Louis XIV, the famed “Sun King” will be remembered in French history for many things. After all, he ruled for a little over 72 years in a period of many wars. One of the things he will be remembered best for however, is the creation of the lavish Château de Versailles.
Situated no more than twenty kilometers south-west of Paris in the village of Versailles, Louis XIV took over an old hunting lodge of Louis XIII and transformed it into the center of the French absolute monarchy. Over a number of years it grew into a marvel of opulence that may well be unrivalled even today.
After the revolution, the parliament moved back to the capital of Paris, and the Château has since become a major tourist attraction.
It’s difficult to know what to expect from such a site. Perhaps witnessing the fabulous architecture of inner-city Paris for a fortnight had created somewhat of a normality to other fabulous architecture such that it would no longer be appreciated? Perhaps the Château was so excessively lavish that it became disgusting to look at?
A half hour ride on the RER network, at a little over six euro for a return trip, and one is in Versailles. From there, it’s understandably pretty easy to find the Château. If not, follow the flock of tourists.
Yes, again, it was to be swarming with tourists. Bus loads and bus loads continued to pile in. I had kind of expected it for the Château however, and I didn’t at all get the same feeling that I had while visiting Montmartre. This is fair to be a tourist attraction, it serves no purpose now but to generate revenue for the French public.
On entering the grounds you are greeted by a statue of Louis XIV. While Louis XIV wasn’t the only monarch to have lived here (Marie Antoinette amongst others also lived here), he’s certainly the most well associated with the Château.
Further behind his statue are the gates to the palace, shining gold and tall, as if to notify passer-by’s that this is a place reserved only for royalty. The gates remain closed, but it’s bars are thin and it’s easy to see through to the inside. The golden fence extends these gates until it reaches two archways, one to either side of the fence.
These archways remain unblocked and people are freely able to wander through. Doing so takes them to the rear of the Château and exposes them to the gardens..
These lusciously green fields and trees extend almost beyond the horizon. Ponds and lakes are neatly dispersed among open fields. Statues of greek and roman gods line the pathways, each one as intricate as the other.
This is stuff of films – the kind of films you watch and think that the director has overdone it with the props.
One can walk pretty much anywhere they wish within these gardens and because they are so large, doing so provides a great escape to the tourist carnage. Walk between the orchards and discover seemingly hidden fountains and statues.
The majority of these paths were clearly designed to be explored and walked on, but there are portions of the garden that are more secretive, where dirt paths weave through forested land. Explore these. They lead to small, private openings that are a perfect spot to relax. One wonders who may have been on this spot over the centuries, and what may have happened there.
Because the garden is so large, it’s easy to lose track of time here, and indeed that’s what happened. The evening was approaching so the interior of the Château had to be explored. This meant that there remained a large portion of the gardens that went unexplored. But that’s what’s so great about these gardens. The intrigue that they provide, and the fact that you’ll probably never manage to discover it all.
To get inside is where the fee comes into play. Thirteen euro was pushing it. The Eiffel Tower was a little over eight. The opportunity couldn’t be missed however so the cash was handed over.
Upon entry, it’s extremely exciting. The first stop is the courtyard. This is the area that could be seen behind those golden gates that were spotted at the start of the day. Not having done any research prior to coming, there was no idea of what could be inside. Again those questions come up. How lavish would it be?
There is no free access once entering the Château. Tourists must follow a route that goes through the building.
The ground floor is first.
Immediately there are regrets of having paid the thirteen euro. It seems that the Château interior is just a museum about the Château itself. Displays of the history of the Château, scale models and paintings are found in each room you step into. The rooms appear to be pretty standard cubicles too. Not at all what was expected.
Up onto the first floor.
Now the expectations and visions are coming to life. The first room entered on the first floor is massive, and the ceiling is completely covered with a painting full of colour and detail. This must be the centrepiece.
The next room is just as impressive. The walls are different, the trimmings detailed and again the ceiling painted with a different scene.
This goes on seemingly forever. Room after room, each one just as impressive but completely different from the previous. Different colours, different themes.
Were these rooms excessively lavish? Without doubt. Were they disgusting? No. But it’s easy to see why the French people eventually rebelled against the monarchy.
The show’s not over yet. After completing a tour of the rooms you enter a large hall that somehow manages to put all the others to shame. Chandeliers extend down from the ceiling every couple of metres. The windows look out over the expansive gardens. The ceiling, massive as it is, completely painted with stunning detail. This is the centrepiece after all. This is the Galerie des Glaces, or Hall of Mirrors, and it may well be the most stunning thing I have seen on my trip so far.
The King’s room is next door, but there’s no haste to get there as it’s easy to admire the hallway for a long time. Nothing can top this.
Indeed, the King’s room slightly disappoints. It doesn’t have much more flair or extravagance than the other rooms, and it’s certainly nothing compared to the Galerie des Glaces. This combined with the fact that it’s almost impossible to move due to the extreme amount of tourists, and it was a quick return to the Galerie des Glaces.
Is it worth thirteen euro to go inside? Yes. Would I do it again? No. Would I go back again? Yes. But just to further explore the gardens.
The Château de Versailles is a must visit for anyone in Paris. Just make sure you give yourself an entire day.
I can’t wait to visit other palaces to compare. Right now, this is the king of the palaces.