4 founding kings of the identity of Chateau de Versailles
The story begins in Versailles, 2 hours away from Paris on horseback, in the summer of 1607. Louis XIII, then a boy, shares the same passion as his father Henry IV for hunting. This passion takes him to an isolated village, filled with swamps, looking like a small medieval village: Versailles.
Seemingly unwelcoming, the little boy nonetheless takes a liking to it. Future discreet and melancholy king, he enjoys leaving the frenzy of Paris and taking refuge in this place surrounded by forests.
In 1623, Louis XIII is 20 years old, yet he is a single king. He's not interested in hype & gold. Women scarcely attract his attention, to the extent that when he decides to build a hunting lodge in Versailles (only 4 rooms, 1 gallery and some outbuildings), he didn't allow women to enter. And for good reason, he declares that "Too many women would spoil everything". He’d rather hunt, visit plantations, or play chess games by the fireside.
Then comes Louis XIV, who will turn this little castle into a leisure castle like the greatest fairy tales.
A MAGNIFICENT CASTLE TO MAKE HISTORY
Louis XIV loves power, greatness, flashy, and above all, he wants to leave a legacy.
He will establish in Versailles very early to escape the revolt - the revolt of the nobles and the people against the ruling power. Then, following the death of his father Louis XIII, he inherited the hunting lodge and its land.
It was at his early twenties that he began to gather the best artists of the time to turn the little property of Versailles into a real place of festivities and leisure. Among these artists, there is André Le Nôtre, landscaper, whose contribution to the gardens of Versailles was significant.
By working with these artists, Louis XIV wants to come to a grandiose place. And to achieve this goal, the motivations of the king were not the slightest:
- The Adultery: Unlike his father, he loves women, especially his mistress, Louise de La Vallière. But the relationship is difficult to handle in Paris, the capital is narrow. Versailles and its gardens offer more possibilities for hidden bonds
- The potential of the place: behind the unfriendly nature, hides a place with a lot of potential, and Louis knows it. He wants to transform the little wooden squares that his father created into a gigantic French styled garden, surrounding his castle. And his gardens will remain his little weakness, to the extent that he rules the visits by himself, and write a guide "The way to show the gardens in Versailles"
- The legacy: Man of power, nothing is good enough, big enough for him as he wants to mark History. He belongs to the Bourbon dynasty, and none of them has yet built a castle. He could be the first ... and thus leave his mark
His desire to make history will turn him into a stubborn man, always looking to go further, to challenge the limitations of what has been done.
Versailles, place of all excesses!
Since he became king in an early age, he will leverage a long ruling period to make Versailles a castle in his own image. Within 50 years, he will transform the estate into a real party place, worthy of all the greatest overeating and will keep big-picturing his project:
- The parties can last up to 2 days, like the one for his mistress Louise de la Vallière. It is a sequence of staging all the most beautiful from each other that took place: there were caves with water games, a menagerie with many animals and a canal filled with boats, from the gondola to the luxurious frigate
- He changed his order with the architect Le Vau, because he henceforth wants to house the entire courtyard at the castle. The latter will have to be gigantic, and with a breathtaking design. For this, he will one more time send for the greatest artists in France and Europe and will strip them of sculptures and Roman antiquity bronzes to fill his castle
Then his dream comes true, Versailles, symbol of his power, becomes the castle of all records:
- 13 hectares of roof (and 11 hectares on the ground)
- 2,300 pieces (of which 1,000 are now in museums)
- 352 fireplaces
- 67 stairs
- 2,143 windows
- 63,154 m² of total area (of which today 23,072 m² open to visitors)
Far away from the hunting lodge at the time of his father Louis XIII, the castle gradually fits the personality of his majesty Louis XIV, man of good taste and passionate art lover.
A NEW PLACE OF RESIDENCE, BUT STILL MONUMENTAL CHANGES TO ACHIEVE
We arrive in 1682, and though the castle is not completely successful, it is however, totally changed. The gilding shine, the castle is set to host the king and his court: Versailles becomes royal residence. While leaving the Louvre and its capital, Louis XIV appoints a new architect: Mansart.
It is therefore, a new architectural era that opens for Versailles. A terrace must be filled in, because of sealing issues. It will turn into a gallery because Mansart has a revolutionary idea: he wanted to cover the walls with mirrors that will reflect the gardens. Louis XIV liked the idea and creates a factory (still active today): Saint-Gobain. It is no less than 350 mouth-blown mirrors in France that emerged. And their size is huge, unseen until then. We are witnessing the birth of the Hall of Mirrors, and with it, French styled Luxury.
But Louis XIV is aging, and after a reign of 72 years, he died in 1715. His son Louis XV, aged 5, inherits from Versailles.
VERSAILLES: WHAT’S NEXT?
In the early years, the golden age of Versailles seems to be out of date. Cultural and social life is happening again in the capital, forgoing Versailles, its castle and gardens.
The return to the castle will occur during the adolescence of King Louis XV: he rediscovers Versailles, marvels before it's gardens, contemplates the mirror gallery. The magic of the place resurfaces, and life comes back. Louis XV and his son Louis XVI will add their personality to the place, embellishing it alternately. More discreet than Louis XIV, they will settle private apartments more intimate, more comfortable.
But the royal presence at the castle is cut off by the French Revolution. We are in 1789, and King Louis XVI must leave Versailles. It is a myth, a century of royal life in Versailles that turns off.
A page of history is turned, but the marks remains, that (so expected) of King Louis XIV.
NEW DIRECTIONS FOR CHÂTEAU DE VERSAILLES FROM THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
Although this royal era is definitely over, the Château de Versailles has lost none of its grandeur. Deputies and Senators Meetings still take place there, in order to review the French constitution, and the cinema settled down there in 1953 to realize the movie “Royal Affairs in Versailles”.
More recently, official and diplomatic receptions were held at the castle and thousands of visitors from all over the world enter the majestic castle courtyard every day. Ranked for more than 30 years at the World Heritage of Humanity, visitors browse the different rooms, the French gardens and the museum enriched with many collections.
VISITS OF VERSAILLES: PRACTICAL INFORMATION
How to get there?
Of course, transport has diversified since the time of Kings. And although you can still come on horseback if you wish, you now have other faster modes of transport:
- RER C: it arrives at the station of “Versailles Château Rive Gauche”, that is to say at 10 min walk from the castle.
- SNCF trains, with 2 possible departure stations from Paris intra-muros: "Paris Montparnasse" Station (the arrival is at the station "Versailles Chantiers", 18 minutes’ walk from the castle) AND " Saint-Lazare Station "(arrival is at Versailles Rive Droite train station, 17 min walk from the castle)
=> Whether you come by RER or train, you can find the schedules that suit you on the Transilien website
- “Versailles Express” shuttle: transfers from the Eiffel Tower, bookable from the website
- Bus 171 of the RATP: its departure is at Pont de Sèvres, that is to say at the terminus of the metro line 9. It drops directly to the Chateau de Versailles in 30 minutes if it enjoys good traffic on the road. More information on the RATP website.
- Car: The A13 motorway serves the Château de Versailles, leaving at exit No. 5 “Versailles Center”. The signs then indicate the way to the castle. You can also enter the GPS coordinates, namely: 48 ° 48'17N and 2 ° 07'15E. To park, you can benefit from paid parking around the Castle. A map of the car parks will allow you to better locate them
And once on field?
Entrance to the castle and more generally to the Domain is performed by purchasing an entrance ticket. You then have two options: buy it locally or online. If you want to avoid long queues, I highly recommend buying it online.
Different types of tickets are available; some including events such as:
- "Les Grandes Eaux Musicales", "Les Jardins Musicaux" or "Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes": these shows located in the gardens dazzle your eyes and drive you back to some centuries earlier, with the music of Lully
- Operas, concerts, theaters, ballets, contemporary art: Versailles will always keep its artistic mark thanks to the shows performed in the footsteps of artists such as Mozart, Berlioz or Molière
Want to know everything? download the app!
To be even more propped up on the Château de Versailles, the must is to download the application of official visit of the Château de Versailles. Free and usable offline, it will help you:
- To prepare your visit according to the affluence and the agenda of the day
- To directly access the ticket office
- To listen to the audio guide
- To browse the interactive map of the estate
- To geolocate on the map
- Etc ...
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