Friday, January 6, 2017

Travel Tyro: Versailles

When the twenty-three year old Louis XIV finally gained control of his crown in 1661 after nineteen long years of a regency, he set out with one goal in mind: absolute power. The young king wasted no time in flaunting his power. The result is Versailles, one of the world's largest and most opulent royal palaces ever built.

Initially built as a royal hunting lodge for his father, Louis XIII, Louis XIV spent the next twenty one years and an estimated 2 billion USD to create a palace that would become the official royal residence of the king, government, and court before the French Revolution erupted in 1789. Situated almost 10 miles away from the chaos of Paris, the grounds cover a sprawling 2,014 acres with the palace alone containing 700 rooms over 67,000 square meters of floor space— the equivalent of 12 American football fields. 

Christened Louis-Dieudonné or “gift of God”, Louis XIV believed in his divine right to rule as the will of God and adopted the sun as his royal emblem accordingly. Immortalized in history as the Sun King, Louis likened himself as the sun or center of the universe with which the planets or France revolved around. In essence, the palace became more than symbols of wealth, luxury, and dominance, but a place to glorify Louis XIV. 

Perhaps the most famous example of the king's manifested power is the Galerie des Glaces or Hall of Mirrors where courtiers would crowd to watch the king walk from his bedroom to the chapel, hoping to catch his eye or beg a favor as glass chandeliers hung below an ornately painted ceiling depicting the victories of his reign. The hall itself extends the entire length of the central building while floor to ceiling mirrors and windows cover the walls, allowing the sun's rays to reflect into the building— a subtle reminder of the king's presence everywhere in Versailles. 

After his death, Louis XIV's grandson, Louis XVI inherited the palace before he and his famous wife, Marie Antoinette, were beheaded during the French Revolution. After the dissolution of the French monarchy, Versailles was nearly destroyed. Luckily, it was spared and transformed into the Museum of the History of France in the 19th century. Today, over four million people visit Versailles annually as it continues to draw universal wonderment centuries later. 

Where: Le Château de Versailles, just outside of Paris, France
To get to Versailles you can take the RER train (not to be confused with the métro) for about an hour ride
When: Any time of the year, but summer is best to take full advantage of the gardens. Despite the sunny weather, it was quite windy and cold the day we went in mid-October, so we did not opt to explore the entire grounds.  
What:  There are actually several different tickets you can purchase to access the various attractions at Versailles that include:
Le Château: The main palace at Versailles with ornate rooms full of marble and gold splendor. Inside you'll also find the iconic Hall of Mirrors
The Grand Trianon: Standing northwest on the ground of Versailles, this small pink marbled palace was built as a retreat for Louis XIV when he wished to remove himself from the formalities and drama of court life. After the French Revolution, Napoleon restored the palace and stayed here several times. It is now as a guesthouse for the president of France.
The Petit Trianon: A group of structures with a working farm, Louis XVI gifted the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette as a private retreat from the pomp and circumstance of the court.
If you do want to see the entire grounds, definitely plan a whole day.
Why: Versailles is one of the world's largest palaces, a World Unesco Heritage site, and one of France's grandest examples of beauty, art, and architecture. If anything, the cinematography from this movie should win you over.
Tyro Tip: I suggest going early in the morning as soon as the palace opens to avoid waiting in a long line.
Also, there is a small Ladurée shop inside the Château! When in Paris...

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