The Palace at Versailles was one of the world's great palaces, both for its beauty and its history. Peace treaties were signed there. It's walls were decorated with many of France's greatest and noblest battles. Kings and Emporers called it home. And, its mere presence was so immense and overwhelming that the visitors felt as though walking upon sacred ground. It may have been a folly, a big-budget disaster when it was constructed, but somehow France would not be the same without it.
The drive to Versailles from Paris was beautiful. We passed by a number of affluent towns and patches of lovely countryside. The palace grounds were surrounded by an imposing fence, inside which lay a courtyard so flat and immense that it left one feeling dwarfed. Much like Germany's Herrenchiemsee that it inspired, Versailles is U-shaped with two massive wings. The first photograph, taken in the very early morning, shows the front of the palace taken from the center of this courtyard at the statue of Louis XIV (second photograph). That statue was life-sized, with the king looking down at me in disdain. I supposed it took a bit of noble attitude to live in such a huge and ornate place.
The Palace tour was spectacular. The tour guides were very knowledgeable about the contents of the rooms and their significance. It was helpful that our tour was done in English. We were permitted photographs only in certain areas, as the aging paintings would be damaged by the flash. For example, we were allowed pictures in its chapels, such as the one shown in the third photograph, but not in the royal apartment or other living areas where old paintings were mounted on the walls. Each room was an art museum in its own right, as the photograph of the chapel suggested. From the gilded altar to the white columns to the incredible artwork in the ceilings and walls, the whole chapel made my jaw drop. The paintings within the rooms were largely depictions of historical events related to the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and his successors. One of my favorite paintings told the story of Napoleon's coronation, when he snatched the crown from the hands of the Pope and placed it upon his own head as a way of exerting his own authority outside that of the Church.
There was nothing plain anywhere in the building. Even the stairwells were extraordinary. It was in a stairwell where I encountered the sculpture of Napoleon III, shown in the fourth photograph.
I found the 'west wing' of Versailles to be my favorite part. The fifth photograph shows a view of the great Hall of Battles. The room seemed about as large as an airplane hangar, though I exaggerate slightly. The gray columns shown were among several sets of such columns with white busts of famous Frenchmen and women. The room was called the Hall of Battles because the walls contained massive paintings of significant military battles fought by the French in their history. As a note of historical interest, one of the battles depicted in this hall was the famous Battle of Yorktown, where in 1781 the American colonists forced the surrender of British forces in Virginia signalling the end of British rule. As it turns out, the battle was just as important to the French as it was to the Americans due to the bitter rivalry that existed between the European powers.
Because I went there in January, the gardens were closed, which was a shame. Versailles has a massive garden in the back, which we were able to see from the windows. Naturally, the environs outside the palace grounds were loaded with tourist trappings -- particularly places to eat and souvenir shops laden with all sorts of French royal and imperial trinkets.
Versailles was nothing short of extraordinary. Everything about it was big, bold, and beautiful.When traveling to Paris, be sure to reserve a day to head out to the country, and see one of the most spectacular palaces you will ever see!
Trip taken 13 January 2001 -- Page Last Updated 28 September 2006 -- (C) 2001 Tom Galvin