Monday, June 18, 2012

Once Upon a Time in Versailles

Chateau de Versailles
The Chateau of Versailles has five hundred years of history which is now recounted in the new History Gallery that just opened June 14. This is long overdue and extremely welcomed addition to the Versailles' experience. Many visitors come knowing little or nothing about the castle except that it is a splendid royal palace, a "must see" in the bucket list of things to do on a trip to Europe. For first time visitors to Versailles, the chateau can be overwhelming and quite complex.  After all it is comprised of three chateaux -main castle, Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon;  two gardens- that of Versailles and Trianon, and a very large park of some 800 hectares and let's not forget Marie Antoinette's hamlet. In the new History Gallery, visitors can retrace the evolution of Versailles starting when it was a modest hunting lodge used by King Louis XIII to the grandiose palace built by Louis XIV to become the symbol of absolute monarchy.  It was expanded and remodeled many times during the reign of the Sun King and further embellished by his successors Louis XV and Louis XVI to reflect the gilded taste of the 18th century. Versailles ended being the permanent royal residence when in October 5 and 6, 1789 a mob of pick armed Parisians stormed the castle wanting to escort the king and his family back to Paris. During and after the French Revolution , except for a brief time when Napoleon used the castle, Versailles was neglected, abandoned and falling in disrepair. In the later part of the 19th century conservator Nolhar  dedicated 40 years of his professional life to rehabilitating Versailles and rendering it as a living museum that has attracted crowds ever since. Today Versailles attracts 6  million visitors each year from around the globe and thanks to this new History Gallery, Versailles's story will be made more accessible and comprehensible starting from its humble beginnings, to its many archictectural transformations, the major events that took place there, its famous residents and the major contributors who made Versailles, a world masterpiece -- architects and designers- Le Brun, Le Vau, le Notre,  Mansard, and Jacques Ange Gabriel.  This history is illustrated with scale models, 3 D- diplays  and priceless art work from the Versailles collection.

 Here are some critical dates marking the architectural evolution of the Palace of Versailles:

  • 1624-1630 -Versailles is used by Louis XIII as a hunting lodge.  The king who lives in Paris at the  Tuileries likes to escape the rigors of the court and comes hunting in the dense forests the hamlet of  Versailles.
  •  1664-1668 -Louis XIV, is a young men who visits often Versailles for the hunting and to conducts parties or "fetes". He asks, architect Louis Le Vau to build a castle to accommodate his many guests.
Vase du Soleil -Chateau de Versailles
  •  1669-1672-Louis XIV now married to Marie Therese of Spain asks the architect Le Vau to construct an extension at the northern end for the King and an extension at the southern end for the Queen the two sides being connected by a large terrace overlooking the gardens. Each semetrical extension was fitted with an enfilade of 7 rooms sumptuously appointed -- King and Queen Grand Apartments -
            •  1675- after the completion of the new facade, Louis XIV  called on the landscape architect Le Notre to design the gardens.  They consisted in a central parterre in front of the new facade, a  series of ornamental ponds surrounded by strip of lawn and  flower beds, intimate bosquets,  fanciful grottos and a variety of sculptures in groups and single figures which took all together 20 years to complete. 
            •  1682 - Louis XIV installs the royal permanent residence and seat of government in Versailles. More enlargement of the palace took place to house the growing royal family and  some 4000 courtiers. 
            • 1678-1684-the construction of the Hall of Mirrors by architect Hardouin Mansard takes place to replace the terrace that linked the Queen and King Grand apartments which was leaking. The Grand Gallery  as it was called in the 17th century, served daily as a passageway and a waiting and meeting place, frequented by courtiers and the visiting public. It measures 73 meters long and was outfitted with 357 mirrors. It also was used to receive diplomatic dignitaries, stage ceremonial balls and on the occasion of princely weddings like that of Marie Antoinette to the Dauphin, future Louis XVI in 1770. Later it was on 18 January of 1871 that the German Empire was created in the same Hall of Mirrors after the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and in 1919, the Hall of Mirrors was the setting for the signature of the Treaty of Versailles between Germany and the Allies that ended WWI.
            • 1687 -1688 Louis XIV commissioned Jules Hardouin-Mansard to build a castle for his own personal use at the northern end of grand canal--The Grand Trianon. 
            • 1710 saw the completion of the King's Chapel by  Hardouin-Mansart, the last grand project under Louis XIV.  The monarch died in Versailles in 1715.
Petit Trianon-Christian Millet
Chateau de Versailles
  • 1722 - Young Louis XV, successor of the Sun King,  and his court returned to Versailles after a seven year absence. Under his reign he commissioned the creation of small apartments for private use by the royal family that were sumptuously furnished and decorated.
  • 1760 -the Petit Trianon was built by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel for the King as his pleasure retreat and where he installed his mistress Madame de Pompadour.  It was later favored by the Queen Marie Antoinette as her own personal refuge.
  • 1770 -Inauguration of the Royal Opera by  Ange-Jacques Gabriel to be the setting for theatrical performances.  It is here that was held the wedding of the Dauphin and Marie Antoinette in 1770. 
          • 1771-1775 saw the reconstruction of the Gabriel Wing intended to harmonize the facades of the Palace facing the town.  It was partially completed. 
For more information visit the website dedicated to the Versailles History Gallery

No comments: