Three things come to mind every time Versailles is mentioned: Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette and the Treaty of Versailles (1919). Connecting them are wealth, power and madness.
During Louis XIV’s reign, France was a leading European superpower. France fought three major wars: the Franco-Dutch War, the War of the League of Augsburg, and the War of the Spanish Succession. It also engaged its soldiers to two smaller armed conflicts: the War of Devolution and the War of the Reunions.
Popular literature often represents Louis XIV as the vainest monarch ever lived. However, he tried to redeem himself before breathing his last breath. Many believe that he uttered these words to his heir on his deathbed: “Do not follow the bad example which I have set you; I have often undertaken war too lightly and have sustained it for vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince, and may you apply yourself principally to the alleviation of the burdens of your subjects.”
Marie Antoinette, was Louis XIV’s wife, making her the Queen of France during that time. She is infamous for her vanity, comparable or even greater than her husband’s. Even popular culture represents her as the vainest European queen. During the last few years of her reign, she was considered a symbol of what was wrong with French monarchy and governance. She was charged with treason and executed via the guillotine. Her death was considered by the people back then as a necessary step toward the completion of the French revolution. There are no exact proofs that she uttered these words sarcastically, “Let them eat cake,” when asked to comment about the poor not having any bread to eat at their tables. Pieces of popular literature associate the phrase as hers.
The 1919 Treaty at Versailles was signed on 28 June. The treaty signalled the end of the First World War, which commenced in 1914 because Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated by a group of nationalist Bosnians.
These figures, other than sharing “wealth, power and madness,” are also connected by the grandiosity of Châteu de Versailles (or the Palace of Versailles), an elaborate mansion with ornaments from different parts of the world that speaks to visitors: “I am the most expensive palace in the entire world.” Personally, I believe I heard the halls exclaiming: “a vain man built me!” If one digs deeper into the history of the palace, she will realize how the palace was built for personal vanity at the expense of the French people, particularly the poor citizens at that time.
The palace was built by Louis XIV and became his private resident during his reign. Marie Antoinette was also billeted in the palace but later decided to create her own mini-palace inside the complex. The Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Hall of Mirrors, one of the most important public halls of the palace.
Collectively known as the Palace and Park of Versailles (Versailles), this UNESCO World Heritage Site was adorned and designed by several generations of architects, sculptors, interior decorators and landscape architects. For a long time, it was a model of a royal residence for over a century in Europe. The architects of Stockholm’s Drottningholm Palace (please wait for my post about this soon), for instance, took inspirations from the Versailles.
The complex today may be visited by tourists, art and history enthusiasts. Located south-west of Paris, trains take tourists and visitors to Versailles for around 45 minutes. A complex of more than 800 hectares, Versailles is the third most visited French tourist destination with over 6 million visitors annually. It has four major divisions: the Estate of the King (Main Palace Hall), the Gardens, the Estate of Trianon, and the Royal Stables.
This is the first of two parts. Please wait for the second part to complete the tour at Versailles.