The city of Versailles is located just west of Paris and is where Louis XIV had the Park, Chateaux, and Gardens created to intimidate the peasants with his great wealth and power. It was always intended to be a symbol of the Absolute Monarchy System. He managed to hang on to his power until he died of gangrene at age 77.
After the French peasants had finally had enough, there was a revolution. The current monarch of the time (Louis XVI) had his head chopped off, and in 1837 Versailles became a museum. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles ending World War One was signed at the Palace. The French government owns and operates the property.
We chose to take the train on a Monday and stay overnight at the Ibis Versailles Chateau, located steps from the Palace. Our room was modern and well-appointed. A key card elevator added a level of security that we valued. The staff was charming and helpful. The bar looked good but we only bought water to go. As soon as we settled in, we walked around the hotel to the main entrance to the estate.
Versailles has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979. The Palace(s) are open every day except Monday but the gardens are open every day... and on Monday, there is no charge to visit. Bonus for budget travellers!
The original building by Louis XIII was a simple hunting lodge but Louis XIV greatly expanded the chateau into a grand palace dedicated to excess. The first sight of the sheer grandeur and gold on the exterior of the building and gates was striking and I hadn't been inside yet. I tried to imagine how the peasants who built the chateau and gardens and served the royals would react to such extravagance.
We planned our travel to arrive Monday mid-afternoon, so we would have time to explore. This was a great plan as there were very few visitors and we had plenty of space to wander and take unobstructed photos that didn't include crowds. The fountains weren't running, but it actually allowed us to really see the fountain detail and marvel at the size and number of the carp swimming in every fountain, large or small.
The park land includes a formal walled garden, the Grand Fountain Plaza and the wide Promenade down to the canal. On each side of the promenade are many treed walkways leading to small gardens and fountains. Along the canal is parkland. The Grand Trianon can't be seen from the Chateau but is located at the end of the cross of the canal behind the park. We would be exploring those the following day.
Each little grove was a delight. It was May, so the summer plants weren't ready but there was plenty of spring colour and beautifully scented plants. We wandered along randomly choosing a direction at each fountain "intersection". We were enjoying the coolness and peace after our stressful travel day. It was twilight as we left in search of dinner.
The following day we went straight into the Palace. It was everything I imagined but so much more. The Chateau is ornately decorated in every space. Louis XIV desire for the best of the best required 50 different types of marble, imported from all the corners of Louis' influence.
One of the first rooms we encountered was the two story chapel. As God's chosen King, Louis ensured that he was able to create an inspiring room that would "prove" his right to rule.
The court of Louis XIV was large, and many rooms were required. Nothing the king did was private. He was constantly surrounded by courtiers ensuring that every aspect of his life became part of constant ceremony. Each room is lavishly furnished in bold patterns and colours and includes chairs and stools for the privileged courtiers. Ceilings are painted and every room includes several different types of marble. Gold is everywhere.
Intricate carvings and plasterwork are designed into the cornices, furnishings, and even the walls.
Framed artwork, often depicting life at court and the Sun King himself in heroic scenes hung everywhere. The textiles are rich and lush.
The Hall of Mirrors is where Louis really showed himself. His desire to dazzle his visitors is on full display. With crystal chandeliers sparkling in the sun and the mirrors reflecting the art and decor, he created a very unique room for the times. Mirrors were a very expensive and very rare commodity. This room includes 357 mirrors.