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Well Preserved Renaissance Royal Palace in France

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The Palace of Versailles (or Château de Versailles) is one of the most spectacular 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. The three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution each added improvements.

In the 1670s Louis XIV built the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen, including the Hall of Mirrors. 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. Versailles has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.




The Palace of Versailles , or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles, the Île-de-France region of France. When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today it is a suburb of Paris, some twenty kilometres southwest of the French capital.

Another royal palace caled The Grand Trianon is located in the royal park at Versailles



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Small scale map showing the location of
Palace of Versailles

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Palace of Versailles

Large scale map showing
Palace of Versailles





Grands appartements

As a result of Le Vau’s enveloppe of Louis XIII’s château, the king and the queen had new apartments in the new addition, known at the time as the château neuf. The grands appartements, which are known respectively as the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine, occupied the main or principal floor of the château neuf. Le Vau’s design for the state apartments closely followed Italian models of the day, as evidenced by the placement of the apartments on the next floor up from the ground level — the piano nobile — a convention the architect borrowed from 16th and 17th century Italian palace design


Grand appartement du roi

Le Vau’s plan called for an enfilade of seven rooms, each dedicated to one of the then known planets and their associated titular Roman deity. Le Vau’s plan was bold as he designed a heliocentric system that centered on the Salon of Apollo. The salon d’Apollon originally was designed as the king’s bedchamber, but served as a throne room. During the reign of Louis XIV (until 1689), a solid silver throne stood on a Persian carpet covered dais on the south wall of this room (Berger, 1986; Dangeau, 1854–1860; Josephson, 1926; 1930; Verlet, 1985).

The original arrangement of the enfilade of rooms was:

  • Salon de Diane (Diana, Roman goddess of the hunt; associated with the Moon)
  • Salon de Mars (Mars, Roman god of war; associated with the planet Mars)
  • Salon de Mercure (Mercury, Roman god of trade, commerce, and the Liberal Arts; associated with the planet Mercury)
  • Salon d’Apollon (Apollo, Roman god of the Fine Arts; associated with the Sun)
  • Salon de Jupiter (Jupiter, Roman god of law and order; associated with the planet Jupiter)
  • Salon de Saturne (Saturn, Roman god of agriculture and harvest; associated with the planet Saturn)
  • Salon de Vénus (Venus, Roman goddess of love and beauty; associated with the planet Venus)


The configuration of the grand appartement du roi conformed to contemporary conventions in palace design . However, owing to Louis XIV’s personal taste and with the apartment’s northern exposure, Louis XIV found the rooms too cold and opted to live in the rooms previously occupied by his father. The grand appartement du roi was reserved for court functions — such as the thrice-weekly appartement evenings given by Louis XIV for members of the court.

The rooms were decorated by Le Brun and demonstrated Italian influences, particularly that of Pietro da Cortona, with whom Le Brun studied while he was in Florence. Le Brun was influenced by the decorative style da Cortona devised for the decoration of the Pitti Palace in Florence, which influenced his style Louis XIV at Versailles.

The quadratura style of the ceilings evoke Pietro Cortona’s Sale dei Planeti at the Pitti, but Le Brun’s decorative schema is more complex (Blunt, 1980; Campbell, 1977). In his 1674 publication about the grand appartement du roi, André Félibien described the scenes depicted in the coves of the ceilings of the rooms as allegories depicting the “heroic actions of the king” (Félibien, 1674). Accordingly, one finds scenes of the exploits of Augustus, Alexander the Great, and Cyrus alluding to the deeds of Louis XIV

. For example, in the salon d’Apollon, the cove painting “Augustus building the port of Misenum”] alludes to the construction of the port at La Rochelle; or, depicted in the south cove of the salon de Mercure is “Ptolemy II Philadelphus in his Library”, which alludes to Ptolemy’s construction of the Great Library of Alexandria and which accordingly serves as an allegory to Louis XIV’s expansion of the Bibliothèque du roi. Complementing the rooms’ decors were pieces of massive silver furniture. Owing to the War of the League of Augsburg, in 1689 Louis XIV ordered all of this silver furniture to be sent to the mint, to be melted down to help defray the cost of the war

Le Vau’s original plan for the grand appartement du roi was short-lived. With the inauguration of the third building campaign, which suppressed the terrace linking the apartments of the king and queen, the salon de Jupiter, the salon de Saturne, and the salon de Vénus for the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, the configuration of the grand appartement du roi was altered. The decorative elements of the salon de Jupiter was removed and reused in the decoration of the salle des gardes de la reine; and elements of the decoration of the first salon de Vénus, which opened onto the terrace, were reused in the salon de Vénus that we see today

From 1678 to the end of Louis XIV’s reign, the grand appartement du roi served as the venue for the king’s thrice-weekly evening receptions, known as les soirées de l’appartement. For these parties, the rooms assumed specific functions:

Salon de Vénus: buffet tables were arranged to display food and drink for the king’s guests.

  • Salon de Diane: served as a billiard room.
  • Salon de Mars: served as a ballroom.
  • Salon de Mercure: served as a gaming (cards) room.
  • Salon d’Apollon: served as a concert or music room.


In the 18th century during the reign of Louis XV, the grand appartement du roi was expanded to include the salon de l’Abondance (Hall of Plenty) — formerly the entry vestibule of the petit appartement du roi — and the salon d'Hercule — occupying the tribune level of the former chapel of the palace (Verlet, 1985).


Forming a parallel enfilade with that of the grand appartement du roi, the grand appartement de la reine served as the residence of three queens of France — Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche, wife of Louis XIV, Marie Leczinska, wife of Louis XV, and Marie-Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI. Louis XIV's granddaughter-in-law, Princess Marie-Adélaïde of Savoy, as duchesse de Bourgogne, occupied these rooms from 1697 (the year of her marriage) to her death in 1712.

When Le Vau’s enveloppe of the château vieux was completed, the grand appartement de la reine came to include a suite of seven enfilade rooms with an arrangement that mirrored almost exactly the grand appartement du roi. The configuration was:

  • Chapel — off the salon de Diane in the grand appartement du roi
  • Salle de gardes — off the salon de Mars in the grand appartement du roi
  • Antichambre — off the salon de Mercure in the grand appartement du roi
  • Chambre — off the salon d’Apollon in the grand appartement du roi
  • Grand cabinet — off the salon de Jupiter in the grand appartement du roi
  • Oratory — off the salon de Saturne in the grand appartement du roi
  • Petit cabinet — off the salon de Vénus in the grand appartement du roi


As with the decoration of the ceiling in the grand appartement du roi, which depicted the heroic actions of Louis XIV as allegories from events taken from the antique past, the decoration of the grand appartement de la reine likewise depicted heroines from the antique past and harmonized with the general theme of a particular room’s decor.

With the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, which began in 1678, the configuration of the grand appartement de la reine changed. The chapel was transformed into the salle des gardes de la reine and it was in this room that the decorations from the salon de Jupiter were reused. The salle des gardes de la reine communicates with a loggia that issues from the escalier de la reine, which formed a parallel pendant (albeit a smaller, though similarly-decorated example) with the escalier des ambassadeurs in the grand appartement du roi. The loggia also provided access to the appartement du roi, the suite of rooms in which Louis XIV lived, and to the apartment of Madame de Maintenon. Toward the end of Louis XIV's reign, the escalier de la reine became the principal entrance to the château, with the escalier des ambassadeurs'' used on rare state occasions. After the demolition of the ''escalier des ambassadeurs'' in 1752, the ''escalier de la reine'' became the main entrance to the château.

From 1682, the ''grand appartement de la reine'' included:

  • Salle des gardes de la reine
  • Antichambre (formerly the salle des gardes)
  • Grand cabinet
  • Chambre de la reine


With the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the court moved to Vincennes and shortly after to Paris. In 1722, Louis XV reinstalled the court at Versailles and began modifications to the château’s interior. Among the most noteworthy of the building projects during Louis XV’s reign, the redecoration of the chamber de la reine must be cited.

To commemorate the birth of Louis in 1729, Louis XV ordered a complete redecoration of the room. Elements of the chamber de la reine as it had been used by Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche and Marie-Adélaïde de Savoie were removed and a new, more modern decor was installed.

During her life at Versailles, Marie Leczinska lived in the grand appartement de la reine, to which she annexed the Salon of Peace to serve as a music room. In 1770, when the Austrian archduchess Maria Antonia married the dauphin, later king Louis XVI, she took up residence in these rooms. Upon Louis XVI’s ascension to the throne in 1774, Marie-Antoinette ordered major redecoration of the grand appartement de la reine. At this time, the queen’s apartment achieved the arrangement that we see today

  • Salle des gardes de la reine — this room remained virtually unchanged by Marie-Antoinette.
  • Antichambre — this room was transformed into the antichambre du grand couvert. It was in this room that the king, queen, and members of the royal family dined in public. Occasionally, this room served as a theater for the château.
  • Grand cabinet — this room was transformed into the salon des nobles. Following the tradition established by her predecessor, Marie-Antoinette would hold formal audiences in this room. When not used for formal audiences, the salon des nobles served as an antechamber to the queen’s bedroom.
  • Chambre de la reine — this room was used as the queen’s bedroom, and was of exceptional splendor. On the night of 6/7 October 1789, Marie-Antoinette fled from the Paris mob by escaping through a private corridor that connected her apartment with that of the king.


The appartement du roi is the suite of rooms in the Palace that served as the living quarters of Louis XIV. Overlooking the cour de marbre, these rooms are situated in the oldest part of the chateau in rooms originally designated for use by the queen in Louis XIII’s chateau. Owing largely to discomfort of the grand appartement du roi and to the construction of the Hall of Mirrors, Louis XIV began to remodel these rooms for his use shortly after the death of Maria Theresa in 1684. The appartement du roi evolved to become the everyday working quarters for Louis XV and Louis XVI. these rooms were used by his successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI for such ceremonies as the lever and the coucher.

Initially, the appartement du roi consisted of a suite of eight rooms that issued from the Queen’s staircase (escalier de la reine). The number would later be reduced to seven after 1701; and in 1755 the number would reduced again to six.

The petit appartement du roi is a suite of rooms that were reserved for the private use of the king. Occupying the site on which rooms were originally arranged for Louis XIII on the first floor of the château, the space was radically modified by Louis XIV. His successors, Louis XV and Louis XVI drastically modified and remodeled these rooms for their personal use.

The petit appartement de la reine is a suite of rooms that were reserved for the personal use of the queen. Originally arranged for the use of the Marie-Thérèse, consort of Louis XIV, the rooms were later modified for use by Marie Leszczyńska and finally for Marie-Antoinette.

The galerie des glaces (Hall of Mirrors in English), is perhaps the most celebrated room in the château of Versailles. Setting for many of the ceremonies of the French Court during the Ancien Régime, the galerie des glaces has also inspired numerous copies and renditions through out the world.

In the evolution of the château of Versailles, there have been five chapels. The current chapel, which was the last major building project of Louis XIV, represents one of the finest examples of French Baroque architecture and ecclesiastical decoration.

L'Opéra was perhaps the most ambitious building project of Louis XV for the château of Versailles. Completed in 1770, the Opéra was inaugurated as part of the wedding festivities of Louis XV's grandson, later Louis XVI, and Marie-Antoinette.

Plan of the Palce of Versailles


View of Versailles from the West


The Hall of Mirrors


The Marble Courtyard


Versailles' chapel is one of the palace's grandest interiors. This is the view as seen from the tribune royale, where the king and members of the royal family heard mass.


The Opera at Versailles



History - Louis XIII & XV


After ownership by the Seigneur de Soisy, then by Martial de Loménie, who was the Secretary of Finances during the reign of Charles IX, the estate was bought by Albert de Gondi, who became Duke of Retz and Marshal of France. Gondi received at Versailles Henry III and his brother-in-law, the King of Navarre, the future Henry IV of France, who liked to hunt on his friend's well-stocked estate. This passion for the hunt, which was passed on to all his descendents, would help shape the destiny of Versailles. The king, in fact, was sometimes accompanied by the young daphin, and it is thus that the future Louis XIII took to this naturally wild place. As king he would often return in the company of friends to hunt.

In 1623, in order not to stay any longer at the local inn, he built on the summit of the hill, where a windmill formerly stood, a lodge constructed of brick and stone which he extended some years later.

During construction of the Lodge, Louis XIII acquired more land and bought the Estate of Versailles from Jean-François de Gondi, archbishop of Paris and Albert's heir.

During the first years of his reign, Louis XIV only rarely visited Versailles; however, once married, he often traveled there with the queen and the court. In 1661 began the construction work that would quickly transform the retreat into an amiable residence appropriate to receive the royal family.

Louis XIII's successor, Louis XIV, had a great interest in Versailles. He settled on the royal hunting lodge at Versailles and over the following decades had it expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world

Beginning in 1661, the architect Louis Le Vau, landscape architect André Le Nôtre, and painter-decorator Charles Le Brun began a detailed renovation and expansion of the château.

Initially, Versailles was planned to be an occasional residence for Louis XIV and was referred to as the "king's house" . Accordingly, much of the early funding for construction came from the king's own purse, funded by revenues received from his appanage as well as revenues from the province of New France (modern Canada), which, while part of France, was a private possession of the king and therefore exempt from the control of the Parliaments. Once Louis XIV embarked on his building campaigns, expenses for Versailles became more of a matter for public record.

To counter the costs of Versailles during the early years of Louis XIV's personal reign, Colbert decided that Versailles should be the "showcase" of France. Accordingly, all materials that went into the construction and decoration of Versailles were manufactured in France. Even the mirrors used in the decoration of the Hall of Mirrors were made in France. While Venice in the 17th century had the monopoly on the manufacture of mirrors, Colbert succeeded in enticing a number of artisans from Venice to make the mirrors for Versailles. Because of Venetian claims on the technology of mirror manufacture, the Venetian government ordered the assassination of the artisans to keep the secrets proprietary to the Venetian Republic. To meet the demands for decorating and furnishing Versailles, Colbert nationalised the tapestry factory owned by the Gobelin family, to become the Manufacture royale des Gobelins

Following the Treaties of Nijmegen in 1678, he began to move the court to Versailles. The court was officially established there on 6 May 1682. By moving his court and government to Versailles, Louis XIV hoped to extract more control of the government from the nobility. By requiring nobles of a certain rank to spend time each year at Versailles, Louis prevented them from developing their own regional power at the expense of his own and kept them from countering his efforts to centralise the French government in an absolute monarchy). The meticulous and strict court etiquette that Louis established, was quickly imitated in other European courts.

The expansion of the château became synonymous with the absolutism of Louis XIV ). In 1661, following the death of Cardinal Mazarin, chief minister of the government, Louis had declared that he would be his own chief minister.

After the disgrace of Nicolas Fouquet in 1661 — Louis claimed the finance minister would not have been able to build his grand château at Vaux-le-Vicomte without having embezzled from the crown

Louis, after the confiscation of Fouquet’s state, employed Le Vau, Le Nôtre, and Le Brun, who all had worked on Vaux-le-Vicomte, for his building campaigns at Versailles and elsewhere.

There were four distinct building campaigns at Versailles, after minor alterations and enlargements had been executed on the château and the gardens in 1662-1663).

The first building campaign (1664–1668) commenced with the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée of 1664, a fête held between 7 and 13 May 1664. The fête was ostensibly given to celebrate the two queens of France — Anne of Austria, the Queen Mother, and Marie-Thérèse, Louis XIV’s wife, but in reality honored the king’s mistress, Louise de La Vallière. The celebration of the Plaisirs de l’Île enchantée is often regarded as a prelude to the War of Devolution, which Louis waged against Spain. The first building campaign (1664–1668) witnessed alterations in the château and gardens in order to accommodate the 600 guests invited to the party

The second building campaign (1669–1672) was inaugurated with the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, which ended the War of Devolution. During this campaign, the château began to assume some of the appearance that it has today. The most important modification of the château was Le Vau’s envelope of Louis XIII’s hunting lodge. The enveloppe — often referred to as the château neuf to distinguish it from the older structure of Louis XIII — enclosed the hunting lodge on the north, west, and south.

The new structure provided new lodgings for the king and members of his family. The main floor — the piano nobile — of the château neuf was given over entirely to two apartments: one for the king, and one for the queen. The Grand appartement du roi occupied the northern part of the château neuf and Grand appartement de la reine occupied the southern part.

The western part of the enveloppe was given over almost entirely to a terrace, which was later enclosed with the construction of the Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces). The ground floor of the northern part of the château neuf was occupied by the appartement des bains, which included a sunken octagonal tub with hot and cold running water. The king’s brother and sister-in-law, the duke and duchesse d’Orléans occupied apartments on the ground floor of the southern part of the château neuf.

The upper story of the château neuf was reserved for private rooms for the king to the north and rooms for the king’s children above the queen’s apartment to the south

Significant to the design and construction of the grands appartements is that the rooms of both apartments are of the same configuration and dimensions — a hitherto unprecedented feature in French palace design. It has been suggested that this parallel configuration was intentional as Louis XIV had intended to establish Marie-Thérèse d’Autriche as queen of Spain, and thus thereby establish a dual monarchy .

Louis XIV’s rationale for the joining of the two kingdoms was seen largely as recompense for Philip IV's failure to pay his daughter Marie-Thérèse’s dowry, which was among the terms of capitulation to which Spain agreed with the promulgation of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, which ended the war between France and Spain that began in 1635 during the Thirty Years’ War. Louis XIV regarded his father-in-law’s act as a breach of the treaty and consequently engaged in the War of Devolution.

Both the grand appartement du roi and the grand appartement de la reine formed a suite of seven enfilade rooms. Each room is dedicated to one of the then known celestial bodies and is personified by the appropriate Greco-Roman deity. The decoration of the rooms, which was conducted under Le Brun's direction depicted the “heroic actions of the king” and were represented in allegorical form by the actions of historical figures from the antique past (Alexander the Great, Augustus, Cyrus, etc.)

With the signing of the Treaty of Nijmegen in 1678, which ended the Dutch War, the third building campaign at Versailles began (1678–1684). Under the direction of the architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the Palace of Versailles acquired much of the look that it has today. In addition to the Hall of Mirrors, Hardouin-Mansart designed the north and south wings, which were used, respectively, by the nobility and Princes of the Blood, and the Orangerie. Le Brun was occupied not only with the interior decoration of the new additions of the palace, but also collaborated with Le Nôtre's in landscaping the palace gardens . As symbol of France’s new prominence as a European super-power, Louis XIV officially installed his court at Versailles in May of 1682.

After the defeat of the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–1697) and under the influence of Madame de Maintenon, Louis XIV undertook his last building campaign at Versailles. The fourth building campaign (1699–1710) concentrated almost exclusively on construction of the royal chapel designed by Hardouin-Mansart and finished by Robert de Cotte and his team of decorative designers. There were also some modifications in the appartement du roi, namely the construction of the Salon de l’Œil de Bœuf and the King’s Bedchamber.

With the completion of the chapel in 1710, virtually all construction at Versailles ceased; building would not be resumed at Versailles until some twenty years later during the reign of Louis XV .

“Le roi gouverne par lui-même” modello for the central panel of the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors ca. 1680 by Charles Le Brun, (1619-1690)


King Louis XIV of France - The Sun King


The Hall of Mirrors


Cieling of the Hall of Mirrors


Salon d'Apollon in the Grand Appartement of the king. The Salon d'Apollon was the thone room during the Ancien Régime.


The Queen's bedchamber. There is a barely discernible 'hidden door' in the corner near the jewel cabinet by Schwerdfeger (1787) through which Marie Antoinette escaped the night of 5/6 October 1789 when the Paris mob stormed Versailles.






Louis XV


After the death of the Louis XIV in 1715, the five-year old king Louis XV, the court, and the Régence government of Philippe d’Orléans returned to Paris.

In May 1717, during his visit to France, the Russian czar Peter the Great stayed at the Grand Trianon. His time at Versailles was used to observe and study the palace and gardens, which he later used as a source of inspiration when he built Peterhof on the Bay of Finland west of Saint Petersburg

During the reign of Louis XV, Versailles underwent transformation, but not on the scale that had been seen during the reign of Louis XIV. When the king and the court returned to Versailles in 1722, the first project was the completion of the Salon d'Hercule, which had been begun during the last years of Louis XIV's reign but was never finished due to the king’s death.

Significant among Louis XV’s contributions to Versailles were the petit appartement du roi; the appartements de Mesdames, the appartement du dauphin, and the appartement de la dauphine on the ground floor; and the two private apartments of Louis XV – petit appartement du roi au deuxième étage (later transformed into the appartement de Madame du Barry) and the petit appartement du roi au troisième étage – on the second and third floors of the palace. The crowning achievements of Louis XV’s reign were the construction of the Opéra and the Petit Trianon.

Equally significant was the destruction of the Escalier des Ambassadeurs (Ambassadors' Stair), the only fitting approach to the State Apartments, which Louis XV undertook to make way for apartments for his daughters.

The gardens remained largely unchanged from the time of Louis XIV; only the completion of the Bassin de Neptune between 1738 and 1741 was the most important legacy Louis XV made to the gardens

Towards the end of his reign, Louis XV, under the advice of Ange-Jacques Gabriel, began to remodel the courtyard façades of the palace. With the objective revetting the entrance of the palace with classical façades, Louis XV began a project that was continued during the reign of Louis XVI, but which did not see completion until the 20th century.


King Louis XVI of France


“View of the château de Versailles as seen from the Place d’Armes, 1722”, ca. 1722, by Pierre-Denis Martin. This was how Versailles looked at the end of Louis XIV’s fourth building campaign.




Louis XVI


Louis XVI’s contributions to Versailles were largely dictated by the unfinished projects left to him by his grandfather. Shortly after his ascension, Louis XVI ordered a complete replanting of the gardens with the intention of transforming the jardins français to an English-style garden, which had become popular during the late 18th century

. In the palace, the library and the salon des jeux in the petit appartement du roi and the decoration of the petit appartement de la reine for Marie-Antoinette are among the finest examples of the style Louis XVI

On 6 October 1789, the royal family had to leave Versailles and to move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris, as a result of the Women's March on Versailles]. During the early years of the French Revolution, preservation of the palace was largely in the hands of the citizens of Versailles.

In October 1790, Louis XVI ordered the palace to be emptied of its furniture, requesting that most be sent to the Tuileries Palace. In response to the order, the mayor of Versailles and the municipal council met to draft a letter to Louis XVI in which they stated that if the furniture was removed, it would certainly precipitate economic ruin on the city. A deputation from Versailles met with the king on 12 October after which Louis XVI rescinded the order.

On 21 June 1791, Louis XVI was arrested at Varennes after which the Assemblée nationale constituante accordingly declared that all possessions of the royal family had been abandoned. To safeguard the palace, the Assemblée nationale constituante ordered the palace of Versailles to be sealed. On 20 October 1792 a letter was read before the National Convention in which Jean-Marie Roland de la Platière, interior minister, proposed that the furnishings of the palace and those of the residences in Versailles that had been abandoned be sold and that the palace be either sold or rented. The sale of furniture transpired at auctions held between 23 August 1793 and 30 nivôse an III (19 January 1795). Only items of particular artistic or intellectual merit were exempt from the sale. These items were consigned to be part of the collection of a museum, which had been planned at the time of the sale of the palace furnishings.

In 1793, Charles-François Delacroix deputy to the Convention and father of the painter Eugène Delacroix proposed that the metal statuary in the gardens of Versailles be confiscated and sent to the foundry to be made into cannon. The proposal was debated but eventually it was tabled. On 28 floréal an II (5 May 1794) the Convention decreed that the château and gardens of Versailles, as well as other former royal residences in the environs, would not be sold but placed under the care of the Republic for the public good. Following this decree, the château became a repository for art work seized from churches and princely homes. As a result of Versailles serving as a repository for confiscated art works, collections were amassed that eventually became part of the proposed museum .

Among the items found at Versailles at this time a collection of natural curiosities that has been assembled by the sieur Fayolle during his voyages in America. The collection was sold to the comte d’Artois and was later confiscated by the state. Fayolle, who had been nominated to the Commission des arts, became guardian of the collection and was later, in June 1794, nominated by the Convention to be the first directeur du Conservatoire du Muséum national de Versailles. The next year, André Dumont the people's representative, became administrator for the department of the Seine-et-Oise. Upon assuming his administrative duties, Dumont was struck with the deplorable state into which the palace and gardens had sunk. He quickly assumed administrative duties of the château and assembled a team of conservators to oversee the various collections of the museum

One of Dumont’s first appointments was that of Huges Lagarde (10 messidor an III (28 June 1795), a wealthy soap merchant from Marseille with strong political connections, as bibliographer of the museum. With the abandonment of the palace, there remained no less than 104 libraries which contained in excess of 200,000 printed volumes and manuscripts. Lagarde, with his political connections and his association with Dumont, became the driving force behind Versailles as a museum at this time. Lagarde was able to assemble a team of curators including sieur Fayolle for natural history and, Louis Jean-Jacques Durameau, the painter responsible for the ceiling painting in the Opéra, was appointed as curator for painting (Fromageot, 1903).

Owing largely to political vicissitudes that occurred in France during the 1790s, Versailles succumbed to further degradations. Mirrors were assigned by the finance ministry for payment of debts of the Republic and draperies, upholstery, and fringes were confiscated and sent to the mint to recoup the gold and silver used in their manufacture. Despite its designation as a museum, Versailles served as an annex to the Hôtel des Invalides pursuant to the decree of 7 frimaire an VIII (28 November 1799), which commandeered part of the palace and which had wounded soldiers being housed in the petit appartement du roi

In 1797, the Muséum national was reorganised and renamed Musée spécial de l’École française (Dutilleux, 1887). The grands appartements were used as galleries in which the morceaux de réception submitted by artists seeking admission to the Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture during the 17th and 18th centuries, the series The Life of Saint Bruno by Eustache Le Sueur and the Life of Marie de Médicis by Peter Paul Rubens were placed on display. The museum, which included the sculptures in the garden, became the finest museum of classic French art that had existed


Engraving of the wedding ceremony of Marie Antoinette and the future Louis XVI,who were married in the chapel on May 16, 1770.

Louis XVI
Marie-Antoinettee by Antoine Lécuye



Post Revolutionary Period


With the advent of Napoléon and the First Empire, the status of Versailles changed. Paintings and art work that had previously been assigned to Muséum national and the Musée spécial de l’École française were systematically dispersed to other locations and eventually the museum was closed. In accordance to provisions of the 1804 Constitution, Versailles was designated as an imperial palace for the department of the Seine-et-Oise.

While Napoléon did not reside in the château, apartments were arranged and decorated for the use of the empress Marie-Louise. The emperor chose to reside at the Grand Trianon. The château continued to serve as an annex of the Hôtel des Invalides.

The Bourbon Restoration saw little activity at Versailles. Areas of the gardens were replanted but no significant restoration and modifications of the interiors were undertaken, despite the fact that Louis XVIII would often visit the palace and walk through the vacant rooms. Charles X chose the Tuileries Palace over Versailles and rarely visited his former home

With the Revolution of 1830 and the establishment of the July Monarchy, the status of Versailles changed. In March 1832, the Loi de la Liste civile was promulgated, which designated Versailles as a crown dependency. Like Napoléon before him, Louis-Philippe chose to live at the Grand Trianon; however, unlike Napoléon, Louis-Philippe did have a grand design for Versailles.

In 1833, Louis-Philippe proposed the establishment of a museum dedicated to “all the glories of France,” which included the Orléans dynasty and the Revolution of 1830 that put Louis-Philippe on the throne of France. For the next decade, under the direction of Eugène-Charles-Frédéric Nepveu and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, the château underwent irreversible alterations (Constans, 1985; 1987; Mauguin, 1937; Verlet, 1985). The museum was officially inaugurated on 10 June 1837 as part of the festivities that surrounded the marriage of the Prince royal, Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans with princess Hélène of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and represented one of the most ambitious and costly undertakings of Louis-Philippe’s reign.Many of the palace’s rooms were taken over to house new collections and the large Galerie des Batailles (Hall of the Battles) was created to display paintings and sculptures depicting milestones battles of French history. The collections display painted, sculpted, drawn and engraved images illustrating events or personalities of the history of France since its inception.

The museum occupies the lateral wings of the Palace. Most of the paintings date back to the 19th century and have been created specially for the museum by major painters of the time such as Delacroix, Horace Vernet or François Gérard but there are also much older artworks which retrace French History. Notably the museum displays works by Philippe de Champaigne, Pierre Mignard, Laurent de La Hyre, Charles Le Brun, Adam Frans van der Meulen, Nicolas de Largillière, Hyacinthe Rigaud, Jean Antoine Houdon, Jean Marc Nattier, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun, Hubert Robert, Thomas Lawrence, Jacques Louis David, Antoine Jean Gros and also Pierre Auguste Renoir.

The aile du Midi, was given over to the galerie des Batailles, which necessitated the demolition of most of the apartments of the Princes of the Blood who lived in this part of the palace during the Ancien Régime. The galerie des Batailles was intended to glorify French military history from the Battle of Tolbiac (traditionally dated 495) to the Battle of Wagram (5–6 July 1809). While a number of the paintings displayed in the galerie des Batailles were of questionable quality, a few masterpieces, such as the Battle of Taillebourg by Eugène Delacroix, were displayed here. Part of the aile du Nord was converted for the Salle des Croisades, a room dedicated to famous knights of the Crusades and decorated with their names and coats of arms. The apartments of the dauphin and the dauphine as well as those of Louis XV’s daughters on the ground floor of the corps de logis were transformed into portrait galleries. In order to accommodate the displays, some of the boiseries were removed and either put into storage or sold. During the Prussian occupation of the palace in 1871, the boiseries in storage were burned as firewood.

During the Second Empire (1852-1870), the museum remained essentially intact. The palace did serve as the backdrop for a number of state events including the visit by Queen Victoria. After the French defeat in the Franco-Prussian War, with the Siege of Paris dragging on, the palace was the main headquarters of the Prussian army from 5 October 1870 until 13 March 1871. On 18 January 1871, Prussian King Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor in the Hall of Mirrors, and the German Empire was founded.

On his appointment as conservator of the museum in 1892, Pierre de Nolhac embarked on a campaign of research, conservation, preservation, and restoration that continues to this day.

After the First World War, the Palacre of Versailles hosted the opening of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. Germany was blamed for causing the First World War in the Treaty of Versailles which was signed in the same room on 28 June 1919.

Rockefeller donations to Versailles made between 1924 and 1936 ensured the preservation of the palace and the Trianons. It would not be until after the Second World War that concerted governmental initiatives directed at preservation and restoration of the palace would be undertaken.

Under the aegis of Gérald van der Kemp, chief conservator of the museum from 1952 to 1980, the museum witnessed some of its most ambitious conservation and restoration projects: new roofing for the galerie des glaces; restoration of the chambre de la reine; restoration of the chambre de Louis XIV; restoration of the Opéra (Lemoine, 1976). At this time, the ground floor of the aile du Nord was converted into a gallery of French history from the 17th century to the 19th century. Additionally, at this time, policy was established in which the French government would seek to acquire as much of original furniture and artwork that had been dispersed at the time of the Revolution of 1789 as possible

The ravages of war and neglect over the centuries left their mark on the palace and its huge park. Modern French governments of the post-World War II era have sought to repair these damages. They have on the whole been successful, but some of the more costly items, such as the vast array of fountains, have yet to be put back completely in service. They were even more extensive in the 18th century.

With the past and continuing restoration and conservation projects at Versailles, the Fifth Republic has promoted the museum as one of France’s foremost tourist attractions. The palace still serves political functions. Heads of state are regaled in the Hall of Mirrors; the Sénat and the Assemblée nationale meet in congress in Versailles to revise or otherwise amend the French Constitution, a tradition that came into effect with the promulgation of the 1875 Constitution.


Louis-Philippe opening the Galerie des Batailles, 10 June 1837 (painted by François-Joseph Heim)


”Proclamation of the German Empire, 18 January 1871”, 1877 by Anton von Werner.


“The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 28 June 1919” by Sir William Orpen, KBE.


Sene from the Film "Marie Antoinette"
set in the Marble Courtyard





Gardens of Versailles


Evolving with the château, the gardens of Versailles represent one of the finest examples of Garden à la française. From the central window of the Hall of Mirrors you can look out on the Water Parterre to the horizon. This view, which preceded the reign of Louis XIV, was developed and prolonged by the gardener André Le Nôtre by widening the Royal Path and digging the Grand Canal. This vast perspective stretches from the façade of the Château de Versailles to the railings of the park.

In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which he considered as important as the Château. Works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete.

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”.

The laying out of the gardens required enormous work. Vast amounts of earth had to be shifted to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal, where previously only woods, grasslands and marshes were. Earth was transported in wheelbarrows, the trees were conveyed by cart from all the provinces of France and thousands of men, sometimes whole regiments, took part in this vast enterprise.

Since 1992, the gardens have been gradually replanted, and after the devastating storm of December 1999, the work speeded up to such an extent that quite a few sections have already been restored to their original appearance.

Two large rectangular pools reflect the sunlight and light up the façade of the Hall of Mirrors. Le Nôtre regarded light as an element of the decor, in the same way as the greenery; their composition balances the masses of shadow and of sunlight.

The two Water Parterres appear to be a prolongation of the façade of the Château. Modified several times, the two ornamental pools received their definitive form only in 1685. The sculptures were designed and directed by Charles Le Brun: each pool is decorated with four reclining statues symbolising the rivers of France: the Loire and the Loiret, the Rhône and the Saône, the Seine and the Marne, the Garonne and the Dordogne; to which are added four nymphs and four groups of children. From 1687 to 1694, the Keller brothers, ironmasters, cast in bronze the models supplied by the sculptors, from Tuby to Coysevox, at the Arsenal of Paris.

The Water Parterres cannot be separated from the two fountains, known as the Animal Combats, completed in 1687, which flanked the large flight of steps leading down to the Latona Fountain. Six allegorical statues formed the decor: Air, Evening, Noon and Daybreak, Spring and Water. They were part of the “great commission” of marble statues made by Colbert in 1674.

The 18th-century waterworks at Marly — the machine de Marly that fed the fountains— was probably the biggest mechanical system of its time. The water came in from afar on monumental stone aqueducts, which have long ago fallen in disrepair or been torn down. Some aqueducts were never completed for want of resources or due to the exigencies of war. The search for sufficient supplies of water was in fact never fully realised even during the apogee of Versailles' glory as the seat of government, as the fountains could not be operated together satisfactorily for any significant periods of time.

The Gardens at Versailles


Gardens at Versailles




Life at court


Before Louis XIV established absolute rule, France lacked central authority and was not the unified state it was to become during subsequent centuries. During the Middle Ages some local nobles had been more powerful than the French King and, although technically loyal to the King, they possessed their own provincial seats of power and government, culturally influential courts and armies loyal to them and not the King, and the right to levy their own taxes on their subjects. Some families were so powerful, they achieved international prominence and contracted marriage alliances with foreign royal houses to further their own political ambitions. Although nominally Kings of France, de facto royal power had at times been limited purely to the region around Paris.

It was part of the function of Versailles to change this state of affairs, building a country out of a number of semi autonomous states.

Versailles became the home of the French nobility and the location of the royal court - thus becoming the center of French government. Louis XIV himself lived there, and symbolically the central room of the long extensive symmetrical range of buildings was the King's Bedchamber (La Chambre du Roi), which itself was centered on the lavish and symbolic state bed, set behind a rich railing not unlike a communion rail. Even the principal axis of the gardens themselves was conceived to radiate from this focus. All the power of France emanated from here: there were government offices here; as well as the homes of thousands of courtiers, their retinues and all the attendant functionaries of court. By requiring that nobles of a certain rank and position spend time each year at Versailles, Louis prevented them from developing their own regional power at the expense of his own, and kept them from countering his efforts to centralise the French government in an absolute monarchy.

Life at Versailles was intrinsically determined by position, favour and above all birth. The Chateau was a sprawling cluster of lodgings for which courtiers vied and manipulated. Today, many people see Versailles as unparalleled in its magnificence and splendor; yet few know of the actual living conditions many of Versailles august residents had to endure. Modern historians have, on more than one occasion, compared the palace to a vast apartment block. Apart from the royal family, the majority of the residents were senior members of the household.

On each floor, living units of varying size, some 350 in all, were arranged along tiled corridors and given a number. Each door had a key, which was to be handed in when the lodging was vacated. Many courtiers would trade lodgings and group together with their allies, families or friends. The Noailles family took over so much of the Southern Wing's attic that the corridor leading to all the lodgings on that floor was nicknamed " Noailles Road" by courtiers of the time.

Rank and status dictated everything in Versailles; not least among that list was one's lodgings. Louis XIV envisaged Versailles as a seat for all the Bourbons, as well as his troublesome nobles. These nobles were, so to say, placed within a "gilded cage" (Duc de Saint-Simon). Luxury and opulence was not always in the description given to their residences. Many nobles had to make do with one or two room apartments; forcing many nobles to buy town-houses in proper Versailles, keeping their palace rooms for changes of clothes or entertaining guests, rarely sleeping there. Rooms at Versailles were immensely useful for an ambitious courtier. They allowed to palace residents easy and constant access to the monarch, essential to their ambitions, and gave them constant access to the latest gossip and news.

The smell at Versailles was said to be "unique out of all the palaces in Europe" (duc Saint-Simon). There were no functioning toilets until 1768. By the time of the French Revolution in 1789 there were only 9, and those belonged to the King and his closest family members. The rest of the palace simply had to live with the constant smell of the privy-chambers clinging to their clothes, apartments and the general atmosphere. Chamber pots were, however banned the practice may have been, constantly emptied out of the nearest window.

Facade facing the Marble Courtyard


Clock in the Marble Court


The Royal Arms of France

The French Royal Standard



Grand Trianon


The Grand Trianon was built in the northwestern part of the Domain of Versailles at the request of Louis XIV, as a retreat for the King and his maîtresse en titre of the time, the marquise de Montespan, and as a place where the King and invited guests could take light meals (collations) away from the strict étiquette of the Court.

The Grand Trianon is set within its own park, which includes the Petit Trianon (the much smaller château built between 1762 and 1768 during the reign of Louis XV).

In 1670, Louis XIV purchased Trianon, a hamlet on the outskirts of Versailles, and commissioned the architect Louis Le Vau to design a porcelain pavilion (Trianon de porcelaine) to be built there.

The façade was made of white and blue Delft-style "porcelain" (ceramic) tiles from the French manufactures of Rouen, Lisieux, Nevers and Saint-Cloud. Construction began in 1670 and was finished in 1672.

By 1687, the fragile ceramic tiles had deteriorated to such a point that Louis XIV ordered the demolition of the pavilion and its replacement with one made of stronger material. Commission of the work was entrusted to the architect Jules Hardouin Mansart. Hardouin-Mansart's new structure was twice the size of the porcelain pavilion, and the material used was red marble of Languedoc

Begun in June 1687, the new construction (as we see it today) was finished in January 1688 and inaugurated by Louis XIV and his secret wife, the marquise de Maintenon, during the summer of 1688.

The Grand Trianon would often play host to the King and his wife. The first set of Grands appartments lasted from 1688 to 1691. The next was from 1691 till 1701; then 1701 till his death at Versailles in 1715.

From 1703 to 1711, the building was the residence of le Grand Dauphin.

The domain was a favourite of the Duchess of Burgundy, the wife of his grandson Louis de France, the parents of Louis XV.

In the later years of Louis XIV's reign, the Trianon was the residence of the King's sister-in-law Elizabeth Charlotte of the Palatinate, Dowager Duchess of Orléans. Her son, Philippe d'Orléans, future son-in-law of Louis XIV and Regent of France, lived there with his mother.

Louis XIV ordered the construction of a larger wing to the Grand Trianon which was begun in 1708 by Mansart; this wing, called Trianon-sous-Bois, housed the Orléans family, including Louis XIV's legitimised daughter Françoise-Marie de Bourbon.

The King's youngest grandson Charles de France and his wife Marie Louise Élisabeth d'Orléans also resided there. The Orléans family, who had apartments at the Palace of Versailles, were later replaced by Françoise-Marie's sister; the Duchess of Bourbon, Madame la Duchesse lived at the Trianon and later built the Palais Bourbon in Paris, the design of the palace being copied on that of the Trianon.

In 1717, Peter the Great of Russia, who was studying the palace and gardens of Versailles, resided at the Grand Trianon; the Grand Palace at Peterhof is copied on Versailles.

Louis XV did not bring any changes to the Grand Trianon. In 1740 and 1743, his father-in-law, Stanislas Leszczynski, former king of Poland stayed there during his visits to Versailles. Later, it was during a stay at Trianon that Louis XV fell ill before being transported to the Palace of Versailles, where he died on 10 May 1774.

No more than his predecessor had, Louis XVI brought no structural modifications to the Grand Trianon. His wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, who preferred the Petit Trianon, gave a few theatrical representations in the galerie des Cotelle, a gallery with paintings by Jean l'Aîné Cotelle representing the bosquets of Versailles and Trianon.[2]

During the French Revolution of 1789, the Grand Trianon was left to neglect. At the time of the First French Empire, Napoleon made it one of his residences, and furnished it in the Empire Style.

Napoleon lived at Trianon with his second wife Marie Louise of Austria.

The next royals to live at Trianon were the King and Queen of the French, Louis Philippe I and his Italian wife Maria Amalia of the Two Sicilies; he was a descendant of the Regent Philippe d'Orléans and she was a niece of Marie Antoinette.

In October 1837 Marie d'Orléans (daughter of Louis Philippe I) married Alexander of Württemberg at Trianon

In 1920, the Grand Trianon hosted the negotiations and signing of the Treaty of Trianon, which left Hungary with less than one-third of its pre-World War I land size. To the Hungarians, the word "Trianon" remains to this day the symbol of one of their worst national disasters.

1963 saw Charles de Gaulle order a renovation of the building.

A popular site for tourists visiting Versailles, it is also one of the French Republic presidential residences used to host foreign officials.


The Grand Trianon in 1700



The Grand Trianon


The Grand Trianon

The Grand Trianon



Film Location For:

Valmont (1989)    with Colin Firth, Annette Bening, Meg Tilly

Quills (2000)    Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Caine

Marie Antoinette (2006)    

Unesco World Heritage Site

Unesco name of World Heritage site: Palace and Park of Versailles (added in 1979)

Justification for Inscription: (listed before it became Unesco practice to cite reasons for listing)

Click here for more UNESCO World Heritage Castles


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