Originally a hunting lodge for Louis XIII, King Louis XIV turned it into an opulent palace which then became the French History Museum under Louis-Philippe. The Palace of Versailles is so magnificently monumental that you might need a cheat sheet to properly understand it. You didn’t get this from us...
An iconic feature, the gallery is 73m long and adorned with 357 mirrors. Its ceiling is a celebration of the Sun King’s glory but in reality, at the time of Louis XIV, the Hall of Mirrors was a thoroughfare crossed hurriedly by courtesans and visitors. On rare occasions, Louis XIV received illustrious guests there, like the Doge of Genoa in 1685. For that reception, the hall was specially arranged for showmanship and spectacle: the king sat upon his throne at one end of the hall, while rows of seats were installed for the public. Occasionally, the hall also served as a ballroom, as it did in 1745 for the Yew Tree Ball, with Louis XV in fancy dress disguised as a tree!
The “King’s State Apartments” were the formal residence of Louis XIV, a fact which explains the luxury of the seven adjoining rooms. The final room was dedicated to Apollo and contained the king’s silver throne. The other salons were also used for entertaining: the king and his guests would listen to music and dance in the Mars Room, play billiards in the Diane Room (the king was a masterful player), and sip wines, liqueurs, and refreshments in the appropriately named Hall of Plenty!
The famous garden, designed by André Le Nôtre, is also the world’s biggest open air sculpture museum, home to 221 pieces. Predominantly depicting the great gods and heroes of Greco-Roman mythology, they stand here and there along lanes like the Green Carpet with its 12 statues, in the fountains, and in pools like the famous Dragon Pool that spouts water 27m up in the air! Not to mention the groves which have, for the past 10 years, provided a contrasting display of modern art.
In the 18th century, the Royal Stables employed some 1500 men, and the Coach Gallery found inside is home to Louis-Philippe’s extraordinary collection. The highlight of the collection is the carriage used in the coronation of Charles X, but other “coaches” provide unique insights, like the miniature carriage of the Dauphin, Louis XVI’s son who died at the age of 10. You’ll even get to see the sleighs used in snow races to amuse the court of Versailles.
In the words of its architect, the Grand Trianon is, “A little palace in pink marble and porphyry”. It dates from the reign of Louis XIV, but most of the furniture is from the First Empire period! It is one of the many historical concertina-effects found in this little gem. The Empress' Bedroom, which previously belonged to Louis XIV, contains Louis XVIII’s deathbed. And the “little apartment”, furnished by Louis XV and sometimes home to Napoleon or King Louis-Philippe, was also popular with the king’s favourites, like Madame de Maintenon under Louis XIV and Madame de Pompadour under Louis XV.