Opulent. Extravagant. Magnificent. In awe of the place, you may be prompted to use such superlatives to describe Chateau de Versailles, the colossal palace found in the Ile-de-France region some twenty kilometers southwest of Paris. And yes, the horrific end to Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI’s life at the guillotine will serve as a stark reminder of this palace too.
Sources tell us that the chateau, originally King Louis XIII‘s modest hunting lodge built in 1623, was subsequently transformed by a slew of architects and designers (notable of whom was Jules Hardouin-Mansart) at the command of the King’s son, Louis Quatorze, who had wished to have a palace of his own after the likeness of the Palais du Louvre and Saint-Germain castle, only more resplendent. Thus, in 1682, the “Sun King” and his royal court moved residence from Paris to Versailles, making the once leafy and quiet suburb the new center of influence. In 1789, the royal family moved back to Paris, and the Chateau de Versailles was converted into a museum of French history by King Louis-Philippe. Additions, such as Marie-Antoinette’s Petit Trianon had subsequently been made to the original structure, which now form part of the tour that will excite tourists.
From the Champs de Mars/Tour Eiffel metro station, tourists, making sure that their Paris Visite pass includes zone 5, should take the RER line C5. The actual palace is quite a walk from the SNCF Versailles station, the cobbled path not making the walk any easier, but the spectacle recognizably the Chateau de Versailles will be worth the effort from just a glimpse of the chateau at the approach. Golden trimmings of the palatial structure catch the morning sun, illuminating further its splendor and exuberance. The imposing structure proudly announces “A toutes les gloires de la France” and indeed, such splendor is an affirmation of “all of France’s glories”.
Guided speaking tours in French and English are available at the entrance, but if you are like us, the audio guide (conducted in French, Spanish and English) that goes along with the entrance fee (EUR 13,50—2009 prices) will more than suffice for a personal, if rambling, tour. The chateau overwhelms with its “over 2,000 windows, 700 rooms, over 1,200 fireplaces, 67 staircases” as well as a gallery that stretches 120 meters! But except for the apartments named after Greek gods and goddesses, of whom Louis XIV was fond, imagining himself Apollo, the god of the arts, peace and sun, (thus the appellation “Sun King”), the other rooms that number to the hundreds proved to be vexatious and tiring for worn-out us.
A most impressive hall is of course the Galerie des Glaces, or the Hall of Mirrors, historic for its being the site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles that put an end to World War II. The Royal Chapel with its high dome and baroque details of the ceiling and the apartments, and the Battle gallery complete the spectacular tableaux of grand designs and grander passions, making the Chateau de Versailles the most visited chateau of all chateaux in France!