The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.
The Hall of Mirrors, the King’s Grand Apartments, the Museum of the History of France. The Château de Versailles, the seat of power until 1789, has continued to unfurl its splendour over the course of centuries. At first it was just a humble hunting lodge built by Louis XIII. But Louis XIV chose the site to build the palace we know today, the symbol of royal absolutism and embodiment of classical French art.
In the 1670s Louis XIV built the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen, whose most emblematic achievement is the Hall of Mirrors designed by Mansart, where the king put on his most ostentatious display of royal power in order to impress visitors. The Chapel and Opera were built in the next century under Louis XV.
The château lost its standing as the official seat of power in 1789 but acquired a new role in the 19th century as the Museum of the History of France, which was founded at the behest of Louis-Philippe, who ascended to the throne in 1830. That is when many of the château’s rooms were taken over to house the new collections, which were added to until the early 20th century, tracing milestones in French history.
In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the Château. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But André Le Nôtre did not work alone: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the King’s Buildings, directed the project from 1664 to 1683; Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King in January 1664, produced the drawings for a large number of statues and fountains; and, a little later, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up increasingly understated scenic plans and built the Orangerie. Lastly, the King had all the projects submitted to him and wanted the “details of everything”.
In 1687 Jules Hardouin Mansart built the Grand Trianon, probably the most refined group of buildings anywhere in the domain of Versailles, on the site of the “Porcelain Trianon”, which Louis XIV had had erected in 1670 to escape the pomp and rigid formality of court life with his mistress Madame de Montespan.
From the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s Gardens, passing by the Hamlet, the Estate, opened in 2006, reveals Marie-Antoinette’s private life. Louis XVI’s wife loved this place where she could return to the pleasures of simple, rural pursuits, away from the pomp of Versailles.
Versailles is always under restauration works here or there. But still, they open other part os the chateau so it is very interesting. At the moment, the King’s daughters apartments are open on the ground floor.