This was not my first nor my second trip to Paris. Therefore, I was looking to expand upon my previous knowledge of the city and also of France as a whole. I actually, previously had never been outside of the city proper.
Thursday morning Ali and I headed to Versailles. Ali had seen the Palace the year before, but wanted to spend more time in the gardens. In 2009 Zac, Anne and I went to a firework show in the garden, where we were serenaded by a string quartet. However magical, I did not have a chance to visit the inside of the Palace. We packed a picnic lunch and I visited the Palace while Ali strolled through the gardens.
Above is a picture of Zac and I in front of one of the fountains in 2009.
You are not granted access to that many rooms of the palace, maybe 10% of this enormous palace. The main part of the tour is spent fighting the enormous crowds, walking past people, pushing into the small rooms for a glimpse of the past glory of these French Monarchs. I was particularly intrigued by the symmetry of the rooms, the male and female rooms paired not only through function and location, but also through their decoration based on the virtuous gods. The highlight of each room is the ceiling decoration, where the intense gilded ornamentation creates an artificial lightness in the room. I could not imagine trying to sleep in these rooms, it must feel like daylight even at night.
The concept that stuck with me the most during the tour was a quote by Louis XIV, who claimed that as monarchs their lives were to be made public, for they lived for the consumption of the public. It made me think of the modern celebrity and the role in which we have cast them. It’s not that his idea was so unique, as we can find many public figures who set out to make their lives accessible to the public, just think of Lady Gaga. Rather, it was so clear how this passion was made evident in the construction of the palace, something that his predecessors had to deal with when they inherited it.
Below are the many different views of the tour, starting at the outside gates continuing into the innermost depths of the palace. First are the male rooms, followed by their female counterparts, finally leading back to the gardens.
Above is the statue of Louis XIV astride a horse, a typical format for representing a monarch during this period.
Clearly I am a fan of austerity because this is one of my favorite parts of the palace. We were not allowed to walk down the hallway, which is how I was able to capture it without all of the visitors. Each statue is dedicated to a different French Monarch.
Above is a view of the gardens from the north wing of the palace to give an idea of where we were.
Below are two views of the Royal Chapel, where the audio guide hinted that many in the audience paid more attention to the arrival of the monarch than reception of the host. I don’t know enough of French history to further comment.
I particularly enjoyed the Salon d’Hercule where you can see the painting Feast in the House of Simon by Veronese received as a gift from the Venetian Republic in 1664. During the reign of Louis XIV this room was often used as the ballroom. One such example was during the celebrations of hthe marriage of his daughter Marie Louise-Elisabeth to the Infant Phillip of Spain. During the reign of Louis XVI it took a more serious note, being the seat of diplomatic gatherings.
Above a view of the gardens outside of the Salon d’Hercule and another painting by Veronese above the fireplace.
A bust statue of Louis XIV:
Above are the doors that lead into ante-chamber to the King’s room. The emblem of Louis XIV as the sun king is clearly depicted above the door.
The “official” royal bedroom of the King:
From his private/public rooms I entered into the Hall of Mirrors, which is preceded by another antechamber. This spectacular room, now quintessentially known as the Palace, first served to connect the twin designs of the Queen’s and King’s Royal chambers.
In the middle of the Hall the mirrors turn into doors, which led into this side room where the King actually slept. (At least this is the history that I remember).
Turning back to the Hall I made my way through the day room and into the Queen’s apartments.
Below is a bust portrait of Marie Antoinette that was placed on the hearth of her bedroom, pictured above.
Next we continued into the Royal Dining hall, which I found particularly amusing. The two monarchs (at minimum, could be extended to include their children) sat side by side at a table where they were served infinite delicacies. The rest of the court sat in chairs lining the walls or in the middle of the room watching them eat. The second photo depicts the monarch’s view whereas the third represents the noble’s from the gallery.
In the final rooms we received some of the information surrounding the restoration processes of these rooms. If you look carefully at the ceiling you will see many different white pieces of paper that were covering the places that needed touch ups. This was the same process employed in each of the rooms, explaining how they continue to shimmer and gleam.
To attract larger crowds, or maybe to make the palace more contemporary, there have been various modern rotating exhibits within the palace. While I was there, two rooms displayed the works of Guiseppe Penone. In the first room, the intoxicating smell of fall overwhelmed me as I stepped into the space. Each wall was filled floor to ceiling with freshly dead leaves. At measured intervals branches poked out displaying the ability for nature to break free. Or at least that was my impression. The other work, was titled Resirare L’Ombra Foglie di Tè that also touched upon the sense of smell and respiration but in a completely different sense. It was a bronze statue with gilded lungs that could only be seen from one angle. From the side the statue reminded me of the beggars dressed as goats in the streets of Madrid.
Upon exiting the palace I immediately entered into the gardens. The expansive land is so intricately cultivated, everything is placed in its proper location, neat, organized and tidy. Yet, it is a garden, and nature has its own way of growing meaning that it was never fully perfect. There was always one leaf astray, which to me made it more beautiful. The concept that man can never, even in Versailles, make nature conform to his will.
Being in the gardens, between the thick hedges made me think of the intrigue and escape that this space must have offered for those at court. You never quite know who or what is on the other side of the hedge. Below, I have tried my best to capture the public monuments and vistas that I found while wandering through the gardens.
There are two other palatial complexes on the sight, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. I only visited the Grand Trianon, which was originally built as the escape house for Louis XIV with his mistress. During the French Revolution it fell into disrepair, only to be restored under the reign of Napoleon who had it decorated in his Empirical Style. Additionally, it was within this building that the Treaty of Trianon in 1920 was signed, a treaty that left Hungary with less than 1/3 of its pre-war territory. It is still used to this day as a place to host public diplomats, unfortunately I believe my brief visit will be the most extensive period I will spend in these quarters. To be quite honest, the appeal of Versailles to me, is its gardens, which are free for public use. We saw many people out sunning and running along the paths.
As the Sun started to set, it was time to make our way back to the city. Here is a photo from the edge of the “pond” looking back towards the castle. Below is a picture of the side of the palace, it is the same edge where the Hall of Mirrors is located. And finally our last view of Versailles.
As a fun fact, Marie Antoinette is known for having remarked “let them eat cake” when she learned that the peasants had no bread to eat (Qu’ils mangent de la brioche). It is used as a means of demonstrating her indifference to the suffering of the local French people. However, there is no evidence proving that she ever uttered these words. Nonetheless, they are credited to her.