Versailles, a city renowned for its château, the Palace of Versailles, was the de facto capital of the kingdom of France for over a century, from 1682 to 1789. It is now a wealthy suburb of Paris and remains an important administrative and judicial center. Located in the western suburbs of the French capital, 17.1 km (10.6 mi) from the center of Paris, the commune of Versailles is the préfecture (administrative seat) of the Yvelines department. According to the 2006 census, the population of the city is 89,490 inhabitants, down from a peak of 94,145 in 1975. Versailles is popularly known for numerous treaty's such as Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I.
Château de Versailles
A small hunting lodge in Versailles, originally built for Louis XIII by Philibert Le Roy in 1631-34, was transformed by Louis XIV into the present huge and magnificent palace between 1661 and 1710. First Louis Le Vau (d. 1670) extended the original building by adding two wings on the east side, enclosing the Cour de Marbre. Then Jules Hardouin-Mansart, appointed court architect in 1676, added an additional story to Le Vau's wings and built the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) and the long north and south wings on the garden front. Finally came the two Neo-Classical pavilions flanking the Cour Royale, by Gabriel (18th c.) and Dufour (1820). The whole gigantic building is said to have cost 500million gold francs in addition to the compulsory labor of the peasants, and up to 36,000 men were employed on its construction. Charles Le Brun was responsible for the interior decoration, André Le Nôtre for the landscaping of the park and gardens. When complete the Château accommodated a population of 10,000.
Louis XIV's successors made no major changes or additions to the Château: Louis XV had some rooms decorated in Roccoco style and built the neo-classical Petit Trianon, and the gardens were extended by Louis XV and XVI. For something over a century (1682-1789) Versailles was the residence of the French kings. The principles of absolutism required that the high nobility should be in constant attendance at court, and Versailles - the Château and the park - provided a splendid setting for the display of the absolute power of the French monarchy.
In 1789 the States-General of France were summoned to meet at Versailles, and the third estate (the ordinary people) joined the other two (nobility and clergy) to form a National Assembly. It was the first step on the road to revolution. On October 5-6 Louis XVI was carried off from Versailles and compelled to take up his residence in the Tuileries Palace. Thereafter Versailles lost its former importance. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) Versailles was occupied on September 19 1870 and remained the German headquarters until March 6 1871. On January 18 1871 the German Empire was proclaimed in the Hall of MIrrors. After the First World War the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28 1919, again in the Hall of Mirrors. In June 1978 a bomb attack by Breton separatists caused serious damage to the Château.
Arboretum de Chevrèloup
Originally the location of Louis XV's deer park, this arboretum now houses a wide variety of hardy trees.
Désert de Rez
Between Paris and Versailles, on the edge of the Forest of Marly, is the Désert de Rez, covering an area of some 40 ha/100 ac. As originally laid out in the latter part of the 18th C this park was the realization of a dream by a certain Monsieur de Monville, who desired to create a philosopher's park in which those walking in it would be stimulated to reflections either cheerful or elegiac. He had his architect, Le Rouge, build up low hills, divert streams and plant rare plants and shade-giving trees, and after six years' work he saw his dream realized in 1780. Since then nature has reclaimed its own, but the Désert de Rez is still a jewel among Paris's parks.
Salon de Vénus
The Salon de Vénus at Versailles, like the Salon de Diane, has preserved the austere, cold marble decor of the 1660s. Originally all seven of the Grands Appartements were in this style, which reflected the young Louis XIV's striving for power, glory and a great name to leave to posterity - always with the model of antiquity in mind. This is seen in the marble walls and columns, the statues in the antique style, including one of Louis XIV as a Roman Emperor, and the ceiling paintings with their representations of Titus and Berenice, Anthony and Cleopatra, Jason and Medea, Theseus and Ariadne, Europa and Jupiter, Amphitrite and Poseidon.
(Local Name: Parc de Versailles) The Château and the Park of Versailles form a unity: without the Château the park would lack a focal point and lose its function as an extension of the grand state apartments within the Château, while without the park the Château would seem pent up within itself, with no room to expand into a wider setting. This is borne out by the fact that the plans for the park were completed before the final plans for the Hall of Mirrors and the side wings of the Château had taken shape.
The Park of Versailles, covering an area of more than 800 hectares/2,000 acres, is the finest example of 17th century French landscape gardening. Its creator, André Le Nôtre (1613- 1700), son of a gardener at the Tuileries, had previously worked in the Tuileries Gardens and designed the park at Vaux-le-Vicomte, but Versailles was his masterpiece. The characteristic features of the French gardens of the 17th century, their symmetry and their taming of nature into geometric forms, were in tune with the ideals of the French classical period, which saw in such creations an expression of man's dominance over nature. The relationship between the palace and the park, conceived as a wider area for the display of royal power, is seen here in its fundamental significance: the monumental Château symbolizes the monarch's absolute power over men, while the park reflects his image as the master of nature. This is at its most apparent in the Bassins and the Grand Canal, where artificial means are used to ensure that the water is always still.
In the 18th century, during the reign of Louis XVI, the gardens round the Petit Trianon were laid out in the English style. The contrast between the two styles is very marked: the English-style park was an artificial arrangement of "unspoiled" nature, offering the possibility of acting out "real" rural life in the setting of a miniature village.
The Grand and Petit Trianons, miniature palaces set in gardens, were the only places where the French kings could have any privacy. Elsewhere in the park and in the Château they were subject, like everyone else at court, to the rules of etiquette and ceremony.
The Allée Royale, also known as the Tapis Vert ("Green Carpet"), links the Bassin de Latone and the Bassin d'Apollon along the main longitudinal axis of the park at Versailles.
Bosquet de la Salle de Bal
The figure of Apollo at Versailles on the chariot of the sun (by Jean-Baptiste Tuby, 1670) is an allegorical allusion to Louis XIV, the Sun King.
Bassin de Neptune
The Bassin de Neptune at Versailles is an artificial pool created by Le Nôtre in 1679-84, with sculptured figures (by Adam, Bouchardon and Lemoyne, 1740 onwards) of Neptune with his trident and his wife Amphitrite with a sceptre, flanked by Oceanus on a unicorn and Proteus with sea creatures and plants.
Bosquet des Bains d'Apollon
The romantic setting of the famous Apollo group was a later addition to Versailles. On the northwestern edge of this bosquet is the Ile des Enfants, with a group of children playing (1710) which dates from the time of the aging Louis XIV, who wanted to see "more youth" around him.
Bosquet des Dômes
Of the handsome pavilions in the Bosquet des Dômes in Versailles there remain only foundations, statues and reliefs. In the center of the little wood is a group by Gaspard Marsy, "The Titans".
The Colonnade (1685) at Versailles is a circular arcade of marble Ionic columns designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart as an elegant setting for festivities.
In the time of Louis XIV gilded gondolas presented to the king by the Venetian Republic sailed on the waters of the Grand Canal at Versailles and the Petit Canal at right angles to it.
The Grand Trianon at Versailles was built between 1678 and 1688 for Louis XIV by Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte. Here the king had a private space, free from court etiquette. The little palace has two wings, one for Louis and the other for his favorite Madame de Maintenon. The Grand Trianon, which had fallen into disrepair, was restored by Napoleon. The interior is partly Baroque and partly Empire (furniture).
Faced in pink marble, this garden lies immediately west of the Trianon château on raised terraces.
Hameau de la Reine
An English-style garden was laid out for Marie- Antoinette on the site of Louis XV's botanical garden at Versailles, and in it was built a miniature hamlet, with a farm, a dairy, a mill and a dovecot. In this area too are the Temple de l'Amour (Temple of Love, 1778), the Belvédère (an octagonal pavilion of 1777), the Théâtre de la Reine (1780) and the Pavillon Français (by Jacques-Ange Gabriel, 1750).
Musée des Voitures
The Carriage Museum at Versailles contains a collection of state coaches, sleighs, sedan chairs and harness of the Baroque period.
The Parterres (open terraces) at Versailles extend in front of the stone terrace a few steps higher, on which are four bronze statues of Bacchus, Apollo, Mercury and Silenus and two handsome marble vases with reliefs by Antoine Coysevox depicting the war with Turkey and the peace treaties of Aix- la-Chapelle and Nijmegen.
On the Parterre du Nord are 24 statues, in groups of four, representing cosmic forces - the seasons of the year, the times of day, the elements, the continents, the humors, the genres of literature. On the middle parterre, the Parterre d'Eau, are two pools with 24 bronze figures personifying the rivers of France. The southern part of the Parterre du Midi has sumptuous displays of flowers. Below the Parterres is the Orangery (1684-86), the central gallery of which is 155m/170yds long. Beyond it is the Pièce d'Eau des Suisses, a lake constructed by the royal Swiss Guard. On the Parterre de Latone is a pool with a sculpture group depicting Latona or Leto, Zeus's wife, and her children Diana and Apollo fleeing from the wicked Lycian peasants, whom Zeus punishes by turning them into frogs.
The Petit Trianon at Versailles was built by Jacques-Ange Gabriel in 1763-67 for Louis XV's favorites. Louis XVI later presented it to Marie-Antoinette.
A landscaped garden of romantic nature with wandering paths, bubbling streams and rustic bridges.
It takes about 40 minutes to reach Versailles from Paris.
There are three different train stations in Versailles: Versailles Rive Gauche, Versailles Rive Droite and Versailles Chantiers. Versailles Rive Gauche is the one closest to the Palace (5 minutes by walk), so this is probably the one you want, but you might end up in another station depending on where you come from.
- RER C line, direction Versailles Rive Gauche (train called VICK), get off at Versailles Rive Gauche station. Be careful not to get off at Viroflay Rive Gauche! The name looks somewhat the same, but this is not the same station! Another branch of the RER C, direction Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, stops at Versailles Chantiers.
- Paris Montparnasse: you can take a train to Versailles at Gare Montparnasse, but it will stop at Versailles Chantiers. Versailles Rive Gauche station is only accessible via RER C.
- Paris Saint Lazare: suburban trains stop at Versailles Rive Droite.
both Stations are about a 5 minute walk from the entrance of Versailles
Route 171 travels between Pont de Sèvres (at the end of Métro line 9) to Versailles. The bus journey from the station to the Chateau takes approximately 30 minutes.
It's a nice bike ride from Paris via Bois de Bologne and Parc St Cloud.
The main city is easily traversable on foot, however a good network of buses run throughout. Once inside the palace it's possible to hire both bikes and battery-powered golf carts (see section below).