The palace of Versailles

The palace of Versailles - or simply Versailles - is a royal château, in Versailles. When the château was built Versailles was a country village, but it is now a suburb of Paris. From 1682, when King Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in 1789, the Court of Versailles was the centre of power in France.


In 1660, Louis XIV, who was approaching majority and the assumption of full royal powers from the advisors who had governed France during his minority, was casting about for a site near Paris but away from the tumults and diseases of the crowded city. He had grown up in the disorders of the civil war between rival factions of aristocrats called the Fronde and wanted a site where he could organize and completely control a government of France by absolute personal rule. He settled on the royal hunting lodge at Versailles and over the following decades he had it expanded into the largest palace in Europe. Versailles is famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy which Louis XIV espoused.
After the Revolution the paintings and sculpture, like the crown jewels, were consigned to the new Musée du Louvre as part of the cultural patrimony of France. Other contents went to the Bibliothèque Nationale and to the école des Arts et Métiers. Some contents were also sold during a long series of auction sales. The purpose was to ensure that there was no Versailles for any king ever to come back to. The strategy has worked. Though Versailles was declared an imperial palace, Napoléon never spent a night there.
Versailles remained both royal and unused through the Restoration. In 1830, Louis Philippe, the "Citizen King" declared the château a museum dedicated to "all the glories of France," raising it for the first time above a Bourbon dynastic monument. At the same time, boiseries from the private apartments of princes and courtiers were removed and found their way, without provenance, into the incipient art market in Paris and London for such panelling. What remained were 120 rooms, the modern "Galeries Historiques". The curator Pierre de Nohlac began the conservation of the castle in the 1880s until the 1930s, which is considered a significant contribution to the great modern interest in Versailles. In the 1960s, Pierre Verlet, the greatest writer on the history of French furniture managed to get some royal furnishings returned from the museums and ministries and ambassadors' residences where they had become scattered from the central warehouses of the Mobilier National. He conceived the bold scheme of refurnishing Versailles, and the refurnished royal Appartements that tourists view today are due to Verlet's successful initiative, in which textiles were even rewoven to refurbish the state beds.


The palace grew through a series of expansions wrapped around the original modest hunting lodge, which still remains at its heart. This led to a certain incongruity in the architecture, as the centrepiece of the palace is not in scale with its final dimensions. In 1661 Louis Le Vau made some additions which he developed further in 1668. In 1678 Mansart took over the work, the Galerie des Glaces, the chapel and the two wings being due to him. On May 6, 1682 Louis XIV took up residence in the château. Furnishings had been plundered from Louis' disgraced finance minister's Nicolas Fouquet splendid house at Vaux-le-Vicomte, whose grand success there was his undoing.
Versailles is a key example of baroque palace architecture, and many of the finest craftsmen in Europe worked it for many years.
The Hall of Mirrors is the major attractions of the palace and is currently undergoing restoration. The galerie is located on the first floor of the building. It contains 357 mirrors. It is 73 metres long, 10.50 metres wide, and 12.30 metres high (239.5 ft by 34.4 ft by 40.4 ft). It is located between the Salon de la Guerre (Hall of War) at its northern end, and by the Salon de la Paix (Hall of Peace) at its southern end.
The grounds of Versailles contain one of the largest formal gardens ever created, with a extensive parterres, fountains and canals designed by André Le Nôtre.
Several smaller buildings were added to the park of Versailles, starting with Louis XIV's Grand Trianon, continuing with additions by Louis XV and Louis XVI including the Petit Trianon, and the Hamlet of Marie Antoinette known as the Petit hameau.