Palace of Versailles

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Versailles Palace and Park
UNESCO world heritage UNESCO World Heritage Emblem

Vue aérienne du domaine de Versailles par ToucanWings - Creative Commons By Sa 3.0 - 073.jpg
Versailles Palace, garden facade, aerial view towards the city (2013)
National territory: FranceFrance France
Type: Culture
Criteria : (i) (ii) (vi)
Surface: 1.07 ha
Buffer zone: 9.467 hectares
Reference No .: 83bis
UNESCO region : Europe and North America
History of enrollment
Enrollment: 1979  ( session 3 )
Extension: 2007
Versailles Palace, Marble Court ( Cour de Marbre ) and Royal Court ( Cour Royale ), 2012
Versailles Palace, aerial view of the Marble Court and Royal Court (2014). The king's bedroom has been located behind the three central arched windows since 1701, behind that in the background the Apollo Basin and the Great Canal
Versailles Palace, garden facade, the Corps de Logis. The hall of mirrors is located behind the arched windows on the middle floor
View over the south ground floor to the Corps de Logis

The Palace of Versailles ( French château de Versailles ) in the neighboring city of Paris with the same name is one of the largest palaces in Europe and was the main residence of the kings of France from the middle of the 17th century until the outbreak of the French Revolution . The baroque building , the largest extension of which is more than half a kilometer, is considered a highlight of European palace architecture and served as a model for numerous other palace buildings from the 17th to the 19th centuries .

Originally designed by Philibert Le Roy as a hunting lodge for King Ludwig XIII. built, the complex was rebuilt and expanded in several phases from 1661 under Louis XIV by Louis Le Vau , François II d'Orbay , Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Robert de Cotte . The interior was designed by Charles Lebrun , the famous gardens are by André Le Nôtre . During its time as a residence, the palace was almost continuously inhabited by a court of several thousand people and was the cultural and political center of France.

The castle has been used as a museum since the 19th century. It is open to visitors today, as are the extensive gardens and the three other pleasure palaces in the park, Grand Trianon , Petit Trianon and Hameau de la Reine . While the central building with the state halls of the 17th and 18th centuries can be seen in its original form, the large side wings house the Museum of the History of France, which was established in the 19th century . In 1979, Versailles Palace was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List .

The castle building

The construction

The origin: a small hunting lodge

The town of Versailles , just outside the capital Paris was first documented in 1038. The root of the word -  versare , ie dig up, turn around - still allows its original meaning to be recognized and refers to the small farming village and its fields that once lay here. In the 17th century there was a dilapidated small castle and a mill in the village of Versailles. Most of the land and property belonged to the resident Gondi family, a smaller part was in royal possession. Louis XIII, who often visited the game-rich area of ​​the Galie on hunting trips, occasionally spent the night in the medieval Versailles palace and even in the mill.

The castle around 1668, view of the city-facing side with the marble courtyard shortly before the cladding was built

In 1623 the king had a small hunting lodge built in place of the mill, in which he stayed for the first time in 1624. This residence, sometimes mocked as a card lock , was so small that it did not even contain rooms for the queen. François de Bassompierre described the hunting lodge as “a poor castle that not even a simple nobleman would be envious of” . After the king acquired Gondi lands in Versailles, he had the building expanded from 1631 to 1634 by Philibert Le Roy into a three-winged hunting lodge. The dilapidated old castle was later demolished. The new Versailles Palace, surrounded by a moat, built of brick and structured with sandstone elements, was built in the style of the early French Baroque . This hunting lodge forms the core of the complex to this day, it encloses the marble courtyard , the last and smallest of the three courtyards that are in front of the city side of the palace. After the death of Louis XIII. the building passed to his son and successor Louis XIV as part of the inheritance. The young king resided after his takeover in 1661 regularly in Versailles, the first of him primarily as a pleasure palace served and summer residence and in which he sent a message to large farm festivals.

Finance Minister Nicolas Fouquet probably provided the decisive impetus for the expansion of the palace . With Vaux-le-Vicomte, he had a sensational castle built, which not only had a lasting impact on the art of the courtly Baroque in France, but also aroused the wrath of the king. Louis XIV suspected that Fouquet financed the splendor to a large extent with grabs into the state treasury. He accused his minister of infidelity and had him arrested. The total work of art created in Vaux, made up of architectural architecture and garden art, confirmed the king's plan to build a contemporary residence . He consulted Fouquet's architects and artists and finally commissioned them to expand his father's small castle.

The garden facade of the Corps de Logis with the sheathing . Instead of the mirror gallery, there is a terrace here, the windows do not yet have any arched ends, the north and south wings are still completely missing. Painting from 1675

Expansion into a residential palace

Contrary to the advice of Finance Minister Colberts , who recommended a new building for reasons of cost and prestige, Louis XIV refused to give up the old hunting lodge for the Versailles residence and so the building that later encompasses the marble courtyard was rebuilt over time and in several sections Integrated new building. The king even wrote in his memoirs that even if the old castle had to be demolished, he would have had it rebuilt exactly as it was. After initial minor renovations from 1661, the Peace of Aachen of 1668 marked the beginning of the first expansion of the palace. The U-shaped central structure of Louis XIII., The core of today's Corps de Logis , received 1668-1671 by Le Vau the envelope . It was a structural, so-called sheathing of the old castle with two new, outer wings. The southern wings of the mantle housed the queen's parade rooms , the northern that of the king. Instead of the later mirror gallery , this building had a large terrace over the garden-facing arcades on the ground floor.

In 1677 the king announced that Versailles would be the future seat of government. The associated expansion of the palace began in the wake of the Peace of Nijmegen , the move of the court took place from 5 May 1682. From 1678 to 1684 the terrace of the Corps de Logis, together with the its adjacent salons through was Jules Hardouin-Mansart parent and rebuilt and installed the mirror gallery, as well as the salons of war and peace. The originally horizontal window closings on the first floor were replaced by arched windows, which corresponded with the mirrors of the large gallery. With these construction measures, the garden facade of the main building got its present form.

The various construction phases of the castle with a map of the largest rooms

In order to create space for the court, work on the south wing and from 1685 on the north wing began at the same time as the expansion of the corps de logis. Mansart also advocated raising the castle by another floor in order to get more living space, which the king refused for unknown reasons. Both wing structures consist of two long building blocks erected parallel to each other, one on the garden side and one on the city side. These are connected with each other several times by transverse structures and thus contain a number of smaller atria. The south wing was largely completed in 1684, the north wing, started later, five years later. However, work on its wing on the city side was stopped due to the costs of the Palatinate War of Succession and construction was not completed until the 19th century. For the construction of the north wing, the Thetis grotto, a fountain house from 1664 decorated with statues, had to be demolished. The sculptures exhibited there are now partly in the so-called bosket of the Apollo bath in the park of the castle. The castle chapel, completed in 1710 by Robert de Cotte and accessed through the north wing, rises on the site of the Thetis grotto .

The wings of the Versailles Palace and its outbuildings are grouped around three courtyards located in an axis, which together form a largely contiguous area and lead from the center of the palace towards the city. The starting point is the small marble courtyard (Cour de Marbre) of the converted hunting lodge, followed by the royal court (Cour Royale) surrounded by the extension wings of the Corps de Logis and finally the large square of the ministerial court (Cour des Ministres) with the free-standing ministerial wings. Since Versailles was not only a royal residence but also a seat of government, these buildings created space for the court officials. Opposite the courtyards on the city side are the small and large stables , extensive buildings for the horses and the vehicle fleet of the royal family. To the east, bounded by the south wing of the palace and the south ministerial wing, there is also the four-wing Grand Commun , a solitary commercial building from 1682 which contained the palace kitchens and servants' apartments for over 1,000 court employees.

After the court moved in 1682, at times over 22,000 people worked at and in Versailles; according to a contemporary, the number of workers in 1685 even reached 36,000. At the end of the 18th century, Versailles was largely completed in its current dimensions; the garden facade is 570 meters wide.

Stylistic classification

Panorama of the facades facing the city.
General view of the garden facades, from left to right the north wing, the corps de logis and the south wing
The facade of the marble courtyard served as a stylistic model for the city side of the palace (April 2011)

The exterior of the castle is in two different styles, which also give a contrary impression through the different addition of the individual structures. The city facades consist of numerous individual buildings, so that the observer only realizes on closer inspection that they all together form a large, coherent building. The facades of the palace follow the older style of the original hunting lodge around the marble courtyard and still correspond to the early French Baroque. They are made of red brick, which is structured with sandstone elements, the structures have visible mansard roofs .

Detailed view of the garden facade designed in the classicist Baroque style

The garden facades of the castle are designed in the style of the classicist baroque typical of France and thus go back to the specifications of Le Vau's sheathing . Horizontal lines dominate the building and portals that protrude like risalits loosen up the strict sandstone facades. The final balustrade on the upper floor is decorated with stone vases and trophies and hides flat roofs behind it. The garden facade combines the parts of the building into a large block, the width of which is increased by the horizontal structure.

The different architectural styles of the castle, the majestic, monotonous garden and the more detailed city facades aroused not only admiration but also criticism. Versailles stands in complete contrast to the other baroque castles in France, which are mostly not only smaller but also, like Vaux-le-Vicomte or Maisons-Laffitte , built in a pavilion system. In art history, especially the garden facades are indeed often called, also described overwhelming in its effect as monotonous, Colbert called the castle a "man with big arms and a thick head." The Duke Saint-Simon described the contrast of architectural styles as "beautiful and ugly things that have been sewn together ”and about the flat roof hidden behind the parapet he wrote “ you think you are seeing a burned-down palace that lacks the upper floor and the roof. ” The chapel was ridiculed as a giant catafalque and Voltaire described it as an “ astonishing one Frippery " .

View through the courtyards to the facades facing the city. On the left the Dufour wing, in the middle the buildings around the marble courtyard, on the right the Gabriel wing, on the edge of the picture the chapel

At the time of Louis XV. a redesign of the city side in the style of classicism, called grand dessin , was considered. The old facades there should be built over with stone, similar to the garden facades . A dome was also planned over the main building . Ange-Jacques Gabriel was in charge of this project . Ultimately, however, for financial reasons, from 1771 only the renovation of a dilapidated, urban-facing wing, which has been called the Gabriel Wing since that time . The pavilion of the opposite building, the Dufour wing , was only adapted around 1820 and the symmetry of the courtyard facade was restored almost half a century after the renovation work began. The parts of the building facing parallel still bear different facade styles today. Plans submitted by Étienne-Louis Boullée in 1780 for a complete redesign of the palace in line with revolutionary architecture were not implemented.

The interior of the castle

Video: Living at the Palace of Versailles
The Salon de Vénus in the Grand Apartment du Roi , 1660s – 1670s

The corps de logis with the integrated old castle contained the living quarters of the king in the north and those of the queen in the south, as well as the apartments of the royal children and mistresses , as well as the official state halls. The large side wings and the outbuildings of the palace were intended to accommodate the court . The garden-side wing of the south wing was also known as the prince's wing because it contained the living quarters of the princes of the blood . The city-side wing of the south wing and the garden-side north wing served the courtiers , i.e. the other courtiers, as living space. Depending on their status and rank, some of the castle residents were given several rooms, large apartments with living and study rooms, dressing rooms and kitchens, or only small, sometimes not even heatable chambers that could only be used for short stays. In 1789 the castle contained 288 apartments, 1,252 heatable rooms and 600 rooms without a fireplace. The royal family lived in a further 152 rooms.

Floor plan of the 1st floor of the Corps de Logis since the 19th century. The most important rooms are the mirror hall (1), the royal bedroom (2nd), the war hall (3rd), the peace hall (4th), the queen's bedroom (5th), the ox-eye hall (6th), the Hercules salon (7.) and the castle chapel (8.)

Over the centuries, changes and modifications were made to the interior of the castle. Liselotte von der Pfalz reported in one of her letters about the palace: “There is no part that has not been changed ten times.” Not only have the halls and salons been redecorated in line with changing tastes (the wall coverings in many rooms were mobile and were hung with different fabrics and motifs in summer and winter), but entire apartments were changed, doors moved and rooms rearranged. For example, the bedroom of Louis XIV, which was originally mirror-inverted to that of Queen Maria Theresa , "wandered" southwards after her death until it found its place behind the mirror gallery in the center of the palace and facing the rising sun. The once famous ambassador's staircase was replaced by a new suite of rooms for Louis XV. The apartments in the north and south wings fell victim to the renovation work into a museum and the installation of the large exhibition rooms in the 19th century .

The interiors

Of the original 200 apartments in the castle, only the rooms in the Corps de Logis have been preserved or reconstructed. These are mainly the state apartments of the king and queen, their respective private cabinets and a few other apartments of various family members. Today none of the apartments of the court in the large side wings exist.

Inner cabinet of the king, with the famous desk of Louis XV.

The state halls of the Ancien Régimes still come from the heavy style of the Louis quatorze and - apart from the furniture - were hardly changed by the successors of the Sun King. Under Louis XV. and his family there was a limited invasion of privacy, which found expression in the more intimate Louis-quinze-style apartments . Last significant changes took place under Louis XVI. and his wife Marie Antoinette, who had some of their rooms redesigned in the Louis-seize style. The originally rich furnishings of the castle included, in addition to the wall-mounted decorations and ceiling decorations, several thousand pieces of furniture, candlesticks, chandeliers and other handicrafts. The individual parts, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, went back to the workshops of André-Charles Boulle , Georges Jacob and Johann Heinrich Riesener . During the revolution, the furniture was partly lost through looting, but above all through a large auction between 1793 and 1794; at that time over 17,000 pieces were offered in the sales catalogs. In the 19th century, after the castle had been converted into a museum, parts of the original furnishings could be bought back. The missing furniture was supplemented by new works in the style of the Empire , among others by François Jacob-Desmalter .

The most important rooms in the palace include the ox-eye room (Salon Oeil de boeuf) , which serves as the king’s anteroom and is named after two large, round windows , the Hercules salon , which replaced the former chapel, and the queen’s bedroom in the south wing of the corps de logis . The most important rooms within the everyday life of the court, however, were the hall of mirrors and the adjoining bedroom of the king, as well as the palace chapel and, as its mundane counterpart, the court opera, which was the last building built under the ancien régime.

The mirror gallery and the royal bedroom

The mirror gallery, view towards the Friedenssaal

The entire width of the central building of the palace is on the first floor of the suite of the almost 75 meters long and more than 10 meters wide Versailles mirror gallery ( Galerie des Glaces , also Galerie de Louis XIV., Hall of Mirrors ) and the neighboring salons of the war and taken of peace. The salons were once the passages to the royal living quarters, with the war hall dedicated to the king and the peace hall to the queen. The hall of mirrors connected the apartments of the royal couple and made an overwhelming impression with its 30 stucco ceiling paintings that glorify the king , a total of 357 mirror surfaces and marble pilasters . The size and design of the seventeen large mirrors correspond to the arched windows facing the garden facade. They optically bring the park into the interior of the room and reflect both the incident light during the day and the candlelight in the evening. The entire length of the hall is spanned by a vault located in the attic floor visible in the facade .

The king's bed in the castle's central bedroom

The mirror gallery was also used as a ballroom, but it served mainly as a kind of covered promenade , where people lingered to show their presence at court and where one hoped to attract the king's attention. Since it was not allowed to address the king directly, one had to hope for his affection or the advocacy of a person of higher rank. The dimensions of the hall of mirrors were intentionally large enough that the ruler could ignore unpleasant supplicants in passing or show his affection to others through a conversation.

In the middle of the hall are the transitions to the middle bedroom. Once there was a drawing room that formed the connection between the king and queen's apartments. With the death of Maria Theresa, this division of the room suites had become meaningless, and so a dressing room was set up there and then in 1701 the sumptuous bedroom of Louis XIV. This is the place of the famous ceremonies of the lever and the couch , the getting up and going to sleep of the king, who spent the night here, in the center of the castle, as it were the center of his realm. Louis XIV died in this room on September 1, 1715.

The palace chapel and the opera house

The castle chapel, view from the gallery into the church

Before the palace received today's Versailles Palace Chapel on the north wing, the church hall was housed in changing rooms, including the later Hercules Salon. Jules Hardouin-Mansart originally planned a domed chapel in the middle of the north wing, but these plans were abandoned. The financial means for a separate church building within the palace complex were only available after the Peace of Rijswijk . Mansart began construction in 1699, but could not complete it due to his death in 1708, the contract was taken over by Robert de Cotte . The chapel dedicated to Saint Ludwig is two-story and 25 meters high. The upper floor was reserved for the king and the royal family, while the courtyard was on the lower level. In its shape, it creates a connection between the medieval Gothic and the Baroque church. Three frescoes by different painters depict the themes of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church organ was built in 1711 by Robert Clicquot and was reconstructed in 1995 using 2% original material. The wedding ceremony of Louis XVI took place in the chapel. and Marie Antoinettes.

At the time of the Sun King, the palace did not yet have a permanent theater hall. Shows and singing games were performed in different rooms, depending on their size, and mobile stands could be set up for actors and musicians. The modern opera house at the far end of the north wing is one of the last great construction of the ancien régime, it was for the wedding of Marie Antoinette to the future Louis XVI. built. The opera hall was used for banquets , musical plays and theater performances . The theater, made entirely of wood for reasons of acoustics , for 712 spectators was set up by Ange-Jacques Gabriel in the north wing from 1769 to 1770. The stage depth and height is 21 meters, with a portal width of around seven meters. The royal box is hidden in the lower tier and not highlighted by a balcony to Louis XV. to allow people to come and go unseen. This is a reference to the more private ceremonial among the Sun King's successors.

Symbolism and costs

Emblem of the Sun King with Apollo's head, sun rays and scepter with French lily on the royal lattice of Versailles (June 22, 2014)

In addition to the obvious display of luxury and wealth, the castle also served as a more subtle display of the glory and power of royalty. The state rooms and halls laid out under Louis XIV glorify the Sun King. The decoration of the stucco and the themes of the paintings are tailored to his economic and political successes and announce his campaigns and victories. Roman and Greek mythology also played a major role , with the motifs of which the upper classes of society in the 17th and 18th centuries were familiar. Mythology was used as a parable and Louis XIV was repeatedly portrayed as the god Apollo , which made numerous interpretations possible for court society. The portrayal of the ancient god of sun and light also gave Louis XIV the aura of a mystical, supreme being, without at the same time coming into contradiction with the church - because equating the rank of king with the Christian god was also in the absolutist, but a still Catholic France impossible and would have been a sacrilege . The comparison with Apollo, however, confirmed his reputation as the Sun King.

Although the French budget provided for immense expenditure on the palace, money in Versailles was always tight and the construction phases could only be advanced in the peacetime between the wars of reunion . After Louis XIV had started the War of the Palatinate Succession , in 1689 he even had to sell and melt down the famous silver furniture of the Spiegelgalerie in order to cover the war expenses. Many planned construction projects, such as the renovation of the city facades described above, could not be tackled for reasons of cost. Almost all orders were put out to tender, estimates were strictly adhered to and the army was called in for construction work in times of peace. The Sun King himself said: "... I would always prefer everything that is as beautiful as possible and costs little". What seemed an incredible luxury to most viewers was actually built as cheaply as possible, with the result that the chimneys often didn't pull, the windows didn't close properly and life there was very uncomfortable in winter.

Between 1661 and 1663, more than 1,500,000 livres had been spent on the castle. The first building of Louis XIII. had consumed a total of just 300,000 livres, of which 213,000 were used on the castle and a further 82,000 were needed for the gardens. In the period from 1664 to 1688, an average of one million livres was built into Versailles every year. In the 1680s, the French state budget had a budget of around 110 million livres, of which Ludwig received 15 million for his construction activities after the Peace of Nijmegen . By the time the Sun King died, 300 million livres are said to have flowed into the Versailles palaces, the park, the furnishings and maintenance. Fifty to sixty million for the furniture alone and two million for building the Eure Canal . The body pension for workers who died in accidents, on the other hand, is modest and their families received an average of 40 to 100 livres as a survivor's pension.

The outside area

The gardens

Overall plan of the castle and park, Delagrive, 1746. The castle is in the right third of the picture, above the cross-shaped canal is the domain of Trianon
Versailles, garden facade with the roof of the palace chapel and Parterre d'Eau at sunset, August 14, 2010.

The gardens look out over those designed by Jacques Boyceau de la Barauderie for Louis XIII. created Petit Parc back. In their current extent, they were largely created in three sections from 1662 to 1667, 1668 to 1677 and 1678 to 1689 by André Le Nôtre . The palace park is divided into three areas typical of all baroque gardens : the parterres close to the palace , the adjacent bosquette and the distant hunting forest. The area of ​​the Parterre , the Boskette and the great canal is still called Petit Parc today, while the forest area of ​​several thousand hectares was originally called Grand Parc . The main axis, taken from the example of Vaux-le-Vicomte, structures the gardens and leads from the city through the castle, through the garden and the great canal to the far distance. The park was adorned with more than 75,000 pruned trees and saplings, many of which were from the Vaux-le-Vicomtes tree nurseries and were part of Fouquet's confiscated property. Significantly, the park remained largely unchanged in its baroque structure until the end of the Ancien Régime . The remodeling of many European palace gardens, influenced by English models in the 18th century, only affected the Versailles gardens on a small scale in the so-called Queen's Bosquette , in the Bosquett of the Apollo Baths and in the more private area of ​​the Trianon Palaces. At the time of Louis XVI. Parts of the park were redesigned and the Boskette was reforested. Large areas were cleared and replanted for this purpose, and a similar replanting was carried out in the 1990s.

Broderien on the southern ground floor
Northern ground floor towards the pyramid . At the bottom the Bassin de Neptune

The transition from the palace to the garden area is formed by the parterres , which allow a view of the building through their low planting and repeat the motifs of the building decoration through their ornamental design. In front of the north and south wings of the castle are magnificent broderie parterres , the parterre du Nord and the parterre du Midi , which are decorated with ornamental flower plants, numerous ostentatious vases and statues. In front of the Corps de Logis there are two large water basins, which are known as the Parterre d'Eau . The halls of the palace interior are repeated in the open air in the fifteen bosquets. Here, horticultural means have been used to set up salons between hedges and trees, which have also been decorated with sculptures, fountains and artistically trimmed plants . Among the most famous garden architectures in France there is the circular colonnade designed by Mansart, decorated with dozens of fountains , and the Salle de Bal (the ballroom), famous at the time for the great labyrinth of Versailles .

Louis XIV in the garden of the Palace of Versailles, view from the Apollo Fountain to the Great Canal

The center of the Petit Parcs is formed by the Latona fountain made up of several steps , from there the Königliche Allee with the so-called green carpet leads towards the Apollo fountain , from which the sun god rises and symbolically rises in the direction of the king. Behind this basin begins the cruciform Grand Canal , which visually extends the park into the distance and at the same time drains the swampy terrain. At the time of the Ancien Régime , Venetian gondolas and Italian gondoliers drove on the water , for which a small residential area called Petit Venise , Little Venice, was specially created. Even a replica of a warship was anchored there. There was a large menagerie on the southern arm of the canal, where Louis XIV kept an African elephant from 1668 to 1681 , which was a diplomatic gift from Portugal.

The Latona Fountain. Latona can be interpreted with Anna of Austria , whose son Ludwig then corresponds to Apollon . The threat to the Latona from the Lycian peasants and their subsequent punishment is a symbol of the political unrest during Ludwig's childhood. In the background the Königliche Allee with the Green Carpet and in the distance the Great Canal

Like the palace, the park also served to glorify the Sun King and is full of open and hidden allusions to him. In the fountains and groups of sculptures, Greek mythology is portrayed as a parable of Ludwig's government. The gardens rise to the castle, divided by several terraces , so that one did not only go symbolically up to the king. Star-shaped crossroads develop at various points in the park, but all main paths lead to the dominant central axis. This leads from the Great Canal to the castle and beyond through the city, a symbol of the paths that meet at the king's. The Parterre d'Eau is adorned with sculptures that symbolize France's great rivers and thus indicate the size of the country.

Louis XIV himself wrote the first guide to his park, in which he recommended a circular route, explained the meaning of the statues and fountains and pointed out special features in the plantings:

“We descend to the Apollo Fountain and make a short stop here to admire the figures and vases on Königlichen Allee, the Latona Fountain and the palace. From here we can see the Great Canal . If you want to visit the menagerie and the trianon on the same day, you should do so first and only then look at the other fountains. "

- Louis XIV , tour of the gardens of Versailles
Orangery and orangery parterre, above the south wing of the palace
View over the southern parterre and the orangery to the Piece d'eau des Suisses

The orangery and the vegetable garden

Below the south wing is the orangery built by Mansart , which replaced a smaller previous building by Le Vau. The mighty building is integrated into the slope - on the left and right the "stairs of the hundred steps" lead down - and carries part of the large ground floor in front of the south wing of the castle. The middle gallery is 155 meters long. The orangery with its huge arched windows is made entirely of stone and is an excellent example of French stonemasonry . There is another ground floor in front of the building , which is decorated with hundreds of orange trees in summer, which spend the winter inside the greenhouse. Beyond this garden area is a large pool of water known as the Swiss lake . It got this name because it was dug up by the Swiss Guard stationed in the castle .

To the east of the Swiss lake is the Potager du roi , the king's vegetable garden, laid out in 1678 . This kitchen garden, where the streams of tourists usually pass, was laid out by Jean-Baptiste de La Quintinie and despite its profane use is also artistically designed and is reminiscent of the French gardens of the Renaissance . Strawberries, figs, grapes and many other types of fruit and vegetables were grown here for the farm. La Quintinie experimented with new cultivation methods in the vegetable garden; such as heated greenhouses or diagonal beds facing the sun. The vegetable garden is still cultivated today. Special attention is paid to historical plants that were already cultivated during the Bourbon era . The garden produces an annual harvest of up to 80 tons of fruit and vegetables. The Potager du roi is now part of the French School of Horticulture and Landscaping École nationale supérieure de paysage de Versailles (ENSP)

Versailles, the pyramid
View of the northern facilities with Bassin de Neptune in the foreground, Allée des marmousets behind and the
pyramid above

The northern gardens

The Broderie-Parterre on the Parterre du Nord forms a slightly sloping slope, in the central axis of which at the end there is a sequence of water features with some of the oldest water basins and sculptures in the Versailles Park: the so-called pyramid and the nymph bath . The pyramid was created between 1668 and 1672 according to a design by Le Brun von Girardon and consists of four water basins, one above the other, supported by tritons , dolphins and crayfish. Like many other Versailles fountain figures, these were originally gilded. From here the avenue of the Marmousetten (also: Allée d'eau = avenue of water) leads downwards; This is a sequence of seven small circular basins each to the right and left of the path, in the middle of which children playing and dancing hold a bowl made of pink marble from which water trickles. On the lowest level of the northern systems, a large water parterre opens up with the Bassin du Dragon (dragon pool ) and the large semicircular Bassin de Neptune ( Neptune pool). The latter was started by Le Nôtre in the 17th century, but not until the time of Louis XV. finished in the 18th century. It contains numerous figures of water gods, Tritons, sea horses, dolphins, seals and riding on dragons Amouretten , of which ninety-nine out total water jets that "a sight to behold."

The water supply

Crown basin on the Parterre du Nord

A system of artificial lakes ( Étangs de Hollande ), aqueducts and water pipes had to be developed for the irrigation of the parks . The Marly machine was built near Marly-le-Roi with the help of thousands of workers . It was a large pumping device that transported the required water masses to the castle. The pipe systems supplying the park had a length of over 160 kilometers. In spite of this, the fountains and basins were not adequately watered with the technical possibilities available at the time, and the fountains could not all be operated at the same time. The fountains at which the king was stopping were always activated for the king's walks. At the end of the reign of the Sun King, the water flowed for a maximum of two hours. During the palace's heyday, more than 1,400 different fountains were in use.

The Trianon castles and the hamlet

The garden facade of the Great Trianon
Courtyard view of the small Trianon Castle

There are several pleasure palaces in the park of Versailles : the Grand Trianon , the Petit Trianon and the Hameau de la Reine (German: Hamlet of the Queen ).

The spacious garden palace Grand Trianon (large Trianon) or Trianon de marbre (marble trianon) dates back to the time of Louis XIV. It was originally reserved for the king and his family, but over the years it has also been made accessible to the wider court. The neighboring Petit Trianon (little Trianon) is a work that Louis XV. had built for his mistress Madame de Pompadour . However, this died before the completion of the small, classicist castle. After his successor Louis XVI. it Marie Antoinette had given, it was lavishly decorated by them and a new garden area created, which also houses a small theater found its place. In keeping with the fashion of the time, the queen had an artificial village built here, the so-called hamlet of the queen, with apparently crooked houses, which, however, were in fact splendid decorations for the ruler 's shepherd games .

All of these buildings were erected half an hour's walk from the main palace to allow the kings to relax and unwind away from the crowded palace. Versailles was also integrated into a whole network of smaller castles. Castle Clagny , which was dedicated to Madame de Montespan (and fell victim to the pickaxe as early as 1769) was still in the village itself , and only half an hour away on horseback was the Castle of Marly , which with its gardens and fountains to the most famous pleasure palaces of the late 17th century . The royal residences of Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Saint-Cloud were also within reach .

The town

In front of the palace, the city of Versailles , which was originally an insignificant market town, gradually developed . The town, which was completely dependent on the castle, only received city rights in 1787. The settlement was largely aligned with the castle and integrated into the overall plan. A street fan with three beams was planned in the shape of three avenues that line up with the castle and its forecourt . Long avenues still lead through the geometrically laid out city district and meet directly in front of the castle. Louis XIV supported building projects to the best of his ability and thus created the prime example of a baroque royal seat, which was later often imitated. The court, comprising more than 15,000 people, ran the entire economy of the town: cooks, bakers, tailors, joiners and carpenters settled here, and the large number of servants lived in the town. During this time the population of Versailles rose to more than 100,000 people, but fell rapidly when the future King Louis XVI. In 1789 he was forced to move to Paris.

historical overview

17th and 18th centuries: The Ancien Régime

The residence of the Sun King and his successors

The castle around 1668. Oil painting by Pierre Patel .

France was the most powerful state in Europe in the 17th century and, under the influence of the Sun King, had become the continent's cultural, economic and political center. The king's castle was an expression of France's efficiency and a symbol of its size and strength. The orderly nature of the parks was a reflection of the order that Louis XIV brought to the country.

After experiencing first-hand the danger of the Fronde in Paris as a child , the king was never enthusiastic about the French capital, but loved his father's small hunting lodge. There he was able to build an appropriately representative and spacious new palace, which would also have been unthinkable in narrow Paris. The decision to move the court from the Palais du Louvre and the Tuileries Palace here in 1682 was to shape France's history for many years. Here Louis XIV completed the style of government that was later called absolutism . The king wanted to prevent further uprisings like the Fronde, he cut off the aristocracy from their old task of provincial administration and appointed officials, the members of the nobility were brought to court. A possible opposition from a distance against him, as happened for example his father , was made more difficult. The members of the nobility were politically disempowered and compensated in return with valuable gifts and lavish celebrations. The once powerful high nobility of France willingly left their castles in the provinces, only a few could afford to maintain their own court societies on a permanent basis. In order to keep up with the times and to be able to follow the latest fashions of the court, the aristocrats went into debt or received arbitrary pensions from the king.

Courtiers playing in the Grand Apartment, 1694, Versailles

Being assigned an apartment in Versailles was a significant privilege that also gave the illusion of being at the center of power in government. Those who belonged to the Logeants , those who lived in the castle, were ranked above the Galopins , the coachmen who had to go back to their city apartments in Paris in the evening. Etiquette played an important role in court life; in principle, court offices that were insignificant were symbolic of political influence. Posts, titles and offices could only be won at court, and anyone who distanced himself from the Sun King ran the risk of losing privileges and rank. Because of this, the aristocracy stayed around their king almost constantly, trying to please him. This ensured that several thousand people lived in the castle at the same time.

For French society, the change of the second class from rural to court nobility meant a heavy burden in the long run. Largely released from their old duties and responsibilities, the aristocracy soon led a decadent existence. While the third estate had to bear the tax burden and the work, the nobility could - or had to - indulge in idleness. Over a hundred years later, this circumstance would become one of the triggers of the French Revolution .

After the death of Louis XIV in 1715 and the reign of Philip II in the name of Louis XV, who was still a child at the time, the court left the huge palace and temporarily went to Saint-Cloud and the Palais Royal . Under the successors of the Sun King, Versailles lost its extensive centralistic importance and society increasingly met again in the country palaces of the nobility or the Parisian hotels . Nevertheless, Louis XV also resided. and Louis XVI. in Versailles, so that from 1682 the palace was almost permanently inhabited by the royal family only with short interruptions. Although excursions were often made to the many other castles around Paris, Versailles always remained the seat of government and the center of court France.

Life in the castle

Courtiers in front of the palace chapel, drawing by Jacques Rigaud, 1730

At the end of the Ancien Régime, the court comprised around 10,000 people, up to 5,000 of whom lived directly in the castle. The actual courtiers made up around 1,000 people, plus chambermaids, cooks, bodyguards and other servants. The palace was a city under one great roof, with apartments, workrooms and places of entertainment. Traders took up residence in the corridors and courtyards. The castle was almost always overcrowded, and the aristocracy, if they did not belong to the royal family, was partly impoverished and even lived in the narrow attic chambers on the upper floors or in the neighboring Grand Commun . Victor Hugo later referred to the castle as a single court barracks . The palace was not only reserved for the nobility: the common people also had access, the curious were called Voyeux by the residents . The higher the rank of the visitor, the further he was allowed to get into the interior of the castle. The English traveler Arthur Young reported in his book Reise durch Frankreich in 1787, 1788, 1789 and 1792 about Versailles: "It was extremely amusing when rascals in the poorest rags strolled unobserved through the palace [...]." Free access to the castle does not mean contact with the people living here. Anyone who came as a petitioner or hoped for an office had to be officially presented to the court , which in addition to a documented title usually required the intercession of an already established courtier. As established was who on one of the many commercial court offices decreed that, depending on the importance of the office of the king or the steward were awarded.

Despite the sumptuous furnishings, Versailles was an uncomfortable palace. The draughty and high rooms, which were lined up en filade , were difficult to heat, and Madame de Maintenon complained, "You prefer to endure the draft through the doors [...], you have to perish in symmetry" . In the severe winter of 1709, even liqueur bottles burst from the cold. The large mirror gallery had no fireplaces, and Louis XIV's central bedroom was so cold that Louis XV. had a private bedroom set up in the north wing of the Corps de Logis, which he went to sleep after the couchette ceremony and left in time for the lever in the morning .

Toilet in Marie-Antoinette's apartments

As was common in all of Europe at the time, there was neither running water nor permanently installed toilets in the castle. People were relieved of the need in body chairs and chamber pots , the contents of which were emptied by the servants in up to 29 septic tanks in the vicinity of the castle. Louis XVI France's first to let water closet installed with flushing toilets. The castle repeatedly had to struggle with rats and mice and once a year the court went to Fontainebleau so that the Palace of Versailles could be thoroughly cleaned during this time. In the 17th century, personal hygiene was not yet given too much importance, but Louis XIV already had bathing rooms comprising several rooms installed in the basement of the Corps de Logis . In the course of the 18th century, bathrooms were increasingly found in the apartments of the royal family members, while the rest of the castle residents still had to make do with damp towels and wash bowls.

The supply of the court with food and drink employed a number of several hundred employees. Members of the royal family and high-ranking courtiers were regarded as commensaux , as table companions of the king, and were supplied from his kitchen. Various courtiers were obliged to hold open tables for other castle residents to taste; other court employees received financial compensation for their bouche , but had to take care of the food themselves. The meals came partly from the inns in the vicinity of the castle, partly from self-organized kitchens, of which more and more appeared in the courtyards and under the roofs of the castle over time.

Marie Antoinette with her children, the mirror gallery can be seen in the background. Painting by Élisabeth Vigée-Lebrun

Life at court meant giving up privacy. The royal family themselves ate normal meals in front of an audience and the confinements of the queens were traditionally public events within court society - so much so that Marie Antoinette's life was in danger during the birth of her first child when too many people were in her bedroom. Even under the predecessors of the Sun King there were strict rites to glorify the French rulers, but an unprecedented series of ceremonies was developed around the Palace of Versailles and Louis XIV. The etiquette regulated, describing any process of large celebrations and receptions to such everyday things like the midday meal. There were also prescribed rules in the event of illness and death, and as Louis XV. In 1774 he fell ill with smallpox in the Trianon and was rushed to the Palace of Versailles to die in front of the court. The significance of this system can no longer be roughly understood today. The king received an almost divine veneration and, quite intentionally, raptured him from the people and underlined his superior position. To serve the king was to serve France. Helping him get up, with the lever , just handing him the water or his shirt, was considered the greatest honor that could decide on the rise and fall of court. Whether one was allowed to stand, sit or speak in the presence of the king and even through which door one entered his bedroom was a sign of one's own rank that was visible to all those present. In his memoirs, Louis XIV wrote, "Besides, one of the most outstanding effects of our power is to attribute an unaffordable price to something that has no intrinsic value."

Etiquette applied not only to dealing with the king, but also to every duke, every prince and every courtier. The protocol regulated the dealings with one another and assigned each member of the court a place within this society that was visible to all. The age-old system of courtly etiquette was hardly changed even by the successors of the Sun King. An example of the strictly regulated court ceremony is the following anecdote , which was passed down by Madame Campan , the queen's chambermaid and which described Marie Antoinette's everyday life in the castle:

“The queen's lever was analogous to the king's lever. The lady-in-waiting had the right to hand the queen her shirt while she was getting dressed. The palace lady put on her petticoat and dress. But if a princess of the royal family happened to join them, she had the right to throw the queen's shirt on. So once the queen had just been completely undressed by her ladies. Her maid was holding the shirt and had just presented it to the lady-in-waiting when the Duchess of Orléans entered. The lady-in-waiting returned the shirt to the maid, who was about to hand it over to the Duchess when the higher-ranking Countess of Provence arrived. Now the shirt went back to the maid, and it was not until she was in the hands of the Countess of Provence that the queen finally received it. The whole time she had to stand naked, as God created her, and watch the ladies overcompliment themselves with their shirts. "

Court festivals and other events

A spectacle in the marble courtyard of the castle. Drawing by Jean Lepautre , 1676

The aim was to maintain the court aristocracy, which was largely unoccupied, and the Versailles program included splendid balls, festivals and tournaments for this purpose. The king himself regularly organized game evenings in his apartments. In addition to the permanent banquets, masked balls and opera performances, there were various festivals lasting several days, which were supposed to increase the fame of the king through their pomp and the number of invited guests.

Two festivals in particular have had a lasting impact on the reputation of Versailles: from May 7th to 14th, 1664, the first big festival was “The Pleasures of the Enchanted Island” in the recently expanded park of King Louis XIV with around 600 guests. The motto of the festival, the legend of Alcina and the Magic Island, was a very popular theme of the Baroque. It was a festival for which Jean-Baptiste Lully composed new operas and wrote Molière's plays, and which, because of the enormous amount of work involved, drew envious glances from all European courts. In 1668 “The King's Great Pleasures” were held on the occasion of the Peace of Aachen . This festival not only served to celebrate the king's victory, but was also a gift to his mistress, Madame de Montespan . As part of the events, a ballet with more than 1,200 participating actors, dancers and extras was performed. The music came again from the court composer Lully, the libretto from the court poet Molière. Other important celebrations took place with the weddings of the Dauphin on February 23, 1745 and February 9, 1747, as well as on the occasion of the wedding of the future King Louis XVI . with Marie Antoinette in May 1770.

Louis XIV receives the Doge of Genoa in the Hall of Mirrors, painting from 1685

The Palace of Versailles was not only conceived as a place of amusement, but as the political center of France has been at the center of the country's history several times. Already at the time of Louis XIII. An event took place on the day of the cheated in 1630, which was to have a long-term influence on French politics. Under Louis XIV, the former hunting seat turned into the real capital of the empire. Ambassadors from many European countries and even delegations from Siam , Persia and Indians from the French colonies in America were received. The various treaties of Versailles also bear witness to the importance of the palace . In 1757 Robert François Damiens carried out an assassination attempt on Louis XV on the so-called King's Staircase. The more peaceful events include the guest performance of the young Mozart on November 18, 1763 and January 1, 1764, and on September 19, 1783 the start of a Montgolfière laden with a mutton, a rooster and a duck in front of the royal couple.

The French revolution

On May 5, 1789 in occurred Grande Salle des Menus Plaisirs , the Estates-General together. This marked the beginning of the constitutional phase of the French Revolution . The king, who according to the constitution was entitled to convene and dismiss the general estates, had the conference room closed for political reasons. The members of the Third Estate , who had meanwhile declared themselves to be the National Assembly , then withdrew to the ballroom outside the palace grounds . There they took the Ballhaus oath "... never to part until the state has a constitution ..." .

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette lived in the palace together with their family and the court until October 5th, 1789. On that day the Poissards stormed the palace and forced the king and his family to leave Versailles forever and to Paris in the Tuileries Palace to pull. The castle was partially looted by the revolutionaries in the following years and was largely empty.

Gabriel Thouin's project for a landscape garden in the Versailles palace gardens

19th century

After the revolution

After the revolution, the castle could only be poorly preserved. Napoléon considered converting the palace into a residence again, but the plans were never implemented and the Emperor of the French contented himself with converting the Grand Trianon for residential purposes. Since the reign of Ludwig Philip, however, the rooms of the palace have been restored, and a National Historical Museum has been set up and decorated with busts, portraits, battle pictures and other works of art of primarily historical value (including masterpieces by Horace Vernet , Eugène Delacroix , Ary Scheffer , Adolphe Yvon , James Pradier ). During this period major changes were made in the north and south wings, museum rooms were set up in the former apartments and the great battle hall and the so-called crusader and Africa rooms were installed. French and European history were discussed in these historical museum rooms.

In 1820, in his work Plans raisonnés de toutes les espèces de jardins, the garden architect Gabriel Thouin presented a proposal for the partial redesign and embedding of the castle park (which had been left geometrically in the core area) in an even larger landscaped garden , which was not implemented. The German garden architect Peter Joseph Lenné was influenced in his designs by the Thouins plan.

Second half of the 19th century

The castle gained special significance for Franco-German history. From October 5, 1870 to March 13, 1871 it was the seat of the great headquarters of the German armies during the Franco-Prussian War . In the Mirror Hall of the castle took place on 18th January 1871 with the proclamation King I. William of Prussia to German Emperor Wilhelm I the of the German Reich foundation instead. This place was chosen in the sense of historical justice , as many ceiling paintings glorified the campaigns and conquests of Louis XIV in Germany. The defeated French, on the other hand, saw the act only as a humiliation of their kingship.

The peace preliminaries were signed at Versailles on February 26, 1871. On March 10, 1871, the National Assembly moved the seat of government from Bordeaux to Versailles; not until 1879 was he relocated to Paris. The Congress of Parliament has met in Versailles since the Third Republic . For this purpose, a congress hall was built into the central atrium of the south wing. From 1879 to 1953 the presidents of the republic were elected here by members of the parliament and senators. Even today, the congress meets here in the event of constitutional amendments to underline their importance; the castle itself often serves as a location for state receptions.

The 20th century and the present

From the Treaty of Versailles to the post-war period

William Orpen : The Signing of Peace in the Hall of Mirrors (The signing of the Treaty of Versailles on June 28, 1919)

After the First World War , the peace treaty that the defeated German Reich had to sign in 1919 was negotiated in the Versailles Palace. The French chose the site as a revenge for the imperial proclamation of 1871. In the Grand Trianon, the Treaty of Trianon was negotiated. The terms of the Versailles Treaty, which held Germany solely to blame for the war, are seen as one of the reasons for the political rise of the National Socialists . After the Second World War , Versailles and its palace became a site of Franco-German reconciliation. The celebrations on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the signing of the Élysée Treaty on January 22, 1963 (2003) in the battle gallery testified to this .

On June 26, 1978, Breton separatists carried out an explosive attack on the castle, which they believed was a symbol of French centralism . After 2:00 a.m., an explosive device exploded, completely destroying the facility in three rooms and wreaking havoc in seven others. The damage to property was estimated at five million francs . In 1979 it was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites . In 1982 the castle served as the backdrop for the G7 world economic summit .

The castle today

Cabinet du Billard by Marie Antoinette. The silk fabrics were rewoven in 2011 based on patterns by Jacques Gondoin from 1779.
Cabinet doré by Marie Antoinette. The desk of Riesener (1783) was acquired in 2011 by the French state.

The castle with its gardens, museums and park castles is open to visitors and at the same time the most visited castle in France, making it one of the country's biggest tourist attractions. Around 800 people are employed around the palace, its care and administration. Versailles and its museums are run by a state operating company. From 2002 to 2007, the future French minister of culture, Christine Albanel, was the managing director of the Établissement public de Versailles , her term of office was criticized because Albanel had no art history experience and she was accused of selling out the French national monument. The current managing director is Jean-Jacques Aillagon .

An entrance fee is required to visit the various museums, the special exhibitions and the gardens; EU citizens under 26 years of age and the disabled are exempt. Due to the worldwide fame of Versailles, the palace is a must for many tourists to France and Paris, with an average of three million visitors annually. Guests may have to expect long queues at the ticket offices, especially in summer and on weekends.

Extensive restoration work is currently taking place in the palace complex and gardens, which is expected to last until 2017. In 2003 , the government under Jacques Chirac made around 390 million euros available for the project . In a first section, the restored hall of mirrors was completed in June 2007 and opened to the public.


Versailles Palace was the birthplace of the following personalities:

Here, among others, died:

Versailles as a model

Many castles and residences of the 17th and 18th centuries were modeled on the palace, the park and the city of Versailles. Often - but not always - attempts were made to imitate the architecture, especially the way of life of the French kings and the concentration of the court in one place. In many places, the model was interpreted in a new design language and new great works of art were created. Examples include:

The new Herrenchiemsee Palace is a special feature. It largely copies the center section of the garden front of Versailles, with the ambassador's staircase of the Grand Apartment and the mirror gallery inside. Herrenchiemsee was not planned as an absolutist residence, but built in the 19th century by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a homage to his role model Ludwig XIV. In contrast to the examples mentioned above, this castle was not intended to serve as the political center of a domain, but rather as a private refuge.

See also


Web links

Commons : Versailles Palace  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Palace of Versailles  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

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  3. ^ Jean M. Pérouse de Montclos, Robert Polidori: Versailles . Könemann, Cologne 1996, p. 22
  4. ^ Jean M. Pérouse de Montclos, Robert Polidori: Versailles . Könemann, Cologne 1996, p. 8
  5. ^ Jean M. Pérouse de Montclos, Robert Polidori: Versailles . Könemann, Cologne 1996, p. 86
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  11. ^ Jean M. Pérouse de Montclos, Robert Polidori: Versailles . Könemann, Cologne 1996, p. 93
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This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on November 10, 2007 .

Coordinates: 48 ° 48 ′ 16 ″  N , 2 ° 7 ′ 15 ″  E