It has to be one of my favorite places on earth. The first time I visited was in 2005. I had heard of Versailles and was fascinated with its history, I just didn’t realize that I would fall in love.
It was late March the first time, but the sun was out and light jackets were all we needed. Our tour began on the inside and we were provided with much of the history. If you ever visit Versailles, you can rent an MP3 player to guide you on your tour so you know whose bedroom you are standing in or so you will recognize the Hall of Mirrors. Okay, you would know the Hall of Mirrors on sight and without the assistance of a guide.
There is not enough time to explore the entire palace or all of the gardens. Each time I visited I was with a large group as one of the chaperones to high school students. However, this summer I will return and my time will be my own. I can’t tell you how excited I am. But, the three visits I did enjoy gave me a taste of what I want to further explore. By the way, the gardens will require a separate post.
Originally, when the palace was built, there were two sets of gates. To the left of the first gate were the stables and to the right, the kitchens. The second gate was torn down during the French Revolution.
Everyone could enter Versailles. Several guards were posted to confiscate weapons, search carriages and to ensure the visitor was properly dressed. I am fairly certain that during my visits I was not dressed appropriately for court life. But I was on vacation and I was fairly certain I would not be running into any kings or queens.
It was originally a hunting lodge for Louis XIII. At first the king set out to embellish the original house, and construction lasted over 50 years. In 1682 it became Louis XIV’s official residence, and in 10 years he expanded it, adding two wings and dedicating each common room to its own planet. Louis XIV, or the Sun King, favored the location because it wasn’t too close to Paris, but not too far away either. In our century, it is about a 45 minute tour bus drive away. It was large enough that he could permanently have his court around him, which included aristocracy, ministers, advisors, etc. When royalty was in residence, there could be anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 people living at Versailles.
The main entrance of the tour is to the left and includes all modern technology has to offer, including metal detectors. But soon you step back, into the past. The tours I have taken part of were of the State Apartments. Rich with art, tapestry, woodwork, gold carvings.
Probably the most famous room in Versailles is The Hall of Mirrors. It is filled with 357 mirrors, as well as a row of 17 arched windows overlooking the vast gardens and reflecting back into the mirrors. The king would use this hall to walk from his private apartments to chapel each day. It was also used for celebration and political events. Even in modern day, long after the era of kings, The Hall of Mirrors has stood as a backdrop to history. It was here on June 28, 1919 that the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending WWI. It is still a place where dignitaries meet. I just hope none of them are planning a meeting on the date I want to visit so I can stand in the center of the hall and simply take it in.