Château de Versailles history
The identity Château de Versailles is closely linked to the city surrounding it; Versailles. Not surprisingly, the city is what gave the Château de Versailles its name in the first place. When the château was built, Versailles was a mere country village.
Today, it is a small city and one of France’s most popular tourist destinations. The palace has housed the royal court several times, and is therefore not only famous as a building, but also as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy.
The Sun King and his palace
The history of Château de Versailles starts with the “Sun King”, Louis XIV. He had grown up during the disorder of the Fronde; a short civil war between rival factions of aristocrats. For this reason, the newly appointed king wanted a center where he could organize and completely control a government of France by absolute personal rule. The place he chose for his new palace was the royal hunting lodge, located at the small village of Versailles.
Louis XIV quickly became more or less obsessed with his new palace, and spent the majority of his time and effort on it. What started as a hunting lodge was soon to become one of the largest palaces in the world.
The first campaign
The construction and expansion of Château de Versailles was done through four distinct building campaigns over a 50 year period. The first campaign started in mid 17th century and was initiated because Louis was about to host a major party for the two queens of France. During this phase, the palace witnessed alterations in the both the building and gardens in order to accommodate the 600 guests invited to a party.
The second campaign
The second building campaign started a few years later. During this campaign, Château de Versailles began to assume some of the appearance that it has today. This phase included the construction of several apartments and lodging facilities, including the classic “Grand Appartement Du Roi”.
The thrid campaign
The third campaign began some 10 years later. During this phase, the Château de Versailles acquired much of the look that it has today, including the brilliant Hall of Mirrors. It was at this time, in 1682, that Louis XIV officially installed his court at Versailles.
By moving his court and government to Versailles, Louis hoped to extract more control of the government from the nobility. By now, all the power of France emanated from this center. The government offices were moved here as well as the homes of thousands of courtiers and their retinues. With this, the village of Versailles quickly grew.
The fourth campaign
Louis XIV undertook his last building campaign at Versailles at the start of the 18th century. The fourth building campaign concentrated almost exclusively on construction of the royal chapel as well as some modifications in the Appartement Du Roi.
Post Sun King era
After the death of the Louis XIV in 1715, the five-year old king Louis XV with his court returned to Paris but they would return a few years later. During the reign of the new king, Château de Versailles underwent transformation, but not on the scale that had been seen during the reign of his father.
The same was true for his successor, Louis XVI. Much of his contributions to Château de Versailles were largely dictated by the unfinished projects left to him by his grandfather.
Not surprisingly, Château de Versailles lost its function as a royal palace after the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century. The temporary government in charge, the National Convention, arranged for the majority of the palace furniture to be either sold or rented.
Only items of particular artistic or intellectual value were exempt from the sale. These items were consigned to be part of the collection of a museum, which had been planned at the time of the sale of the palace furnishings.
During the time after the revolution – with Napoleon Bonaparte, the Bourbon Restoration and the Second Empire – the palace received little attention. It was primarily used for different state events and during visits by political and royal foreigners.
It was not until after the Second World War that the palace once again gained some attention, this time in the form of renovations. A major project was initiated in the mid 20th century in an attempt to bring back to its former glory and to once again put it on the world map. A new roof to the Hall of Mirrors was added and several chambers and apartments were restored.
Additionally, a policy was established in which the French government would aggressively seek to acquire as much of original furniture and artwork as possible, as much had been dispersed at the time of the Revolution.
Why visit Château de Versailles ?
The magnificent Château de Versailles, also known as the Palace of Versailles, is truly an architectural masterpiece. It is arguably one of the very finest royal palaces ever to be built. Here you can walk in hundreds of enchanting room, including the spellbinding Hall of Mirrors.
The Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors is the most famous part of the palace. After its construction, Louis XIV used the hall to demonstrate the political, economic, military and artistic success of France. The political success is depicted by thirty compositions in the arch painted by Le Brun.
These illustrate the glorious history of Louis XIV in the first eighteen years of his government. Military and diplomatic victories, as well as the reorganization of the French kingdom, are displayed in the form of antique allegories. Economic prosperity is demonstrated by the sheer dimensions and quantity of the 357 mirrors that decorate the halls seventeen. At the time of its construction, mirrors were seen as luxury objects, so the hall certainly fulfilled its purpose in demonstrating the French power.
The Hall of Mirrors, or “The Grand Gallery” as it was called in the 17th century, was used daily by courtiers and visitors for passing through. It was the place where the French court received diplomats. There was also a throne installed on a podium at the end of the hall, as a display of power.
Thus, visiting diplomats had to cross the entire hall, watched by the Court gathered on each side, before reaching the king. Today, the Hall of Mirrors and the palace is still used for greeting and receiving foreign dignitaries.
Château de Versailles is highly considered one of the very finest examples of French architecture and one of Frances most famous structures. It is visited by millions of people each year, which hardly comes as a surprise. The palace, together with its grand garden, has a lot to offer so a trip to Versailles is highly recommended for everyone visiting Paris.
Château de Versailles location
Château de Versailles is situated in the outskirts of Versailles; the small city located around 15km south west of Paris. While this may seem a like a long distance to travel for a single site, it really isn’t.
It is easy to travel from Paris to Versailles in order to access the palace. Several trains connect the two cities and the palace is within walking distance of the arriving station. It is also accessible by car; simply take the A13 motorway and take the exit “Versailles Château”.
For Château de Versailles’s exact location, check out the location Map to the right.