The Palace of Versailles was just so very! The culture, history and politics of France are woven right into this palace; from the glorious gardens, the extravagant Royal Apartments, to its famous Hall of Mirrors. There are centuries of historical moments and various incarnations of the Palace of Versailles, each one intriguing in its own right.
This is where the legendary Marie-Antoinette resided, held gallant events, and played a peasant inside her little hamlet built at Versailles. The Palace has also been an art school, a history museum, and a government venue. It was once occupied the German Army’s general staff during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, with parts of the chateau and the Gallery of Mirrors used as a military hospital. The Palace of Versailles has witnessed opulent years, as well as days of abandonment- if only walls could talk.
Early Years and Construction – The Palace of Versailles and its century long construction swirled around power and politics, extravagance and prestige. There were stops and starts due to wars being fought, and the lack of money to complete the Palace. It was also the time of arrogance and ignoring the plight of the peasant French people. At times the poor were not able to afford bread, and lived in atrocious conditions, which eventually lead to the French Revolution.
Construction of the Palace began in 1661, with a concentration on its parks and gardens. Prior to the Palace’s construction, the land was used as hunting grounds for Louis XIV, which already had a château that was built by his father, Louis XIII. The château was abandoned for a decade after Louis XIII death. Queen Anne became Louis XIV’s regent, and brought court back to Paris. Once Louis XIV came to power and reformed his government to exclude his mother and princes of the blood, he ordered the expansion of his father’s château into the Palace of Versailles.
Construction of the Palace was slow, and was largely completed by the death of Louis XIV in 1715. There were several wars that halted the construction- The Franco Dutch War, The Nine Years War, War of the Spanish Succession, the War of Austrian Succession, and the Seven Years War; all happening until the 18th century. These wars combined with political crisis, and poor harvests had depleted funds for the expansion of the Palace, and so it was constructed in parts.
The Palace of Versailles is considered a French architectural visual history from the 1630s until the 1780’s. The edifice was inspired by Renaissance-era Italian villas with Neoclassical additions in the 1770s, after its Bourbon Restoration. Not only is the Palace of Versailles an extraordinary part of European architectural history, it was significant as the center of power, art and science in France during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The palace and park were designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1979, and the French Ministry of Culture has placed the palace and gardens on its list of culturally significant monuments.
Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution – Marie Antoinette was the most infamous resident at the Palace of Versailles, and her era was the end to France’s opulent royalty reign. At the age of fifteen, Marie Antoinette – Princess of Austria, came to French court to be married to the Dauphin Louis, heir to the throne. When she became Queen, Marie Antoinette found French customs difficult to adapt to, and often unwittingly, created unrepairable mistakes that tarnished her image disastrously.
The Queen was accused to have emptied the royal coffers and the French people’s pockets with her lavish entertaining, gambling debts, and extravagant fashionable wardrobe. The stories of her spending were often exaggerated and the public’s opinion of her was hatred. She was nicknamed “The Austrian”, and the Queen became the target of caricatures, pamphlets and libels.
When the French Revolution erupted in Paris, her ambiguous attitude, and response did not help matters. Both King and Queen remained isolated inside the Palace, when they learned of the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789. Several months later, a crowd of several thousands took weapons from the city armory, besieged the Palace, and compelled the royal family and members of the National Assembly to return to Paris. Once the royal family departed the Palace was closed.
Marie Antoinette was executed on October 16, 1793, at what is now the Place de la Concorde in Paris.
Later Years of the Palace of Versailles – After the Royal family left the Palace, the new revolutionary government during the French Revolution ordered all artwork from the Palace to be sent to the Louvre. In 1973 a declaration was made to abolish the monarchy, and all royal property to be sold at auction. Most recently with the renovation of the Palace, and it being a tourist site, many of the original furnishings are being purchased back, which has been an expensive endeavor.
After the revolution and in the later centuries the Palace had many uses, and none with its original purpose as the home for the French royal family. Since the maintenance cost was extreme, the Palace became a storehouse for confiscated royal art and furnishings, a French art museum, and an art school was opened inside several of the empty rooms. Tourism started in 1793, a couple of decades after Marie Antoinette was executed.
As early as 1892 and after the World Wars, the Palace began seeing major restoration efforts . Several individuals including poet and scholar, Pierre de Nolhac, and American philanthropist and multi-millionaire, John D. Rockefeller, donated money and time to the preservation of the Palace.
Today, Palace of Versailles is owned by the French state, and has been run as a Public Establishment since 1995. It is one of the most popular attractions in the world with 15,000,000 visitors annually. The Palace of Versailles, although only lived in by the French Royal family for less than two centuries, is one of our world’s most intriguing and extraordinary treasures.
For visitor information, please visit – The Palace of Versailles
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