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A World of Opulence. The Envy of Europe.
It took just under 60 years to turn the Chateau de Versailles
from Louis XIII's modest hunting lodge into the spectacular palace
of the Court of France. In that time, from 1624-1683, and until 1789,
became the epitome of opulence throughout Europe. Much of it was imitated
but, never matched.
It was to be the home of the figureheads of French nobility, who were summoned to live here by the King, as well as 20,000 courtiers, charged with preparing the lavish banquets, keeping the vast grounds immaculate and catering to every audacious whim of pomp demanded by the increasingly dissolute aristocracy.
Louis XV, the XIV's great-grandson, is believed to have predicted the impending doom of the upper classes when he said "Apres moi, le deluge" (After me, the deluge). Louis XVI heeded his words to an extent, but stories concerning the frivolity and over-spending of his wife, Marie Antoinette, quickly lost them their popularity with the people. Depending on which estimate you believe, the cost of running Versailles accounted for 5-25% of governmental expenditure. Whatever the case may be, its drain on the economy undisputedly propelled the Revolution.
After the prophesised deluge, Louis-Philippe, the Citizen King, saved the Chateau de Versailles from complete destruction by converting it into a museum dedicated he said to the glories of France, in 1830. Renovations occurred sporadically throughout the 19th and 20th centuries to both restore the palace to its former glory and simply to maintain such a vast structure. These still continue today.
Hall of Mirrors Chateau de Versailles
One section to be awarded special attention was the Galerie
des Glaces or Hall of Mirrors, arguably the Chateau's most famous room.
The 73m long galerie was begun by Mansart in 1678, and, along with its
357 full-length mirrors, was fitted with silver furniture, which was subsequently
melted down to fund the wars of Louis XIV's later years. As construction
coincided with the Treaty of Nijmegen, the Sun King, in buoyant mood, ordered
Charles Le Brun to decorate the hall's ceiling as an homage to the benefits
of French rule. Thirty scenes, framed with stucco, were conceived; Louis
appears in a number of guises, including that of a Roman Emperor and a
victorious war chief. The corridor was the site of the proclamation of
the German Empire in 1871, followed by the signing of the Treaty of Versailles
on June 28th, 1919. In 2006 this room was under major restoration and thus
is not open to the public. The room should be fully reopen by 2008.
Grand Apartments of the Palace of Versailles
The magnificent Grand Apartments run a close second to the Hall of Mirrors as
the most extravagant space inside. Each of the apartments bears the name of
the spectacular allegorical painting on
its ceiling: Abundance, Venus, Diana, Mars, Mercury, Apollo, and Hercules.
The latter is the largest. It is a masterful painting of the Apotheosis
of Hercules by Francois Lemoyne. The marble and chased-bronze fireplace
in this room is
in the chateau.
The King's and Queen's bedchambers are equally luxurious. The King's occupies
the exact centre of the Chateau. This represents his place at the heart of
French rule and thus France at large.
The Queen's room now look exactly as
left it. Right down to the silk hangings woven in patterns of peacock feathers,
which she commissioned.