The 5 Best Day Trips from Paris. 1 The Palace of Versailles
On this Page
- The Highlights of a Tour of Versailles
- Events- music, fireworks, theatre
- Paris to Versailles travel information: By metro, train or car.
- Where to Eat
The Origins of Versailles
France has been one of the wealthiest countries in the world for over five hundred years. In the seventeenth century, it was by far the richest and most powerful, with almost a quarter of the entire population of Europe inside its frontiers. Even the most out of the way French towns boast colossal and stylish buildings from that period that make comparable English and German architecture seem small and provincial.
At Versailles, the French taste for the grandiose found a triumphant climax. What had begun as a simple hunting lodge in the early seventeenth century was remodelled on a huge scale by Louis XIV and, in 1682, became the official residence of the Royal Family. Within the 2000 acre site are three separate palaces which housed between three and ten thousand people at their peak.
The design of the main palace- the 'Chateau'- was based on the idea of planets circling a sun. The sun was the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV, and the planets were his family, courtiers and mistresses housed in rooms and apartments circling his own, in order of importance.
Just as the Forbidden City in Peking and the floating Palace in Kyoto were complete, enclosed royal worlds so was Versailles. It was built as a city in itself, well away from the contagions of Paris and its volatile mob.
As well as the main palace, it boasted a grand canal modeled on its name-sake in Venice, dozens of fabulous fountains, vast formal gardens, carefully recreated meadows, a fake hamlet, stables for six hundred horses and one of the largest opera houses in Europe.
The French Revolution.
The Parisian mob did finally come to Versailles. On October 6th 1789, a mob marched on the palace and forced Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to travel to Paris to hear the grievances of a population suffering widespread economic distress and harboring a growing belief in their own right to wield power. It was one of the opening acts of the French Revolution. Eventually the Royal couple would lose their heads to the guillotine and France would become a Republic, with no need for royal residences.
A monarchy-with limited power-was restored in 1830, and Louis-Philippe, who reigned from 1830 to 1848, prevented the destruction of Versailles by donating his own money to convert it into a museum dedicated to the glory of France.
In the mid-20th Century, John D. Rockefeller was an important contributor to the restoration of Versailles.
It remains today as a symbol of the wealth, extravagance and refinement of absolute monarchy in the Ancien Régime.
The recent movie 'Marie Antoinette' by Sofia Coppola gives an idea of the very formal and extravagant life-styles at Versailles just prior to the revolution.
The French Revolution (from Wikipedia).
Trailer for 'Marie Antoinette' by Sofia Coppola
Highlights of Versailles
The Castle (Chateau)
If you take the standard tour of the Castle, some of the first rooms you will see are the six Louis XIV-style 'Grands Appartements', which were used for formal and public entertaining. The Petits Appartements, were the private spaces for the Royal Family.
Louis XV kept his mistresses, Madame du Barry and Madame de Pompadour, in a nearby second-floor apartment, which you can visit only with a guide.
The four-poster bed that Marie Antoinette had installed together with her favorite silk decorations of lilac and peacock motifs can still be seen. Once hidden away, the secret door through which she attempted to escape from the Parisian mob is now on display.
The most famous room in the Palace is the 236-foot-long Hall of Mirrors. This dazzling room was used for exercise (courtly promenading) on rainy days and for public entertaining on a grand scale. In 1918, the Treaty of Versailles was signed here to bring an end to the First World War.
This was built for Louis XV around 1770. The early operas were performed for a glittering audience of up to 700 people with animal skin rugs underfoot and hundreds of candles for illumination.
In 1989, it was reopened after a $70 million restoration which included the return of paintings and antiquities removed during the revolution. A particular attraction for visitors is the royal family's private rooms, including those of Louis XIV's heir, the Grand Dauphin; Louis XV's children; his mistress Madame du Barry; and Marie Antoinette.
These are some of the best reasons to make a day trip from Paris. Today there are fifty fountains in the gardens of Versailles. In the time of Louis XIV there were twice as many. The water pressure was never powerful enough to keep all the fountains working at the same time. Instead, they were switched on or off by gardeners whenever the King walked so that all the fountains in his field of view were active.
The Latona Fountain (Bassin de Laton) represents a story from Ovid's Metamorphosis. The goddess Latona was offended by peasants who saw her naked and is seen begging Jupiter for vengeance. Later, he transforms the peasants into turtles, lizards and frogs. Louis XIV would have approved.
A hamlet was created for Marie Antoinette as an escape from the pressures of court life. Here she could immerse herself in the fantasy of a simple life as a country girl or make believe that the small thatched farmhouses and water mill were part of her family’s country retreat in Austria.
This is a peaceful and composed space. It is formal but never feels restricting and is the perfect place to recover from the visual overload of the sumptuous interiors.
The Grand Canal
One mile long and surrounded by austere lines of square trimmed trees this can be a strange and unsettling place. In summer, when it fills with row boats, it comes alive and is a great place to walk or take a boat trip.
In the time of Louis XIV, the boats were brightly painted gondolas. The Sun King enjoyed imagining that he was in Venice, on the Grand Canal, with one of his many lovers.
Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon.
Trianon was the name of the town that Louis bought and then razed in order to construct a mansion, Le Grand Trianon, where he could eat light meals away from the rigours of palace ritual. Designed in 1687, Grand Trianon has traditionally served as a residence for the country’s important guests, from American Presidents to Chinese Premiers. Nixon slept in the room where Madame Pompadour died, perhaps a bad omen.
Napoleon stayed here often, and the room decorations date mostly from his time. Charles de Gaulle began the practice of reserving one wing of this palace for the use of the French Head of State.
Marie Antoinette often used the nearby Petit Trianon for the more private moments in her life.
The Royal Stables
The royal stables once held up to 600 horses. They have recently been restored and are open to the public.
Displays of dressage accompanied by music can be seen here if you take the morning tour.
There is also a coach museum. Entry is free if you have already purchased a ticket to the Petite Trianon.
Events at the Palace, Versailles for Summer
From fireworks displays to classic theatre and opera, Versailles makes one of the most stunning backdrops in the world for any performance. Find out what is happening at Versailles this summer at the site below.
Les Grands Eaux Musicales, (Grand Fountain Displays with Music)
A regular favorite among the many events at Versailles are the Grands Eaux Musicales
On summer weekends there are recitals of Bach, Mozart or Beethoven with powerful, colorfully lit fountains shooting out great jets of water in synchrony with the music.
Places to Eat In the Palace Grounds
Le Cafe, is a snack bar just off the Cour de la Chapelle.
La Flotille is an informal restaurant close to the start of the Grand Canal.
La Petite Venise, is a wood-beamed restaurant, brasserie, and tea room with outdoor seating between the Grand Canal and the Apollo Fountain.
There are several snack bars and juice stands in the gardens near Quinconce du Midi and the Grand Trianon.
How to Get There
Paris to Versailles by Metro
There are RER metro trains to Versailles (line C) starting at any of these stations:Gare d'Austerlitz, St-Michel, Musee d'Orsay, Invalides, Ponte d'Alma, Champ de Mars, or Jave. Journey time is approximately thirty minutes. From the station at Versailles, walk to the chateau (a pleasant twenty minutes) or take a shuttle bus marked 'Chateau'.
SNCF trains run to Versaille from Gare St-Lazare and Gare Montparnasse. There is then a ten minute walk to the Palace or wait for the shuttle bus.
To go by car, use the A13 highway travelling West from Porte di Auteuil toward Rouen. The 'Versailles-Chateau' exit is about twenty kilometers from Paris. The car park at the palace is about $5.
There are also many bus tours of the palace from Paris which are easy to find through tourist information in hotels and travel shops.
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