Palace of Versailles is a French royal palace in Versailles, a town formed in 17th century along with the palace, it’s approximately 15 miles(18 kilometers) southwest of Paris.
The palace of Versailles is considered as the largest royal domain in the world, covering an area of more than 1000 hectares, most of the land is occupied by its gardens not the palace buildings, which covers only 11 hectares, in regard of the area of buildings in the royal domain, The Forbidden City in China is largest in the world.
Palace of Versailles is a world-famous tourist attraction, attracting more than 2 millions visitors per year, it’s the second most visited attraction in France, only second to the Eiffel Tower in city center of Paris. Aside from being used for sightseeing, the palace occasionally serves as the place for president or other officials of France to meet other countries’ leaders or diplomatic envoys.
In 1660, the King of France Louis XIV was invited by the country’s Minister of Finance, Nicolas Fouquet, to visit his newly built mansion, known as Chateau Vaux-le-Vicomte.
Louis was deeply impressed by the magnificence and grandeur of Fouquet’s mansion, at the time even the royal palaces were not as spectacular as the mansion, for this reason Louis was angered and commited Fouquet to prison in the crime of corruption, and ordered Louis Le Vau and André Le Nôtre, the architects who designed Fouquet’s mansion, to design a new palace for him outside of Paris. Before that, Louis had already decided to move out his residence and royal court from Paris, as riots against the royal family is frequently occurred in the city.
The construction of Palace of Versailles began in 1661, and completed in 1689, having a history of about 330 years.
The entire construction process had 3,000 workers and 6,000 horses participated, the construction lasted for 47 years until its completion.
Palace of Versailles is built on the basis of the hunting lodge originally built by Louis XIV’s father.
André Le Nôtre designed the gardens and fountains for the palace, Louis Le Vau led to build new buildings on the west, north and south sides of the hunting lodge, surrounding it with its east facade retained and exposed serving as the main entrance of the whole palace, a marble courtyard was built in front of it.
In 1674, architect Jules Hardouin Mansart took over the project of the palace, he added the palace’s north and south wings, and the large and small stables, he also built three radial avenues in front of the palace.
Most of important sites are inside the central building, which is between the north and south wings. Below are some of the important sites in central building.
Central palace contains more than 500 halls or rooms of different sizes, including the King’s Apartment.
There was no washing facilities in the apartments of the palace, but this may not be the concern of Louis XIV, because he only took bath once a year.
Hall of Mirrors: The most notable hall in Palace of Versailles, it’s located at the west side of the central building, facing the palace garden, the hall is 73 meters long, 10.5 meters wide, 12.3 meters high, the west side of the hall has 17 floor-to-ceiling windows, the other side has 17 huge arches, each arches contains 21 mirrors, in total there are 357 mirrors.
The hall’s vaulted ceiling has intricate massive paintings, which were painted by Charles Le Brun, showing some historical scenes, many paintings have Louis XIV featured in. There are 24 huge bohemian crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
The pillars in the hall are made with marble. The stigmas and legs of the pillars are all brass-plated, the decorative motifs on the pillar is the sun with pair of wings, which represents the Sun King Louis XIV.
In the center of the east hall are the four gates leading to the King’s Apartments. In Louis XIV era masquerades were often held in the hall. On June 28th, 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed in Hall of Mirrors, World War I officially ended.
Chapel: The chapel is located at the south side of the palace’s north wing.
Louis XIV claimed the chapel is consecrated to Saint Louis (Louis IX of France), Louis XIV built the chapel to have it more imposing than the Escurial Palace (a complex of monastery and palace) in Spain.
But he did not build the church on the central axis of the palace complex, reflecting the fact that the kingship is even higher than the divine right in the era of Louis XIV.
The church witnessed many weddings of kings of France after Louis XIV(he was married before the construction of the palace), Louis XV, Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X all had weddings in this church.
Theater: Designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, the theater is located at the north side of the palace’s North Wing, it is 26 meters high and 22 meters wide. It can accommodate 750 audiences and required more than 3,000 candles for its illumination.
The interior decoration of the theater is constructed almost entirely of wood, but painted to resemble marble. The theater’s excellent acoustics are partly due to its wooden interior, the last show in the theater was held on October 2, 1789, to entertain the Flanders Guards which were recruited by Louis XVI to protect the Palace of Versailles.
Gallery of Battle:
The first floor of South Wing building is occupied by the Gallery of Battle,the gallery is 120 meters long and 13 meters wide, it has more than one hundred of exhibits, including sculptures and paintings.
A large French-style garden is located at the west of the palace buildings, the garden stretches for 3 kilometers (1.9 miles), occupying an area of 1976 acres (800 hectares), it is one of the largest gardens in the world, the garden is famed for its geometrically aligned terraces, tree-lined paths, ponds and canals, two hundred thousand of flowers and a same amount of trees are planted in the garden.
There’s an 1.6-kilometer cross-shaped artificial canal, during the time of Louis XIV, sailboats were occasionally placed on the canal performing simulated naval battles, and sometimes gondola and boatmen were arranged there to imitate the scenery of the Venice canals.
The marvel of the Garden of Versailles is the fountains. There are 50 spectacular fountains with 620 jets in the garden, they were installed to entertain the visitors. Today a lot of these fountains still use the hydraulics network built by the royal family of the era of Louis XIV.
In 1979, the garden along with the palace buildings were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Beginning in 1762 after French royal family moved here from the Louvre, Palace of Versailles had been the center of politics and culture in French and even whole Europe.
During its heyday, the number of princes, noble ladies, bishops and their servants live in the palace together amount to as many as 36,000,
there were also other several thousands of people in Versailles which comprised Swiss National Guards, Scottish Guards, Court Police, Royal Guards, infantry and cavalry.
Its status of the court of France terminated in October 1789 after the execution of Louis XVI in French Revolution, during the revolution the interior of the palace was seriously damaged, as a result, its importance and utility diminished.
In 1833, King Louis Philippe ordered to restore the Palace of Versailles, made the palace into the Museum of the History of France. The buildings on the North and South Wing and the lowest floor of the central palace were changed to museums, storing a wealth of precious portraits, sculptures, and huge historical paintings, as well as many other art treasures.
In the second half of the 19th century, Palace of Versailles became the world’s political center again. In 1870, the Prussian army occupied Versailles, in the following year, the German emperor held a coronation ceremony at Palace of Versailles. In the same year, the Thiers government planned a bloody plan to suppress the Paris Commune in the palace. In 1783, after the American Revolutionary War, Britain and the United States signed the Paris peace treaty there.