Sunday, November 11, 2007


The Palace of Versailles

At least twice we have visited the huge and beautiful palace at Versailles. The building and gardens will take more than a day if you want to take in everything.

When it was built, Versailles was a country village, but it is now a suburb of Paris. From 1682, when King Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in 1789, the Court of Versailles was the center of power in the Ancient Régime of France. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy which Louis XIV espoused.

The earliest mention of the village of Versailles is found in a document dated 1038. Of the signatories of the charter was one Hugo de Versailles, hence the name of the village. During this period, the village of Versailles centered on a small castle and church and the area was controlled by a local lord.

There was good expansion under the rule of Louis XIV who took a great interest in Versailles. He had grown up in the disorders of the civil war between rival factions of aristocrats and wanted a site where he could organize and completely control the government of France by absolute personal rule. He settled on the royal hunting lodge at Versailles, and over the following decades had it expanded into the largest palace in the world. Following the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678, the court and French government began to be moved to Versailles. The court was officially established there on 6 May 1682.

With the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the court moved to Vincennes and later to Paris. In 1722, Louis XV reinstalled the court at Versailles and began modifications to the château’s interior.

To commemorate the birth of his only son and heir, Louis-Ferdinand, in 1729, Louis XV ordered a complete redecoration of the room of the chamber de la reine as it had been used by Marie-Thérèse and Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie. At this time, the queen’s apartment achieved the arrangement that we see today.

The palace contains the rarest and most valuable of the artworks in Louis XIV’s collection. Access to these rooms was by personal invitation of Louis XIV, and descriptions of the collections have survived.

The principal feature of this famous gallery is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch contains twenty-one mirrors with a total complement of 357 used in the decoration of the gallery des glaces.

In the 19th century, at the conclusion of the Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian king, William I, was declared German emperor — thus establishing the (second) German Empire — on 18 January 1871 in the Hall of Mirrors. On 28 June 1919, Clemenceau chose the Hall of Mirrors to sign the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I.

Versaille's chapel is one of the palace's grandest interiors. .As the focal point of Louis XIV's fourth (and last) building campaign, the final chapel of the château of Versailles is an unreserved masterpiece. Nevertheless, the magnificent interior has been widely admired to the present day.

Dedicated to Saint Louis, patron saint of the Bourbons, the chapel was consecrated in 1710. During the 18th century, the chapel witnessed many court events. Te Deums were sung to celebrate military victories and the births of children born to the king and queen; marriages were also celebrated in this chapel, such as the wedding of Louis XVI — to Marie-Antoinette in 1770.

Today the chapel, which has been re-consecrated, serves a venue for chamber concerts.
In spite of the excellent acoustics and the opulent setting, the Opéra was not often used during the reign of Louis XVI, largely on grounds of costs. For a single performance to be held in the Opéra, no less than 3,000 candles were required. During Louis XVI’s reign one beeswax candle represented approximately what one peasant earned in one week.

The grounds of Versailles contain one of the largest formal gardens ever created, with extensive parterres, fountains and canals.

Versailles was grand, luxurious, and expensive to maintain. It has been estimated that upkeep and maintenance, including the care and feeding of staff and the royal family, consumed as much as 25 percent of the total income of France. Although at first glance this may seem extraordinarily large, the Palace of Versailles was the center of government as well as the royal residence.

The book, World History: Patterns of Interactions (McDougal Littell/Houghton Mifflin, 2001) places the value at approximately US$2 billion (1994). This valuation is regarded by many as a gross underestimate. If accurate, using today's values for gold (US$600 per ounce, 2006) and silver (US$12 per ounce, 2006), the value of the Versailles estate soars to a staggering US$13-US$300 billion.

Thousands of people regularly pay to visit the palace and view its gardens. It houses souvenir stands and even charged us $1.75 to use the bathrooms. If you have seen the many monuments of Paris, be sure to visit the palace of Versailles. You will remember it always.

Ezra 4:14
“Now because we have maintenance from the king's palace, and it was not meet for us to see the king's dishonor….”

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