The city of Versailles in France is known for once being the seat of government and for being the landmark location of many significant events in the history of France, but this beautiful city is undoubtedly most known as the home of the Royal Palace of Versailles.
The palace of Versailles, eponymously named after and located in the city of Versailles in Northern France, is a structure that stands as a testament to the rich history of the French. More commonly known in France as the “Chateau de Versailles”, the palace was once the home of the French royal family as well as the center of France’s political power.
King Louis XIII was responsible for the palace’s initial construction from 1631 to 1634. Originally intended as the royal family’s hunting lodge as well as their own private retreat, it eventually evolved from a small royal chateau into the grand and regal monument that it is today under the rule of Louis XIII’s successor, Louis XIV, over almost 50 years’ worth of expansion and renovation. Through the years from 1678 to 1684, the palace of Versailles would see its most major renovations under Louis XIV’s rule. A team of distinguished architects such as Robert de Cotte, Louis Le Vau, and Jules Hardouin-Mansart, along with decorator and painter Charles Le Brun masterminded the overall look and design of the structure. Jules Hardouin-Mansart followed up on Louis Le Vau’s initial designs, adding a second floor upon which the Hall of Mirrors would be built; Jules Hardouin-Mansart was also responsible for the development of the Ministers’ Wings and the Southern Wing. The final touch of construction during that era was finished upon the completion of the palace’s chapel, under the supervision of Mansart’s son-in-law Robert de Cotte in 1708, who continued the work upon Mansart’s death.
The architectural design and decorations that were found throughout the palace as well as its surrounding gardens were strategically devised to symbolize the king’s absolute rule and power over his country, and even over nature. Landscape architect André Le Nôtre came up with the French gardens decked with water fountains that housed “still water” to symbolize the king’s powerful grasp and rule over even nature itself. Louis XIV was known as the “Sun King” and even gave himself the title of being the “State” itself, famously being quoted for proclaiming “L’Etat c’est moi” which roughly translated to “I am the state”. He projected this image of himself into all the pieces of construction being completed at the Palace, wishing to send his message through a majestic and intimidating structure that would echo his vision. The fruition of his grand plan had to take the clearing of about 37,000 acres of land in order to be replaced with a vast garden of magnificent walkways, terraces, myriads of plants and blooms, and of course, intricately detailed fountains and sculptures.
King Louis XIV moved the French government to Versailles, designating the palace as both his home as well as the center of the French court. The use of the Palace of Versailles as the royal residence however ceased upon his death in 1715 and remained a dormant structure from then on, before finally being restored to residential use for the royal family beginning in the year 1729 under the reign of King Louis XV, who moved back into the palace along with his wife and queen, Marie Leczinska, their three daughters, and the Crown Prince who would become his heir.
King Louis XV and successor Louis XVI continued the development of the palace over their monarchial rules from 1715-1774 and from 1774-1792 respectively, although none were as grand or extensive as those done during the reign of King Louis XIV. During Louis XV’s era, Anges-Jacques Gabriel was appointed as the official architect for further renovations of the palace of Versailles. Gabriel is credited for designing and building the Salon of Hercules, the Petit Trianon, and the Opera House. His more minimalist and subtle Neoclassical designs contrasted the heavily embellished Rococo style of the previous architects and decorators. Anges-Jacques Gabriel would proceed to continue to serve as the chosen architect even under the reign of Louis XVI, during which he constructed a private library for the king as well as constant renovations for the young Queen Marie Antoinette who regularly wanted her private quarters changed over periods of time.
Constructions persisted throughout the remainder of the century, wherein over 36,000 workers were hired to contribute to building more extensions of the palace. Upon completion, the palace was developed largely enough to accommodate a large number of people – as much as 5000 in fact.
The revolution in France in 1789 threatened the complete destruction of the palace of Versailles. The seat of government was once more transferred back to Paris following the mobbing of the palace in October of 1789, during the event more famously known as The Women’s March on Versailles. The mob that mainly consisted of female members that had come together from the city of Paris, stormed into the palace of Versailles, demanding the royal inhabitants of the palace to provide more appropriate prices and provisions of bread throughout France. The riot was a success in favor of the common people of France, overthrowing the aristocratic rule that had plagued the nation for ages. The court of France was moved back to Paris in response to this revolution, and the Palace of Versailles was left under the new government’s responsibility. Pieces of furniture and artifacts from the palace where then sold while some were merely transferred to be housed in the Louvre in Paris.
Restorations thankfully began under the command of Napoleon Bonaparte and continued to go underway under the command of King Louis-Philippe. The palace underwent an irreversible transformation during those times, having been converted into a museum in 1837, that would showcase and glorify the country of France. Despite occasionally being used as a venue for political gatherings, by the dawn of the 20th century, the palace had largely ceased to be a site of governmental activity and had chiefly become a popular place of interest for tourists.
The palace is most well-known for certain rooms such as the Hall of Mirrors – also known as the Galerie des Glaces, and the State Rooms or the “Grands Appartements”. The Hall of Mirrors is a striking elaborately decorated chamber, decked with 17 large mirrors lining the hall, chandeliers made of glass that hang from a high ceiling embellished with detailed paintings, and large imposing statues. At either end of the Hall of Mirrors is the Salon of Peace or “Salon de la Paix” and the Salon of War or “Salon de la Guerre”. The Hall is the historical location of the Proclamation of the German Empire in 1871 as well as the signing of the Treaty of Versailles back in 1919, when the Allies and Germany had reached an agreement of establishing harmony between the nations and resulted in a pact of peace. The Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon are also other interesting and important areas in the palace where the royal family once resided. The museum that was originally built by King Louis-Philippe to pay tribute to the history of France still stands to this day, but is however principally inaccessible for the public to view.
By the year 1962, objects and furniture once taken from the palace of Versailles were ordered to be returned to their rightful home in Versailles, and restorations have continued since then.Apartments that once belonged to prince and princesses of earlier members of the royal family were opened for public viewing, and parts that had been destroyed or had deteriorated over years of neglect were cared for and restored. The original furniture, paint, and walls were brought back to give life once more to the palace.
Of course, despite the solid efforts to bring back the majesty of the Palace of Versailles, setbacks have not been absent, especially those in the form of natural calamities. Apart from societal and political evolution, nature has also taken its toll upon the palace of Versailles, especially during the harsh storms of the winter season in 1989 when over 1000 trees that surrounded the land where destroyed. A mission to repair the historical landmark was instigated by the government of France in order to restore the palace to its previous glory. 10 years later, in 1999, another attack by nature in the form of a terrible windstorm ruined both the chateau and the palace grounds once more, causing the destruction of over 10,000 trees, among which where those that had been planted by important French historical figures like Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette. The damages incurred however failed to stop tourists from all over the world from visiting the palace, annual visits summed up to as much 9 million every year during the latter part of the 90s.
To this day, the Palace is still diligently maintained and revered as an important historical structure of France. The Palace of Versailles has since been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO and is one of France’s most major tourist attractions.