The Palace of Versailles was once the French royal residence and centre of government. Located in the city of Versailles, 16 km from Paris, is now a landmark in France. Two weeks ago I spend a full day exploring this magnificent palace and its surroundings and I want to share with you how beautiful it was.
The history of the palace with all the details it’s the subject of many books, but I will try to keep it very simple and easy to understand, in order to give you a better idea on why you would you want to visit.
The Palace of Versailles was the official royal residence of three different Kings of France, from 1682 until 1790 when the French Revolution happened.
First it was Louis XIII in 1624 that built a lodge there for when he came to hunt in the village of Versailles, outside Paris.
Then Louis XIV transformed it into a royal palace, proclaiming it later in 1682, the seat of the government of the kingdom of France and his royal residence.
When Louis XIV died, the court left Versailles for a while and the palace was abandoned. That would change with Louis XV return. He rebuilt most of the apartments in a more private way and also made it his residence.
His successor, Louis XVI made several new changes within the palace, most of them to make his wife, Marie-Antoinette, happy. With all the money being spent there while people were starving in France, the French Revolution in 1789 brought an end to an era. Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette left Versailles to never come back.
Why visit Palace of Versailles?
The area has been listed as a World Heritage Site for 30 years and is one of the greatest achievements of the French 17th century art. Also, if you do love a bit of history you will love to imagine how would it be to live in one of the most costly and extravagant buildings in the world.
The Magnificence and Splendour of Versailles
One of the reasons that most intrigued me since long ago when I first heard about the Palace of Versailles was to imagine how was the life back in those times. During the visit I got to learn about that and how the days were full of ceremonies, which emphasized the achievements and power of the king.
The Palace of Versailles is capable of holding up to 20,000 people with 700 rooms. Not only did the immediate royal family reside there, but the palace also housed many members of the court.
Another aspect of curiosity for me was how much it cost all this opulence back in such unstable times in France. Constructions costs, were, for a long time a private matter. Accordingly, all materials that went into the construction and decoration of Versailles were manufactured in France. One of the most costly elements was the silver furniture which you quickly identify while visiting but a lot of those furniture was sold during French Revolution.
The current worth of Versailles is debated because currency values are uncertain but think billions!
An amazing work of Art
The palace still today is full with many paintings and sculptures, a desire from the many kings that once lived there. Overall, the palace was built to impress.
There were some technological innovations, such as pressurized water fountains in its gardens and the opera house with a mechanical device that allowed the orchestra pit to rise up to the stage, turning into a dance or banqueting hall.
Floors and walls are made of beautiful marble in such a luxury and magnificence that only standing there you will understand. The ceilings are amazing works of art with sophisticated paintings also.
Hall of Mirrors
The Hall of Mirrors is the central gallery of the Palace of Versailles. It attracts the curiosity of many visitors as it was once the place of many important celebrations and ceremonies of the French Court.
The principal feature of this hall is the seventeen mirror-clad arches that reflect the seventeen arcaded windows that overlook the gardens. The arches themselves are fixed between marble pilasters whose capitals depict the symbols of France.
Inspired by the architecture of baroque Italian villas, but executed in the French classical style, the gardens in Versailles represent one of the finest examples of gardens created by André Le Nôtre.
Characters of Greco-Roman mythology served to embody values and messages. For example, Louis XIV identified himself with Apollo, god of the sun and the arts, which is in the statues of the gardens.
The impressive Royal Way garden with its unique symmetrical design is another example of how beautiful and brilliant the all garden is.
The fountains were inaugurated by Louis XIV. These pressurized water fountains were considered very advanced for its time and required a huge amount of work.
In certain days of the week and weekend a spectacular show called the Musical Fountains can be seen by the visitors were music is played with different movements of the water.
The estate of Trianon
To have more private spaces way from the big palace, Louis XIV had the Grand Trianon Palace built to spend some time way from the court. But it became famous mostly because of Marie Antoinette that spend most of her time in the Petit Trianon and ordered a number of extravagant structures to be built including a working farm and small theatre.
Palace of Versailles Nowadays
Parts of the palace that had been damaged or rebuilt after the French Revolution were restored to their original design. Some of the original furniture was recovered, paintings were returned, and wall coverings were replaced.
Today, the Palace of Versailles is one of France’s many national monuments. It is so large that only a small portion of it is open to the public. All kinds of major exhibitions and guided tours are available to visitors and it is definitely a trip for a full day.
Planning your trip
What type of ticket?
There are several options for the type of ticket and the prices vary from 18€ to 30€, depending on how many days you want to visit and what you want to see. All the information about the different tickets can be found here.
Between the Passport ticket (20€) or the Palace ticket (18€) the differences are minimal, they both allow entrance to see the Palace and the gardens which is what most people go to visit. Although, you need to check in the website in which days are the Musical Fountain Show and the Musical Garden, because on those days with just the Palace ticket you will not be allowed to see it.
To be safe, I strongly recommend you to pay the extra 2€ and get the Passport ticket. This one also gives you access to the estate of Trianon which is beautiful. All entrances include a free audio-guide for the palace that you collect at the start of the tour.
You can either buy the tickets online or in the ticket office there. The day I visited there was no queue to buy the tickets but there was a massive 30 minutes waiting to get in the palace with ticket holders.
How to get there?
The best way to get there from Central Paris is by taking a train. Line C (yellow) of the RER trains takes you to Versailles Château Rive Gauche station, which is just a 10 minute walk to the Palace of Versailles (RER map). It will be easy to identify as everyone will be going in the same direction.
The tickets are easy to get from the machines; they have several languages so hopefully it should be a simple process. The ticket costs approximately 3.5€ one way. The trains are very frequent; you can check the schedules here.
The palace is open every day except Mondays from 9 am so try to get there as early as possible, because it will be an extensive day. It can take hours to see the gardens outside. There is a little train that for an extra fee will take you around and save your legs and also a golf buggy’s that you can get to go around in small groups.
The estate of Trianon and the Coach Gallery are only open from 12 pm so be prepared to spend all day in Versailles. I will also advise you to take food as any small snacks are very expensive.