The Palace ofVersailles




Now a suburb of Paris, Versailles was a small village when first recorded in 1038, although archaeological digs have revealed Merovingian tombs showing the area has a much longer history. The estate lay on a major trade route built around a castle and church.


When in the 16th century the family of the Lords of Versailles died out the estate passed to a Huguenot family, the new Protestant religion that was spreading through Europe, and growing in France. A civil war lasting for four decades ensued between catholics and protestants, and at its height in 1572 during the St Bartholomew massacre, many thousand protestants were killed at the instigation of Queen Catherine.


The Versailles estate was given to Albert de Gondi, a favourite of Catherine de Medici, possibly because of their Italian ties, both being leading banking families in Florence. During this period the Medici family also provided four popes for the catholic church. Albert de Gondi made the mistake of inviting Louis XIII to several hunting expeditions in the local forests. Louis had a hunting lodge built in the area in 1624, and by 1632 had taken over the estate from the Gondi family, and enlarged the buildings. Louis XIV’s further additions were to make the Chateau de Versailles one of the largest palaces in the world by the time he moved the royal court there in 1682.


Royalty over the centuries have always been keen exotic animal collectors, the Roman circuses, Charlemagne in the 8th century, and various English kings both at Woodstock and the Tower of London, and the Emperor Frederick II in Italy. Louis XIV was no exception, and the construction of his Menagerie began in 1662 in the gardens of Versailles, at the end of the southern arm of the Grand Canal. A central octagonal Pavillion de la Lanterne that overlooked the animal enclosures, a holiday residence of the present President, is the only part not destroyed following the Revolution.


Although the gardens remained largely as Louis XIV had left them, with the exception of the completion of the Bassin de Neptune, Louis XV started to remodel the facades of the palace entrance in classical style.


On the northern arm of the Grand Canal three small palaces have constructed over the years. The Trianon de Porcelaine built between 1669 and 1670, was designed for pleasure between Louis XIV and his mistress, was a blue and white tiled building. Unfortunately neither the mistress nor the building retained their looks and in 1687 was pulled down and replaced by the Grand Trianon.


Constructed in pink Languedoc marble between 1687 and 1689 for the use of the Sun King and his family, the ornate Italianate structure is built with two side wings to the entry courtyard and a cross wing. The building had private gardens and held a theatre, but the theatre was removed by Louis XV and his Mistress, Madam Pompadour, was installed in new apartments.


An avid “gardener,” Louis XV had a “garden shed” called the Petit Trianon built near the Grand Trianon between 1762 and 1768 adjacent to his new botanical gardens. He installed the first true elevator, called the "flying chair," which allowed him access to his mistress’ apartments above. He also had installed a “flying table,” allowing his dining table to be lowered through a hole in the floor to the service area below, so that each course could be put on the table before raising it, to eliminate servants entering the dining room.


Louis XVI did not like the Grand Trianon, and during the Revolution the furnishings were sold off, but Napoleon took to the building and moved his family in, starting a tradition of it housing French leaders to this day. Louis XVI had a complete makeover of the gardens, while his work in the chateau was chiefly limited to completing work already started and redecoration of royal apartments.


However when Louis XVI gave the Petit Trianon to Marie Antoinette she remodelled it and removed the elevator systems, and constructed a private theatre. The extravagances of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette proved too much for the French people and the Revolution followed. The Petit Trianon was given by Napoleon to his mother, although she never resided there.


The last addition by the monarchy to the estate of the Chateau de Versailles was the Pavillion de la Lanterne. A hunting lodge built near the Menagerie in 1787 for the use of the captain of the hunt and governor of Versailles. Constructed as a central block with two wings around a gravel courtyard, it has a stucco façade surmounted by a pediment, and the lantern tower that it takes its name from. Although seized by revolutionaries it was again returned to the monarchy when purchased by Louis XVIII in 1818. In recent times it has housed both Presidents and Prime Ministers.






Versailles Civic Hall


Main Boulevard


Palace Entrance Facade


Western Front


View to the Grand Canal


Fountain of Apollo's Chariot


Colonnaded Grove


Mirror Fountain


Encelade Grove


Neptune Fountain