Gardens, Grandeur, Gold

We met our guide, Marie-Claire, at the Invalides Metro station today, and then took an RER train to today’s main attraction: Palais Royal du Versailles.

Versailles is one of the largest and most opulent palaces anywhere in the world. It was built by Louis the Fourteenth (the Sun King) because he no longer wished to live in the Louvre, the royal palace at the time. The complex includes the royal residence, but also a chapel, an opera house, and immense grounds with beautiful statuary and gardens.

The palace itself was the home of Louis XIV, XV and XVI, the last three kings of France. The enormous palace’s architecture and decoration draws heavily on Greek and Roman mythology and particularly on the myths of Hercules and Apollo, who Louis XIV often compared himself to. King Louis XIV chose Hercules because of his strength and demigod status, and Apollo because of his role as the sun god. Symbols of lions (a symbol of Hercules) and the sun, as well as the fleur-de-lis, the symbol of the French monarchy, are common.

This is the Room of Apollo, one of the King’s beautifully decorated rooms for entertainment.

This was the King’s ridiculously ornate bedroom.

And this is the Royal Chapel. The balcony level was exclusively for the royal family, while the nobles sat on the level below.

The most famous room in the palace is this chamber, the Hall of Mirrors. Interestingly, at the time of the palace’s construction, methods of making mirrors did not yet exist in France. So, Louis XIV sent spies to Italy, where mirrors had recently been invented, to steal their formula so French glassmakers could craft the room’s mirrors!

After touring the opulent interior of the palace, we exited to the grounds. The grounds feature acres of woods, pathways, canals, and even a small working farm, the pet project of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France. Due to its size, it was impossible to see all of the grounds, but we were able to see parts of them.

The gardens are designed so that most of the features (groves, colonnades, statues, etc.) are not visible from the main paths, requiring visitors to explore and wander in order to see everything. The gardens are so immense that the king himself wrote a guidebook so that visiting nobles could fully experience them without getting lost!

An example of the palace’s symbolism. The crown and fleur-de-lis make it very clear that a king lives here. The sun icon signifies Louis XIV, who called himself the Sun King, and his involvement in the palace’s construction.

Louis XIV had an enormous ego. He compared himself to the Roman gods of old - and the sun itself! He commissioned large numbers of portraits of himself. And to prove just how great a king he was, he constructed one of the most ornate and most opulent palaces in the world.

Here’s a set of interesting facts about Versailles and King Louis XIV:

- King Louis XIV loved dogs! He had many dogs while he was king. He even comissioned portraits of them and ordered his chefs to prepare special pastries for his dogs.

- Many of Versailles’ features were inspired by Italian palaces. For example, the use of multiple types of marble in decoration and the use of mirrors were inspired by Louis’ trips to Italy.

- It was impossible to run the gardens’ water features all the time, so when the king entered the garden, a man would blow a whistle, letting the gardeners know they needed to turn the fountains on!

Versailles is an incredible place, almost beyond belief. Its sheer size and opulence speak to a bygone era and must truly be seen to be believed.


- Hayden M. Strong

© Knstrong 2013