1789, he drafted the first Declaration of the Rights of Man, a document closely based on the Declaration of Independence. On 14 July, 1789, the storming of the Bastille occurred and he was appointed (again against the Kings wishes) as Commander of the French National Guard. He was responsible for keeping order in Paris and so he played a large role in the French Revolution’s early days. Although he was part of the revolution, he did save Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette when people of Paris overran the château and killed the bodyguards defending the queen’s apartment. Although he saved them that day, he couldn’t keep them from being executed by guillotine in 1793. He was viewed as straddling the fence by both sides and fled France. In 2002, Lafayette was posthumously made an honorary citizen of the United States.
But let’s get back to the gorgeous Palace:
The Hall of Mirrors is a 235-foot ballroom lined with 17 floor to ceiling mirrors. The cost of these mirrors were staggering and, like the building of the rest of the Palace, the expenses drained the Royal coffers and sadly that meant not much left for the running of the country. It’s a very impressive room with chandeliers, statues, ceiling frescos and windows which open up to the gardens.
Louis XVI (age 16) and Marie Antoinette (age 15) were married in the beautiful White and Gold Royal Chapel in 1770. We weren’t allowed into the chapel which was OK by me since there were so many people visiting the Palace. It was nice to see the Chapel without anyone in it.
There were large paintings throughout such as this one :
I was especially enthralled with the frescos on the ceiling ~ so much so I got a neck ache from looking up for so long. They are stunning!
The Battle Gallery was interesting but, as I looked at the names on the marble busts, it was obvious I need to study a little more about French history because a lot of the names were unfamiliar to me.
The Queen’s Bedchamber ~ not very cozy!
Looking out to the Gardens ~ so beautiful.
Loved these plant urns ~ unfortunately, they weren’t for sale in the gift shop.
It truly was sensory overload for me. I got to see a lot of the Palace and a little of the gardens but I feel I only touched the surface. We were limited on time and both of us didn’t want to miss the gardens so I felt a bit rushed the whole time I was at the Palace. I’m calling this visit a preview and will leave it on the “return visit” list. I would love to go back sometime when I can spend a day or two exploring the Palace.