10 facts about the Palace of Versailles

DISCOVERING THE HISTORY BEHIND VERSAILLES

It was once the envied French royal residence.  It took 36,000 workers and 50 years to build the Palace of Versailles. Now, the awe-inspiring estate has become one of France’s historical landmarks visited by millions of people from all around the world. But unbeknownst to many, the Palace of Versailles never started out as an extravagant palace.

Dating back to the 17thcentury, the Palace of Versailles echoes elegance and history and has undergone many transformations.  Here are 10 facts about the history of the Palace of Versailles.

1. It was originally a hunting lodge

In 1607 a young Louis, soon-to-be King Louis XIII, accompanied his father, King Henri IV on a hunting trip.  Enamored by the natural forestry and wildlife, he returned on his own, years later after he took the throne. Perfectly situated between Paris and his main residence at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, he recognized the expansive land’s potential and, in 1623, set out to build his very own hunting lodge. Surrounded by woods that were rich with pheasants, boars and stags, he became fonder of it by the day, eventually spending more time there than at his residence.

2. A residence fit for a King

Since preferring to spend most of his time there, King Louis XIII renovated his humble hunting lodge in 1631, transforming it into a small palace used as a royal getaway. When he passed soon after, his young son took the throne at only four years old. The young King Louis XIV later moved the aristocracy to Versailles in 1682, and it became his primary residence and the foundation of what would become the Palace of Versailles as we know it today.  Also known as ‘The Sun King’ due to his emblem of Apollo, he built the property on an east-west axis to follow the rising sun.

3. The Hall of Mirrors is its pride and joy

Now known as the Sun King, King Louis XIV spared no expense and in 1684, the now famous Galerie des Glaces, better known as the Hall of Mirrors was complete.  357 handcrafted mirrors adorned the more than 200 feet long passage.  Crafted by Venice’s master glassmakers, its placement was carefully designed to reflect the natural light from the large windows onto the room’s marble walls, crystal chandeliers, gilded mouldings and painted ceiling.

4. Marie Antoinette pretended to be a peasant

Along came King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and the Palace of Versailles was to enter its most lavish transformation yet.  While King Louis XVI threw himself into the estate’s opulent gardens, his queen longed to escape her royal life.  Seeking a simpler life equalled to that of a peasant, she ordered the construction of a cluster of cottages fondly referred to as The Queen’s Hamlet. Removed from her regular gilded quarters, she frequently retreated to her rustic cottages that lay nestled between streams and ponds, pretending to be a peasant.

5. The French Revolution marked the end

Outraged by the royals’ disregard for their poverty-stricken subjects, a mob of angry women stormed the Palace of Versailles on October 5, 1789 and forced the royal family to leave.  This act of rebellion was the catalyst for the now infamous French Revolution. Fearing for their lives, the king, his queen and their children left their palace and it was never lived in again.

6. The National Mall was inspired by Versailles

In 1791 George Washington commissioned the French-American architect, Pierre Charles L’Enfant to design a “Federal City” of the United States of America.  The architect suggested a design that almost perfectly resembled the garden of Versailles as is quite obviously seen in the long walkway leading up to the building we now know as The National Mall.

7. Versailles became a museum in 1833

Astoundingly the Palace of Versailles survived the French Revolution regardless of the fact that, for the most part, its art and furniture had been sold off or sent to museums all around the world.  Enduring a wave of uproar post the revolution, it was eventually decided to convert the palace into a museum in 1837.  Serving as a means to honour France’s history throughout the monarchy’s reign, it was restored to its former glory at the end of the 19thcentury.  Continuing on today, it marks the significant events in French history.

8. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site

Almost three hundred and fifty years later, in 1979, the Palace of Versailles was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Having housed several French kings from Louis XIV to Louis XVI, designed and embellished by several generations of decorators, sculptors, architects and landscapers, it is seen as the perfect example of a royal residence. To this very day it serves as the epitome of royal residences across the world.

9. It’s the second most visited monument in France

Each year more than 3 million people flock to the Palace of Versailles to take in its splendour.  More popular than the Eiffel Tower and second to the world-famous Louvre, this monument has become the crowning glory of France and all it had to endure to where it is today.

10. It holds more than a few secrets

With its staggering 2,300 rooms spread cross 75,532 square yards (equal to about 15 1/2 football fields) it conceals more than a few secrets.  Hidden between its walls are mysterious chambers, hushed apartments and secret undiscovered passages; used by King Louis XIV to sneak his several mistresses in and out of the palace.

There you have it.  10 facts about the Palace of Versailles.

Click on the two video links below to learn more about the Palace of Versailles by taking a virtual tour or, visit it and explore it in the flesh!

Video 1:  Explore inside The Palace of Versailles

Video 2: Explore the Gardens of Versailles

Video 3: A Historical overview

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