The Palace of Versailles is the World’s largest Royal domain – space for Royals to stay.
It is located 26 KMs (16 Miles) South-West of Paris, and is a must visit attraction for all tourists visiting the capital of France.
To say that Palace of Versailles history has been chequered, would be an understatement.
Considered to be one of the greatest achievements in French 17th century art, The Palace of Versailles is a World Heritage Site.
Louis XIII, the Sun King’s father set the ball rolling by building a hunting lodge at Versailles.
His son Louis XIV decided to be as extravagant as possible and extended the hunting lodge.
Once the first version of Palace of Versailles was he moved his Court and government there in 1682.
The French Kings ruled from this Palace for around 100 years, before French Revolution happened and all the Royals got kicked out (and some killed).
History of Palace of Versailles
The Palace which is believed to have cost anywhere from 200 to 300 Billion USD to build is perhaps the costliest building ever.
It is spread over 63,154 square meters and contains 2,300 rooms.
There are lots of historical characters who contributed to the glory of the Palace of Versailles.
Continue reading to know more on Palace of Versailles’ history –
In 1607, King Louis XIII came to Versailles on a hunting trip with his father.
He noticed that Versailles was close to Paris, was beautiful and had a lot of game.
He visited this new-found location a few times and then in 1623 decided to build a small hunting lodge at the location so he could spend the night.
The next year the hunting lodge was ready at Versailles.
Expansion of the hunting lodge
King Louis XIII stayed at the hunting lodge for the first time in June 1624.
By 1631, the King had decided that he needed a bigger and better accommodation at Versailles and ordered the expansion.
The three-year-long construction laid the foundations for what we know today as Palace of Versailles.
King Louis XIV finds a liking for Versailles
History suggests King Louis XIV first visited Versailles when he was only 3 years old – too young to remember anything.
In 1651, when he was 13 years old, he visited the Chateau built by his father in Versailles yet again.
He liked his second visit so much that he made many visits to Versailles over the next decade.
In 1661 he announced major additions to the Chateau.
King Louis XIV starts building Palace of Versailles
Additional buildings continued to be added at Versailles until King Louis XIV died in 1715.
Some of the buildings added to what would later be known as Palace of Versailles during these 21 years were –
1. Forecourt in 1662
2. The ‘Le Vau Envelope’ in 1668-1670
3. Pavilions of the Secretaries of State in 1670-1671
4. South Wing in 1679-1681
5. Grand Commun in 1681-1684
6. North Wing in 1685-1689
7. Royal Chapel in 1699-1710
Interestingly, the King himself had donned the role of the architect for this Palace.
Hall of Mirrors is the best room at Versailles Palace
French court and Government moves to Versailles
As the buildings started cropping up, more and more people could now visit Versailles.
Regular parties were conducted at this erstwhile hunting location.
In 1682, Louis XIV moved the main residence of the French Court and government to the newly built Palace of Versailles.
Most Royals, many aristocrats, courtiers, administrators, and servants moved in to become the first occupants of this large Royal residence.
When King Louis XIV died in 1715, he had already spent 100 million Livres on the Palace.
One third of this budget was spent on the Gardens in Versailles Palace.
By this time Palace of Versailles already boasted of a 100 years long history.
Palace of Versailles undergoes a period of neglect
Since King Louis XIV’s son had died of illness, his grandson – Louis XV was announced as the King of France at the tender age of 5.
The court of France decided it was better to move the seat of power to Paris.
This was a bleak period in the history of Palace of Versailles.
It is believed that the during this period, Governor of the estate kept the fountains in working condition by running them once a fortnight.
Love for Palace of Versailles returns
Seven years later – in 1722 – a 12-year-old Louis XV returned to Versailles.
Since he felt uncomfortable in massive rooms, King Louis XV contributed to building a lot of small chambers and private rooms in the Versailles Palace.
He also completed the work on Royal Opera House. It was also during his reign that Mozart played at this Opera house as a child prodigy.
While this King added a lot of buildings to the Palace of Versailles, he didn’t stay there as much as his grandfather did.
Palace of Versailles gets its last King
After Louis XV death, his son Louis, Dauphin of France didn’t become the King. He had a fall out with his father and hence was sidelined.
The dying King had decreed that his grandson Louis XVI should become the next King of France.
In 1770, the new King got married to Archduchess of Austria Marie-Antoinette in 1770 at the Royal Opera House. It was one of the greatest events ever to take place at Versailles.
He continued the legacy of his predecessors by adding on to the Palace of Versailles. Most of his additions were inside the Versailles Palace.
Because of the costly maintenance of Palace of Versailles, and the wars France was fighting, the King didn’t have much money for the people of France.
During this period, there was a lot of anger against the Royals living in Palace of Versailles.
Louis XVI would go on to be the last King to preside over matters from the Palace of Versailles.
Attack on Palace of Versailles changed the history of France
Poverty amongst the French commoners, the high taxes imposed on them and Marie Antoinette’s extravagant expenses were all making the French angry.
5 October 1789 was a defining moment in Palace of Versailles history. Thousands of women started gathering in a marketplace of Paris.
They then ransacked the armory of Paris for weapons and marched towards the Palace of Versailles.
Once at Versailles, the agitators broke down the Golden gate and entered the Palace. After the initial discussions didn’t go far, the agitators compelled the king, his family, and the French Assembly to return with them to Paris.
Eventually, the King and the Queen will be beheaded and their kids dumped in prison.
Thus, ending the 100-yearlong dominance of Palace of Versailles on the history of France.
Palace of Versailles after the French Revolution
Once the Royals were out of the Versailles Palace, many things happened.
The King’s Buildings service saw this as an opportunity to repair some parts of the Palace.
The French Government decided to take the paintings and furniture from the Palace and distribute it amongst the Louvre Palace Museum and Central Museum for the Arts in Paris.
Those that the Museums didn’t want were sold off to the Aristocrats, merchants and other citizens of France. More than 15,000 lots of artifacts from the Palace were sold off in this manner.
Many organizations started using the space in the Palace. For instance, the Comédie-Française took over Marie-Antoinette’s former theatre.
Palace of Versailles in the 19th century
The fortunes of Palace of Versailles didn’t change much in the 19th century.
It continued to be used by various art and theatre groups, different schools etc.
Different parts of the Palace were used as Public Repository, that is a place for storing and sorting all items confiscated by the Government.
However, Palace of Versailles history took a turn for the good soon enough.
When Louis-Philippe became ‘King of the French’ in 1830, he didn’t wait long enough to bring Versailles to its past glory.
In 1833 he announced that the Palace of Versailles will be transformed into a ‘Museum dedicated to the glories of France’.
After four years of hard work, the Museum was inaugurated in 1837.
Now that the Palace was back in the fold, the Royals didn’t shy away from using it.
In fact, Napoleon III received Queen Victoria in Palace of Versailles during her 1855 visit to France.
Over the years, it also became the place where major treaties will be signed and emperors will be announced.
Palace of Versailles as of today
Millions of Euros get poured into the restoration of this historic piece of art every year.
It is one of the most popular National monument of France and attracts more than 10 Million tourists annually.
The Palace is so huge that only a small portion of it is open to the tourists.
The Central part and the North and South wings of the Palace are open for tours. Rest of the Palace rooms host government offices.
So, what if we couldn’t be a part of Palace of Versailles history? There is always the Palace of Versailles tour to look forward to.
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