The Palace of Versailles is 40 minutes by train to the west of Paris, and then 10 minute walk from the train station. Since we had got the Paris museum pass, we didn’t have to pay 16€ (for each person). It was in December and like many European cites, Parisians don’t like using road salts like we do in North America but instead use sands. It was really, really slippery during that 10 minute walk. And it was also because of the snow and ice, we weren’t allowed to go outside of the palace to see the Grand Trianon or enter the splendid garden to see those exceptional fountains.
The place was only a hunting lodge of Louise XIII. But his son Louis XIV, known as the “Sun King” who reigned for 72 years during France’s glorious time, transformed it into a magnificent palace, and moved the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. It’s the place that Louis XIV sought to visually represent the absolute power of the monarchy. The Hall of Mirrors became the setting for court events and became the most prestigious part of the vast complex. Louise XV, Louis XIV’s great-grandson, also reigned for 59 years at the palace since 5 years’ old and until his death. He didn’t have the political ambition as his great-grandfather had, but did have open-secret love affairs with many mistresses, even though his queen bore him ten children. His weak and ineffective rule accelerated the general decline of monarchy that culminated in the French Revolution in 1789.
Louis XVI, Louis XV’s grandson, was not so lucky. He ruled only 18 years, before being executed (at 39 years’ old) with his queen Marie Antoinette during French Revolution. Their death marked the end of the French monarchy. Even though he was intellectual, he was regarded unqualified as a King by historians and failed to recover France from debt of wars in several attempts. In some way, Queen Marie Antoinette was even more popular than her King husband, due to her charmed personality and beauty. She was expected by tradition to spend money on her attire, so as to outshine other women at Court, being the leading example of fashion in Versailles. She also did that just to made herself feel good, as depicted in the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, and thus was blamed as “Madame Deficit” since the country was in a difficult financial situation at the time. On one famed occasion, she played for three days straight with players from Paris, straight up until her 21st birthday. A small estate in Versailles, Petit Trianon, was given her by Loius XVI as a gift, where she could return to the pleasures of simple, rural pursuits as her careless childhood used to be, away from the pomp of Versailles.
In 1794, the Palace of Versailles became a repository for art work seized from churches and princely homes. As a result of Versailles serving as a repository for confiscated art works, collections were amassed that eventually became part of the proposed museum. Although it was used by Napolean and Louis Philippe later on, it was no longer as splendid as it used to be under the three Kings’ realms.
Copyright © 2011 Jenson Yu. All rights reserved.