Paris Day Trips : Versailles Palace

The Chateau
    Visitors to the Chateau have a choice if itineraries, and whether to be guided or not. Apart from the state apartments of the king and queen and the Hall of mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War I, most of the palace can only be viewed by guided tour. Note that you won’t be able to see the whole palace in one day, because tours  of  some of the apartments run concurrently. 
    There are four entrances : Entrance A is
versailles castlefor those who want to visit the Grands Apartments only. Entrance B is for pre-booked groups. Entrance C gives access to Louis XIV apartments, the Dauphin and dauphine’s apartments and the hall of Mirrors and Entrance D organizes various guided tours for individual visitors at varying prices. Places can be booked for guided tours on the same day, but it’s wise to arrive early. Information on which tours will be running is available by ringing the day before.
    The construction of the Château began in 1664 and lasted virtually  until Louis XIV’s death in 1715. It was never meant to be a home. Regarded as a second only to God, and the head of an immens
ely powerful state, Louis XIV was an institution rather than a private individual. His risings and sittings, comings and goings, were minutely regulated and rigidly encased in ceremony. Attendance at these rituals was an honour much sought after by courtiers. Versailles was the headquarters of every arm of the state. More than 20.000 people lived in the palace in a state of unhygienic squalor, according to contemporary accounts.
    Following Louis XIV’s death, the château was abandoned for a few years before being reoccupied by Louis XV in 1722. It remained the residence of the royal family until the revolution of 1789, when the furniture was sold and the pictures dispatched to the Louvre. Thereafter, it fell into ruin and was nearly demolished, until 1837 when Louis-Philippe donated funds to turn it into a museum to the glory of France. In 1871, during the paris Commune, it became the seat of the nationalist government, and the French parliament continued to meet in louis XV’s opera building until 1879. Restoration only began in earnest between the two world wars.

The Park
    The park surrounding the chateau covers four square kilometres. The grounds near the palace are made up of symetrical formal gardens, which ornate fountains and sculptures. The fountains only gush on selected days, (april to mid-oct and sat- July-september), bringing the gardens to life. The rest of the time, the statues on the empty pools loor rather bereft of purpose.
    The park scenery becomes less formal the further you go from the palace and makes a pleasant setting for two lesser outcrops of royal mania : The italianate Grand Trianon, designed by Hardouin-Mansart in 1867v as a “country retreat” for Louis XIV, and the modest Greek Petit Trianon, built by Gabriel in the 1760s for Mme de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress.
    More charming and rustic than either of these, however, is le Hameau de Marie-Antoinette, a play–village and farm built in 1783 for Louis XVI’s queen to indulge the fashionable Rousseau inspired fantasy of returning to nature.
Distances in the park are considerable. If you can’t manage them on foot, a petit train shuttles between the terrace in front of the château and the Trianons horse-drawn calashes also cover the same journey. There are bikes for rent at the Grille de la Reine, Porte St-Antoine and by the grande Canal, and boats for rent on the grande canal, within the park.

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