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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Versailles, France

We arrived in Versailles on another rainy cloudy evening. We found our hotel in a small town near Versailles and then drove around to get a feel for the area. We found the main entrance to the Chateau Versailles but it was too late to visit so we found some food and went back to the hotel. The next morning we arrived at the gates of Versailles and made our way to the entrance for those who already had tickets. We had purchased our tickets in Paris so we did not have to wait in the long lines to buy tickets on the site.
When we first arrived the crowds were not too large but as time went by the number of tourists increased to such large a large amount that in many areas of the palace we walked shoulder to shoulder with tourists from evrywhere. And some of them had not bathed in some time. As we went along through the fabulous rooms we learned a little of the history of this amazing World Heritage Site.

Versailles was the royal residence of France for little more than a century (from 1682 until 1789) when the French Revolution began. Louis XIII built a hunting lodge at the village of Versailles outside of Paris in 1624. The small structure became the base on which was constructed one of the most costly and extravagant buildings in the world. It became the palace of Louis XIV, the "Sun King", who boasted of himself, "L'Etat c'est moi" or "I am the state." Louis XV and Louis XVI also called Versailles home.

About 37,000 acres of land were cleared to make room for tree-lined terraces, walkways, and thousands of flowering plants. There were 1,400 fountains and 400 pieces of sculpture. In 1676 a second story was added and the magnificent Hall of Mirrors and the north and south wings were built.

The construction of the Palace of Versailles was finally completed near the end of Louis XIV's life. The chapel was built last and was finished in 1708. In 1742 Louis XV supervised new additions to the Palace, including the Salon of Hercules, the Opera House and the Petit Trianon. In 1755 the King's Council Chamber was redecorated. This period of work signaled the break from heavy ornamented Rococo decoration to the lighter neoclassical style, with pilasters, columns and the use of symmetry throughout.

Construction of the palace went on through the next century. More than 36,000 workers were involved in the project, and when the building was completed it could accommodate up to 5,000 people, including servants. About 14,000 soldiers and servants were quartered in annexes and in the nearby town.

During the Seven Year's War France lost most of its overseas treasure and assets to Great Britain. The resulting economic damage almost destroyed the monarchy. Much of the damage was repaired by the 1760's by the policies of Finance Minister duc de Choiseul. However, Louis XV left his successor, his grandson Louis XVI, a debt of 4000 million livres when he died in 1774. The roots of the French Revolution can be traced back directly to this "gift".

Despite the kingdom's shaky finances, Louis XVI immediately had the gardens replanted at Versailles upon his succession and had a new library built in his private apartmentsl.

His wife, Marie Antoinette constantly had her private apartments changed and rearranged at Versailles. She also made use of the workshop of the Menus Plaisirs, the shops at Versailles that created special interiors, sets, and even funeral monuments. They were constantly creating new portable party pavilions that the young Queen could use to entertain her group of friends.

In 1788 the French government went bankrupt. On the morning of October 6, 1789 a mob of angry Parisians, mostly women, marched to the Palace demanding bread. They stormed the Palace, ran up the Queen's Staircase and broke into the Guard's Room, then into the Antechamber. Marie Antoinette ran from her bedchamber into her private apartments towards the King's Suite to find her husband and son. In an effort to quell public discontent the King moved his court to Paris. Today Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI's chambers remain as they were in the fall of 1789.

After the fall of the monarchy, the Palace of Versailles was put into the hands of the new government. In 1792 portions of the Royal furniture was sold and dispersed and many works of art from the Palace were taken to the Louvre in Paris. Napoleon Bonaparte later took an interest in the Palace and commissioned restoration work, which was later continued by the reinstated monarchy in 1814 by Louis XVI's brother, Louis XVIII. In the 1830's Louis-Phillippe decided to make the Palace into a museum of French history, which was inaugurated in 1837. The Palace continued to play an important role in European history: in 1871 the Hall of Mirrors was the setting for the Proclamation of the German Empire and in 1919 the Hall was the site where the Treaty of Versailles was signed which ended World War I.

In 1962, a decree was issued ordering all of the objects belonging to the Palace and preserved in French Collections throughout France to be brought back to Versailles
The enchanting Gardens of Versailles were founded by the French King Louis the 13th in year 1632. However, many say that the real founder was his son, Louis 14th, as he was the one who laid the real foundation for the grand garden that stands today.

In 1682, Louis 14th had his court moved from Paris to Versailles, making it the official royal palace of France. From this point on, Louis began an embellishment and expansion program at Versailles that would occupy his time and worries for the remainder of his reign. At this time, the expansion of the Gardens of Versailles followed the expansions of the château and each step was carefully managed under the directions of the king.

At some stages, Louis even put more focus on the Gardens of Versailles than on the château itself. Throughout the gardens, Louis had a clear theme with focus on the sun god, Apollo, and other solar imagery. This was due to the fact that Louis XIV related himself with the sun and was commonly known as the “Sun King”.

Following French Revolution, some of the trees in the gardens were felled on order from the reigning National Convention. Sensing the potential threat to Versailles, as it has strong links to the monarchy the revolution sought to destroy, some prominent people convinced the National Convention to open the gardens for the public instead of destroying it. The suggestion was accepted, which likely saved the Gardens of Versailles from destruction.

Today the royal Gardens of Versailles is considered one of the most famous gardens in the world. The gardens cover a nearly 2000 acres of land. The majority of the land is covered by finely landscaped woodland areas and several magnificent gardens with classic French Garden style.

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