I have chosen a great day to visit the little town of Versailles, just 45 minutes by train from Paris. The sun is shining against a cobalt blue sky and I have come to pay homage to one of the most famous palaces in the world.
As I walk up the wide boulevard, a wondrous sight meets my eyes. There beyond the grand ornate gate stands a magnificent palace; the gilded crowns of its roof catch the sunrays emanating a golden glow on the skyline.
A very long queue of visitors snakes through the massive royal courtyard waiting for their turn to enter the palace. In view of the recent terror attacks in France, it is reassuring that armed soldiers are standing guard nearby, keeping an eye on the crowd. Welcome to Chateau de Versailles, the palace kingdom of King Louis XIV the Sun King, the longest reigning monarch in Europe from 1643 till 1715.
Palace Of Versailles Kingdom Of The Sun King Photo Gallery
All That Glitters Is Gold The splendour of the Palace of Versailles makes the other European palaces look dull in comparison. In the sunlight, it virtually dazzles like a giant mount of gold. The palace is built in an armchair configuration with the main building flanked by two massive wings that embrace the energy of the atmosphere gathering positive chi to the building.
It is further enhanced by the beautiful gardens with many ornate fountains sprouting water, which distributes the yang energy. The palace walls and roof are inundated with golden motifs of royal emblems, while numerous gilded statues stand sentinel on the alcoves of the wall adding to the magnificence of the chateau. It started as a humble hunting lodge of King Louis XIII when he wanted to escape the rigour of court life in Paris to relax and hunt in the forest, teaming with game animals. It was to become one of the most famous palaces in the world and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 30 years.
Mirror Mirror On The Wall
Mirror Mirror On The Wall The most spectacular room in the palace is the central gallery known as the Galerie des Glaces or the Hall of Mirrors, emblazoned with a mind- blowing 357 mirrors. It was built in 1678 to replace a large terrace. It houses 17 mirror-clad arches reflecting 17-arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. Each arch in turn is embedded with 21 mirrors and is built between marble pilasters with the capitals adorned in symbols of France, such as the fleur-de-lys and the Gallic rooster, the unofficial national symbol along with the royal symbol of the sun, the emblem of the Sun King.
The gloriously glittering rooms of gold and mirrors dripping with crystal chandeliers and sumptuously painted ceiling was Louis XIV’s show piece of the political, economic and artistic glory of France during the first 18 years of his reign. Mirrors were exorbitantly expensive luxury items at the time and it was the king’s way of flaunting his wealth. The hall was used as an official diplomatic reception to receive and entertain visiting dignitaries and head of states; royal weddings and lavish balls. It was here that the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 ending the First World War.
Since then it has continued to be used by presidents of the Republic of France to receive official guests. and penchant for fine haute couture set the trend for the sophisticated French epicurean tastes and a flair for fashion as we know today. It would probably take a lifetime to visit each one of the 2,300 rooms in the palace set in 63,154 square metres, but my weary legs and the uncomfortable sheer number of visitors packed into the confines of the showrooms made it impossible to even try. The private chambers of the kings and queens were not particularly lavish, and the bedrooms have surprisingly small beds – perhaps they were small in stature in those days without the curse of unhealthy fast food. But the public rooms are jaw-droppingly stunning, particularly the glitzy Hall of Mirrors.
Garden of Eden of Versailles
The enchanting gardens of the Palace of Versailles are the most visited site in France, attracting 6 million visitors annually. It covers 800 hectares of land surrounded by woodland and landscaped in a classic French Garden style originated in the French Renaissance of the 15th century. It is designed with manicured lawns and avenues of trees, and is famous for its parterres – symmetrical patterns of low shrubs and flowers planted in intricate format that reminds me of an ornate rug, best admired from an elevated position to appreciate their amazing designs.
The parterres are much copied by many gardens in Europe and UK. Paths leading to secret arbours and groves feature grottos and marble statues amidst terraced landscape, while fabulous fountains gush out water in a joyous symphony of aqua fantastic. The grandest fountain and centrepiece is the Latona fountain, depicting Latona, the goddess of motherhood, and her children Apollo and Diana in Greek mythology. There are golden turtles spouting water at the base of the fountain, bringing in wealth and longevity luck as feng shui symbols.
Down the path from the Latona Fountain is the gorgeous Apollo Fountain with his chariot. Nearby is the 1,500-metre long Grand Canal that adds an auspicious touch to the garden. It was constructed for practical reasons as well as for the king’s pleasure for boating with his guests. Beyond the garden wall into public domain is the parkland about 30 minutes walk from the palace. There is a mini train service visitors to the Grand Trianon for a small fee. Louis XIV built the Grand Trianon as a private retreat to avoid the strict court etiquette to entertain selected in a more relaxed atmosphere and to spend intimate time with his favourite mistress Marquise de Montespan. It is quite modest in decoration compared to the palace. Next to it is the Petit Trianon, built by Louis XV for his long-term mistress the Madame de Pompadour. Its intimate setting is more like a country manor set in a peaceful garden.
During the reign of Louis XVI, he gave it to his queen Marie The garden of the Le Petit Trianon the retreat of Marie Antoinette The fabulous parterre gardens of the Palace of Versailles Helen Oon is the author of Globetrotter travel guides to Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. Follow her on her travel blog (Myfacesandplaces.co.uk). Antoinette for her pleasure as a retreat for privacy and to escape formality and royal duties.
The ill-fated Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were the last monarchs to live in Palace of Versailles when they were arrested and incarcerated during the French Revolution in 1789. Their fate was sealed when they were later sent to the guillotine, ending the monarchy of France, and the Republic of France was born. The extravagant lifestyle of the royal family in their opulent palace in Versailles draining the coffers of the nation while ordinary people and the peasants were living in poverty led to the revolution. The spendthrift lifestyle of Marie Antoinette, an Austrian-born princess, made her the main target of hatred and ridicule among the French. Much fake news was spread about her promiscuity and she was supposed to have famously said, “Let them eat cakes,” when told the peasants were starving and asking for bread. But some historians disputed that she ever uttered those words. After the death of Louis XIV, the palace went into decline and neglect for a period of time, but it was gradually restored to its former glory, in no small way thanks to the generous donation by American billionaire John D. Rockfeller in gratitude for the involvement of France in the American War of Independence.
Today, it is a Museum of the History of France spanning over five centuries of history celebrating the glory of the nation. They have added more collections of art and recovered some antiques and furniture that were auctioned off during the French revolution. It is a must-see attraction in France. My last night in Versailles ended with the spectacular Musical Fountain Night Show in the gardens of the palace. It is a splendid display of fireworks as night falls, illuminating the night sky with streaks of colourful lights, forming elaborate patterns highlighting the magic of the garden and the fountains. I join the thousands of visitors watching in awe at the light fantastic. I am sure Louis XIV, the Sun King, aka Louis the Great and the God-Given is smiling with approval from his palace in the sky.