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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Visiting Versailles

Of all the rooms in Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors is undoubtedly most
impressive, famous, and historic. Surprise: It was once an open terrace.
In thinking back about our recent week in Paris, the greatest disappointment I have is that I did not schedule an all-day excursion when visiting the Palace of Versailles. Having come that far, I spent no more than about three hours touring what some would call the most impressive palace in all Europe. Having visited Catherine's Palace and the Peterhof Palace just outside St. Petersburg, I'm not so sure I'd rate Versailles quite that high even though both the Russian temples of Romanov extravagance were designed and built emulating Louis XIV's somewhat larger overindulgence in the Paris suburbs. In reminiscing about what I saw and what I missed, I'm not going to get involved in the planning, style, construction, or colorful history of the place. That I did some three years ago. Just click on the link above.

Versailles' golden fence, glistening in the sun. The chapel is just behind the statue.
Interior of the chapel.
Our tour group of about eight entered the palace grounds through a gate at the end of Rue des Reservoirs near the Chapel of St. Louis. This gate would appear to be a minor side entrance to the grand entry plaza or Minister's Court. I felt almost as if we were "sneaking" onto the grounds. If first impressions count for much, I was stunned by the gilded gate and fence around the place. I remember the gates to the Russian palaces being more colorful and ornate, but not appearing quite so blatantly ostentatious. Our first stop was, in fact, the chapel, a moderate-size, four-story, Baroque affair with a frescoed, barrel ceiling. With it's glistening white Corinthian columns, it seemed more classical than Baroque. Strangely, the floor of the chapel is one level below the base of the columns (left). I was especially taken by the gold leaf altar (below, right). I can't recall any of its kind quite so lavish other than that of St. Peter's in Rome.

Copyright, Jim Lane
The original hunting retreat is highlighted in red while the royal apartments extend east to create a "U" shape forming the Royal Court. The chapel and the royal opera can be seen anchoring each end of the north wing.
The chapel altar would not be out
of place in many cathedrals.
The official, main entrance to the original hunting lodge/palace is accessed from an inner Royal Court facing east toward the community of Versailles which grew up around the royal retreat during the 17th and 18th centuries (above). From the chapel, we move across a narrow courtyard to a relatively recent wing with a grand staircase leading to the royal apartments on the second floor. There we passed through a number of lavishly decorated bedrooms and drawing rooms used by VIP guests, eventually coming to the King's bedchamber (below, left), a huge, ostentatiously decorated room in red, white, and gold, its massive bed centered upon a stage-like platform with a broad railing and gate. The king actually conducted official business as he was being bathed and dressed. Those waiting to be received remained on the opposite side of the railing. There's even a massive stage curtain that could be tied back to reveal the sleeping area once the King was up and about (eight a.m. each morning).

The King's bedchamber.
The Queen's bedchamber
On the opposite side of this main core structure was the queen's bedchamber (below, right, that of Marie Antoinette). It's no less lavish, and roughly the same size, though not quite as "official." The queen's décor was lighter and brighter, favoring shades of blue and gold, considered to be more feminine in nature. Connecting these two august chambers, as well as other ancillary rooms, was nothing less that the massive "Hall of Mirrors" (top). I lost track of how many different bedchambers I passed through in progressing around the "U". Two more can be seen below.

The Burgundy Room?

Yes, the bed is sterling silver.
There was also a media room, the Royal Opera (below), as well as additional apartments for younger members of the royal family. Large as the royal quarters were, they and public rooms used for dining and entertaining actually occupied less then one-fourth the 721,182 square feet of floor space (67,000 square meters). The rest was occupied by various governmental offices, a representative meeting hall, and living quarters housing the important officials of the court and their families. Stretching for more than a quarter mile, at it's broadest point, the palace grew to its current size over a period of about one-hundred years as the size of the French government mushroomed to the point the economy could no longer afford such opulence. And if the palace itself was horrendously extravagant, the surroundings, the Gardens of Versailles were no less so (though I had little more time than to snap a bad picture of them from the overlooking terrace).
The Royal Opera, situated at the northern end of the north wing.
The stage was as big as the seating area.
Zeus. That's not the length of the palace
in the background, that's its width.


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