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The Chateau of Versailles: A Must-See Attraction on Your Next Trip to Paris
Louis XIV: The Early Years
Before Louis XIV got his Sun King hands on it, the Château of Versailles was little more than a royal hunting lodge on the outskirts of Paris.
"Little", however, was not in the vocabulary of Louis XIV (nor was his native "petit"), the boy king who ruled France from the age of 5 years old. (Me, I was trying to get out of eating my peas when I was five years old.)
In actuality, Louis didn't literally rule France while he was still sucking his thumb. His mother, Anne of Austria (yes, even a king has to answer to his mother), became his regent (one who rules in place of a displaced or underage leader). Together with Cardinal Mazarin, Chief Minister of France, she directed France until Louis' head was big enough to keep the crown from falling down to his shoulders when he put it on. It didn't take long.
The Chateau of Versailles: If You Build It, They Will Come (Or Else They Will Be Punished)
Always strategizing to greaten his power, Louis XIV had many ulterior motives in building a lavish palace about twelve miles outside of Paris.
For one, it would enable Louis to distance himself from the common people of France, for these were people in which he had no interest in (except to exercising his absolute power over them and collect taxes from them so he could build lavish palaces 12 miles outside of Paris. So he didn't have to see them.)
Second, by moving the court to this location outside of Paris and creating a lavish playground and prestigious social code for the Parisian feudal nobility (those who most threatened his centralized power) and others who would otherwise be strategizing to get them some more, he kept this nobility and others "fat" and away from any thoughts of political strategizing to reduce his power.
Versailles became the seat of French power and it was where Louis held court. He frequently gave gifts to those who were regular attendees, and always remembered those who were infrequent guests. If you had a request of the king, and you were an infrequent guest, bonne chance!
The Chateau of Versailles: Welcome to My Humble Abode
The Palace of Versailles is the ultimate tribute to Louis XIV and his reign. It is opulent, grandiose, resplendent with the finest art of the day, the best crafted furniture, the softest silks, and highest quality mirrors, glass and marble. To build such a mammoth construction, in where attention to detail made its way into every nook and cranny, is simply astounding.
The feature rooms of the palace consist of the grand appartement du roi (the king), dripping in gilded bronze and marble and adorned with ceiling paintings depicicting the power of the gods; the lavish grand appartement de la reine (the queen); and the 240-foot long galérie des glaces (Hall of Mirrors) which connects the two.
With its 350 mirrors, opulent chandeliers, giant, arched windows and ceiling paintings depicting the Sun King in all his grandiosity, one stands in awe in this light- and reflection-filled room that looks out upon the spectacular gardens.
Other famous rooms in the palace include the Chapel (in its fifth incarnation now) and l'Opéra, the 712 seat main theatre and the opera house for the palace. L'Opéra was not not used by Louis XIV -- it was actually constructed after his reign. He had many theatre rooms which have since been destroyed and/or replaced, but none so impressive as L'Opéra.
I have a 42-inch plasma for my home theatre. Oh well, I'm not an absoute monarch.
Chateau de Versailles: The Gardens, the Fountains, the Trianon
Over 250 acres of gardens, with lakes, canals, and over 1,000 fountains, each of which is a work of art in itself, are laid out in grandiose, geometrically symmetrical designs by landscape artist Andre le Notre.
The grounds connect the main Palace of Versailles described above with the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon,.
The Grand Trianon was mostly a retreat for the king and a place to entertain and board VIPs. The Petit Trianon was a "small" chateau (it was still a lot bigger than my house) that was built by the Sun King's successor, Louis XV, for his mistress Madame de Pompadour.
How Much to Gain Entry to the Court?
There are many options for bus tours that will take you from Paris to Versailles (about a 20 minute bus ride) for about 15 euros. You can choose a half day (9:00a.m. - 1:00p.m. or 2:00p.m. - 6:00p.m.) or a full day (9:00a.m. - 6:00p.m.).
If you have the time to spend, I would recommend the full day - between the palace, the gardens, the fountains and the Trianon, there is so much to see at Versailles that you can easily spend an entire day there. If you only have a half day to spare, you can still get some great photos and see the main attractions.
Tickets for adults are 13.50 euros - 25 euros, depending on the time of year and which elements of the Château de Versailles you want ot visit. Entry is free for everyone on the first Sunday of every month from October through March, and children under the age of 18 are always free.
For more information on tours and transportation, check out Versailles Palace Tours.
Bon voyage, and remember, as Mel Brooks said in The History of the World, Part I: "It's good to be the king!"
Check out these other Paris atractions for your next France vacation.