It was a chilly Wednesday morning when my mother and I boarded the train to Versailles. I was torn between visiting Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny and the Palace of Versailles but I did not want to miss the chance of not seeing the palace since it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get a glimpse into the world of French history, royalty and power. Chateau de Versailles is not exactly close to Paris and getting there was a little bit tricky. They say it’s possible to do both in one day but that sort of reminds me of a couple who wanted to see so much they would separate and one would look at the outside of a cathedral and the other the inside. And that really does not sound fun to me.
If you’re travelling from central Paris via the RER C line, buy a roundtrip ticket to Versailles Rive Gauche (also known as Versailles-Château) not Versailles Chantiers.
The thing I didn’t realize about Versailles is that it’s actually a town. It took us an hour to get to Versailles from Paris, and from the train station, we had to walk another 10 minutes to get to the chateau. The town of Versailles was such a charming and lovely place where you can find shops, patisseries and restaurants along the way. When the chateau was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is now one of the wealthier suburbs of France.
The Palace of Versailles , Chateau de Versailles or simply Versailles is a French royal chateau in Versailles in the Ile-de-France region of France. It is one of the largest and most opulent castles in the world. It also boasts around 2,143 windows, 1,252 fireplaces, and 67 staircases. It was built for King Louis XIV in the late 1600s. It housed the kings and queens of France until the French revolution.
In 1682 the French government moved to Versailles and it remained there for almost 100 years. In 1789 a mob took the Palace and the French Revolution began.
During the French revolution, all the pieces of art within the palace were transferred to the Louvre museum.
We got there early and explored the lavish royal palace before it got too crowded. However, on a month of February, it felt like we had the entire palace to ourselves. There are several must see places in the Palace of Versailles. The Palace (where you will find The Hall of Mirrors, The Chapel, and the Grand Apartment), The Garden, The Grand Trianon, Petite Trianon and The Hamlet. Unfortunately, I was not able to visit the Petit Trianon and the Hamlet.
The Chapel. This was where the king and members of the royal family heard Mass. You really can’t miss the chapel on the palace tour, it’s right along the main traffic route.
The Hall of Plenty. It served as a refreshment room where coffee, wines and liqueurs were served on a sideboard.
The Hall of Mirrors. My favorite room of all. I stood in awe as soon as I entered this room. It was designed to impress the most respected courtiers and ambassadors from neighboring kingdoms that were received in this hall, where they were also stunned by its grandeur. Mirrors hang on the walls opposite the windows, strategically placed to reflect the natural light.
Imagine the room being lit by 3,000 candles! The end of World War I was officially ended in 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. The treaty was signed in the Hall of Mirrors.
You ‘ll walk past a row of large rooms through a public corridor along on one side with floor to ceiling windows.
The King’s Bedchamber. It is the most important and symbolic room in the Royal Apartments. It was the location of two important ceremonies where the king would wake up (lever) and go to sleep (coucher) surrounded by his courtiers. The king also had a ceremony for putting on and taking off his hunting boots.
At the beginning of the summer of 1715 Louis XIV complained of a pain in the leg. In mid-August gangrene set in and by 1 September he was dead. Louis XIV died in this room on September 1, 1715 after a reign of 72 years. The day after the king’s death, his body was cut open, divided into three parts (body, heart and entrails) and embalmed by doctors and surgeons in front of the principal officers of the court, before being placed in a coffin made of lead, which was placed in a coffin made of oak. The idea was that instead of one you could have three final resting places where people could come and pay homage.
The Royal Table Antechamber. I just recently watched the film “Marie Antoinette” starring Kirsten Dunst. The movie is based on the life of queen Marie Antoinette. In the movie, this was the room where Marie Antoinette and King Louis XVI would eat lunch. Antoinette’s royal family in Austria was quite informal so the seemingly absurd etiquette at French court annoyed her greatly. She would pick at food and preferred a second meal be served in her private chambers.
Only the royal family could take their places at the table and before them, seated, the duchesses, princesses or high ranking persons who had the privilege to sit on a stool. The king and queen always had a fauteuil (armchair) to sit on. In their presence, no one else was allowed an armchair, unless you were also a monarch.
The Coronation Hall. This served as a guards’ room for both the King and Queen. The name was derived from the large painting of the coronation of Napoleon which takes up an entire wall. Upon close examination, the figure kneeling is not Napoleon, but his wife Josephine. Holding the crown that is about to grace her head is Napoleon. Behind him stand the religious figures who would usually perform the coronation duties and rituals. Napoleon had reportedly seized the crown from the hands of these clerics and placed it on his head, signifying his absolute rule and claim to power. While Napoleon did not reside in the chateau, apartments were, however, arranged and decorated for the use of the empress Marie-Louise. The emperor chose to reside at the Grand Trianon.
The Mercury Room. This room originally served as an antechamber (a small room leading to a main one) to the bedroom, but was later used primarily as a game room. Much of the original décor was melted down to finance the war of the League of Augsburg. The room is named for the ceiling painting of Mercury on his chariot.
Mars Drawing Room. This was often used for concerts and ballrooms.
A large painting of Marie Leszczyńska hang on the wall of Mars room. She was a queen consort of France. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII and Charles X.
The Queen’s Bedchamber. This is where the Queen spent most of her time. The queen also gave birth here, in public, to the Princes and Princesses of the Realm. Public meant the doctors, ladies in waiting, the governess of the Princes and Princesses of the Realm, the Princesses of the royal family and a few members of the church were allowed to enter.
Marie Antoinette almost died of suffocation during the birth of their first daughter due to a crowded and unventilated room, but the windows were finally opened to let fresh air in the room in an attempt to revive her. As a result of the horrible experience, Louis XVI banned public viewing, allowing only close family members and a handful of trusted courtiers to witness the birth of the next royal children.
The hidden door beside the bed was what Marie Antoinette used to make her escape from the mob on the night of the 5th October 1789.
Located at the end of the palace, you’ll find several shops. Laduree is a very fancy French bakery famous for their macarons. They also sell other pastries, souvenirs, bags and candles. Another shop I was especially fond of was the Pavillion Dufour shop. Some of the things I bought were a perfume called the Jardin de le Notre by Historiae which is currently my favorite, a gold twisting tea ball and a Marie Antoinette Tea which is composed of rose petals, apples and rose. I loved everything at this store that I had to restrain myself from buying too much.
So before I could spend even more than I should, I decided to go and explore the rest of what this beautiful place has to offer. More of that on my next post.