After dedicating several posts to the history behind the Château de Versailles, I’m ready to recap our actual visit! Necessity has demanded that I split our tour of the main residence of the Château de Versailles into two posts. Here in part 1, I’m going to cover the entrance to Versailles, the Marble Courtyard, what we saw while taking a guided tour of the King’s Private Apartments, as well as the Royal Opera House. In part 2 I will cover the Royal Chapel, the King’s State Apartments, a portion of the History of France Museum, as well as the Hall of Mirrors. I will also discuss the Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon (one post for its history, a second one to tour the residence itself), and the Hameau de la Reine (the Queen’s Hamlet) separately. Sadly, the Queen’s Apartments were closed for restoration while Neil and I were visiting, so I won’t be able to cover them at this point (but there’s always hope we can return in the future!).
Let me give you some hard-earned advice on how to make the most of a visit to Versailles: divide and conquer. Spend one day exploring the main building of the Château, and then dedicate a separate day to the grounds, its gardens, and the many other attractions that you’ll find there including the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, the Queen’s Hamlet, and the Coach Gallery. There’s a two-day ticketing option that gives you access to the full scope of the site on two successive days that only costs a few euros more than if you were to buy the pass for one day (as of the writing of the post, it is €25 for one day and €30 for two). Access to the gardens is free, except when there are music or fountain shows scheduled from April – October.
I wish that Neil and I had taken at least two days to visit Versailles when we were in Paris. There was a lot that we missed or simply didn’t cover as deeply as I would have liked because we ran out of time and energy (I guess this just means we’ll have to go back!). In our one jam-packed day Neil and I squeezed in a guided tour, checked out the main residence, walked through the Hameau de la Reine (my favourite!), saw the Petit Trianon, and did the quickest of marches through the Grand Trianon.1 Our legs were killing us by the end, and we were racing through the grounds in an effort to see as much as we could before it started to rain. I feel like we only saw half, even a third, of what Versailles has to offer. Especially when it comes to the gardens!
Even in Louis XIV’s time, the grandeur of the Versailles residence paled in comparison to its gardens—which is why he hosted so many outdoor parties! Although the grounds are now only roughly ⅓ the size they were during the time of Louis XIV (2,014 acres today compared to 6,111 acres) they are still impressive, containing 600 fountains, 55 water features, 372 statues, 32 kms (20 miles) of canals, and over 210,000 flowers and 200,000 trees. The grounds are also available to tour at night, when the gardens and the groves are illuminated. Les Grandes Eaux De La Nuit (The Great Night Waters) runs Saturday evenings from mid-June through mid-September and features fireworks, baroque music, and scenic aquatic effects. I imagine that going to Versailles on one of those evenings would be as close as one could get (without the benefit of time travel) to experiencing one of those big 17th century parties that Louis XIV liked to throw; sadly, the website doesn’t indicate whether a ticket to the Great Night Waters includes gondola rides on the canal.
My second and most important tip for visiting Versailles is this: on the day that you want to tour the main residence, sign up for a guided tour through the Château’s official website. It costs an additional €10 per person (on top of general admission), but it was some of the best money we have ever spent. It allows you to skip the massive entry line. Shortly before the start time of your tour, you will get to go in through a separate entrance. From there, you’ll join a small group of people and be led through an area of the Château that is off-limits to everyone else. Versailles is huge, but you only see a few of its rooms when you go through on a general admission ticket. There are many other rooms and areas whose access require you sign up for a guided tour. By doing so, you’ll learn about the history of the residence and the culture of the French court from a knowledgeable tour guide. You’ll also get a chance to explore the Château away from the main crush of the crowds. Later in the day, you’ll be extremely thankful for that experience when you are elbow-to-elbow with the rest of the masses.
There are several different guided tour options available. Neil and I went on a tour of the “Private Apartments of the Kings.” There are also tours that cover “Louis XIV at Versailles”; “The Apartments of Louis XV’s Daughters”; “The Intimate Versailles of Kings”; the apartments belonging to “The King’s Favourites” (Louis XV’s mistresses Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry); the “Splendours of Versailles” and more. There are also tours available for the Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon, the Queen’s Hamlet, the Queen’s Theatre, and for special exhibitions.
Let’s begin our visit! Versailles is located about 20 kms (12 miles) west of Paris. It took the market women of Paris six hours to get there as part of the Women’s March on Versailles on October 5, 1789, but your journey will be considerably faster if you catch the train: it takes about an hour from the city centre. You may recall that Versailles appealed as a countryside residence to Louis XIII because of its vast meadows and woodland stocked with wildlife. In a previous post I mentioned that the main residence of Versailles is referred to as a château instead of a palais because it was located in a rural area. It may surprise you, then, as you disembark at the Gare de Versailles train station that this is no longer the case. The town of Versailles, which has existed in the area since at least the beginning of the 8th century (although relocated in the 1670s to make room for the expansion of the Château), has a population that numbers over 85,000 people (as of 2015) and lies in the western suburbs of Paris. There is still significant park space located to the west of the Château (shown in the map below), but you’ll be walking along regular French city streets up until you reach the long Avenue de Paris and then the Place d’Armes.
The Avenue de Paris is the long, narrow street located between buildings #2 and #3 in the map above. These buildings used to house the stables, known as the Petites and Grandes Écuries. As you reach the end of the Avenue de Paris you’ll enter a large, fan-shaped forecourt (shown in yellow in the map above) known as the Place d’Armes. Here is where you’ll be greeted by an equestrian statue of Louis XIV. The statue was erected by King Louis-Philippe I in 1837, and marks where an earlier entrance gate to Versailles once stood. During the reign of Louis XIV-Louis XVI, any well-dressed individual could walk past the Écuries and through the first entry gate of the Château into the Place d’Armes. Beggars, monks, sex workers, and smallpox victims were the only people specifically turned away at this point.
After walking through the Place d’Armes, you’ll enter the first courtyard, the Cour d’Honneur (Courtyard of Honour). This is where you’ll see a big crowd of people queued up, waiting to get into the Château. There’s a big golden gate, the Porte d’honneur (Gate of Honour), and lots of people will be lined up to take pictures through its railings. On the other side of that gate lies the Cour Royale (Royal Courtyard) and the main residence.
A glimpse through the bars at the Château de Versailles.
The Gate of Honour is an exact replica of the original entrance gate to Versailles, which was built in the 1680s by Jules Hardouin-Mansart. It was torn down during the French Revolution. This new gate was inaugurated on July 8, 2008.
It is at this entry gate that an individual was required to be wearing a sword, indicating their upper-class status, in order to have permission to continue through. No sword? No problem! You were allowed to hire one on the spot. The now-armed visitor was duly granted access to the residence and its grounds. Consider the irony the next time you’re standing in the long security line to enter the Château.
The gate is made of wrought iron and gold leaf, and it spans 80 metres (262 feet). 100,000 gold leaves were shaped into decorative elements such as fleur-de-lys, faces of Apollo surrounded by sunbeams, crowns, cornucopias, and interweaving letter L’s.
Please forgive the raindrop in the photo that I took below.
A picture without the raindrop.
Following are two close-ups of the top of the gate. Can you make out the interweaving capital L’s, for Louis? If you’re having a hard time picking them out, scroll down for a hint.
The capital letter L used by the French in the 17th century was written a little differently than how we write it today. Below is Louis XIV’s signature: the L is at the beginning, with a distinctive curl on the top inside right of the letter.
With that new letter L in your mind, can you look at the gate below and pick out a few pairs of intertwined L’s? I can see five. We’re going to see that pattern repeated throughout the decoration of the Château.
I’m now standing on the other side of the entrance gate in the Royal Courtyard. The main residence is behind me, and I’m looking back towards the entrance gate of the Gate of Honour and the Courtyard of Honour beyond it. I’m standing here because I wanted to take some wider shots of the gate and its corresponding span of railings. First, a picture taken while standing farther back from the gate.
While standing farther back, I looked left (north) of the entrance gate and took the photo shown below. That building on the other side of the fence houses the municipal archives of Versailles.
Here is a better image of the statue in the photograph above: The Peace by Jean-Baptiste Tuby.
I then looked to the right (south) of the entrance gate in order to take the photograph shown below. That building houses the Museum of Sculptures and Casts of Versailles.
Here is a different angle of the statue shown in that picture: Abundance by Antoine Coysevox.
I’ve now walked closer to the entrance gate. The photo below was taken from the inside of the gate looking out.
Here is a side shot of the gate, looking to the left (north).
Also from the side, this time looking to the right (south).
We’re finished with the Gate of Honour! Now let’s take a look at the main residence of the Château de Versailles. I’ve now turned 180 degrees so that my back is to the Gate of Honour. I am looking across the Royal Courtyard toward the Château itself (please forgive the scaffolding). My photos were taken at two different times of day: one set at the beginning of our visit when the Château was open, and the other set at the end of our visit after the residence had closed; you can tell which photo was taken when based on the number of people in the shot.
This is the same view, with the photograph taken a little later in the day after the Château had closed and everyone had left.
I’ve now zoomed in on the main residence a little bit more (earlier in the day again).
I’ve now zoomed in even more. This shot was also taken later in the day.
Below is another close-up of the main residence. This part of the Château dates back to Louis XIII, who had it built from 1631-1634.
Below is a close-up of the clock at the top of the Château; it is flanked by sculptures of Hercules and Mars. The clock was added by Louis XIV’s architect Jules-Hardouin Mansart in the late 1670s. This clock displayed the time of Louis XIV’s death (8:15 am on September 1, 1715) until 1774, at which point it changed to reflect the time of Louis XV’s passing (3:15 pm on May 10, 1774). It reflected the latter until the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.
I’ve now zoomed back out from the clock and am looking to the left (the south) of the Château. This is one of the Ministers’ Wings.
I’m now looking to the right (north). This is the other Ministers’ Wing.
As you get closer to the main residence, you’ll find a third courtyard. It is raised and made of marble. The Marble Courtyard used to be closed off from the Royal Courtyard by another gate, allowing for access only by the royal family. You can see this courtyard in the series of pictures below.
The image below was taken while standing in the Royal Courtyard, looking towards the main residence. There are five steps that elevate the Marble Courtyard from the Royal Courtyard.
The photo below was taken while standing a few paces closer to the residence.
This third picture offers a great view across the marble from which this courtyard gets its name.
I took the photos below of the Marble Courtyard during our guided tour while looking out from the windows of the King’s Private Apartments in the north wing. This is looking towards the south wing, which contains the Queen’s apartments.
The building features a slate roof, gilded ironwork, red brick, and busts of Roman emperors that were also added to the façade by Hardouin-Mansart in the late 1670s. The black and white marble tiles are laid out in a geometric pattern.
There is a slightly scandalous story behind these marble tiles, as they were originally used at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is located in the town of Maincy, which is 50 kms (30 miles) southeast of Paris. This château was built from 1656-1661 on the orders of Nicolas Fouquet, who served as the Superintendent of Finances under Louis XIV. In many respects, the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte can be considered as a forerunner to Versailles. Fouquet actually hired the Versailles dream-team of architect Louis Le Vau, painter Charles Le Brun, and gardener André Le Nôtre to work on his château years before Louis XIV thought to do the same.
However, Fouquet fell from the King’s favour2 and was arrested3 in 1661 and charged with peculation (maladministration of state funds) and lèse-majesté (actions harmful to the well-being of the monarch). Fouquet remained in prison until his death in 1680.
All work on the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte had ceased with Fouquet’s arrest in 1661, but Le Vau, Le Brun, and Le Nôtre were not idle for long. That same year, Louis XIV hired them to make improvements at the Château de Versailles. The marble tiles came with them, confiscated by Louis XIV along with other precious objects from the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte such as tapestries, brocade fabrics, marble tables, orange trees, and thousands of shrubs. All of it destined for Versailles: Fouquet’s loss was definitely Louis XIV’s gain.
The moral of the story is that when you set out to impress a King, take care not to make him jealous. He might pull a Louis XIV and throw you in prison so he can steal your marble tiles, architects, artists, and orange trees.
All right, with the exterior of the Château covered, let’s move onto the interior! Neil and I began with a tour of the King’s Private Apartments. You may recall that Louis XIV decided that instead of demolishing the château that his father had built and starting over, he had Le Vau construct a new white stone building that enveloped the existing residence (1668-1674). This new building is known as the château neuf or the enveloppe. This new building is where the King’s State Apartments are located (we’ll tour them in my second post). But of course, the King already had a set of apartments in the residence built by Louis XIII. Louis XIV retained these apartments, even as Versailles expanded, but they were for his private use as opposed to the public function of the State Apartments. These Private Apartments are the ones that we’re going to go through now.
Below is a floor plan of the Château de Versailles as it looked shortly after construction of the château neuf was completed in 1674. I’ve included it because it displays how Louis XIII’s original château (shaded in grey) was enclosed by the château neuf (outlined in green). There is an arrow indicating where the King’s Private Apartments are located in the original château structure. You can see that they face the Marble Courtyard. The King’s new suite of State Apartments is shown on the right (the north) in blue (we’ll tour those in the second blog post). You’ll see that the Queen has parallel suites of Private and State Apartments on the left/south, but they were closed for restoration work when Neil and I were at Versailles so they will not be covered in either of my blog posts. The layout of the Château has changed since this 1674 floor plan (notably, the Terrasse is now the Hall of Mirrors), but for our current purpose of reviewing the King’s Private Apartments it is still useful.
Below is how the main floor of the Château de Versailles looks today. The rooms we’ll be focusing on in this blog post are those of the Private Apartments, which are numbered 22-33. We’ll visit the Private Apartments in this order: room 24 (the Dogs’ Antechamber); 25 (the Post-Hunt Dining Room); 23 (the Clock Cabinet); 22 (Louis XV’s and Louis XVI’s Private Bedchamber); 26 (the Inner Cabinet, also known as the Corner Cabinet); 27 (the Dispatch Cabinet); 30 (Louis XVI’s Library); 28 (the Golden Service/Dishes Room); 31 (the Porcelain Dining Room); 33 Louis XVI’s Game Room. Rooms that will be skipped because I didn’t take any photos (they weren’t that interesting) are 29 (the Royal Ledger Room), and 32 (the Buffet Room).
The first room we’ll visit is number 24, the Dogs’ Antechamber. This room served as the first antechamber to the interior apartments of the King. Louis XV’s favourite hunting dogs were permitted to sleep in here, which is what inspired the room’s name and decoration.
Next up is the Post-Hunt Dining Room, number 25. Once or twice a week, Louis XV would invite lords and ladies who had gone out hunting with him to dinner in this room—an invitation to this intimate dining space was considered an enormous honour. The room contains a marble fireplace and the walls are richly decorated with golden engravings. The room’s furnishings are scarlet and gold.
There is a bust of Louis XV in the photo below.
The barometer shown below is a highlight of the Post-Hunt Dining Room. It was made by optician Jean-Baptiste Toré, sculptor Jean-Joseph Lemaire, gilder Simon Mazière, and cabinetmaker Jean-Baptiste-Antoine Francastel for Louis XV in 1772-1775. It features the King’s royal orb and two golden cherubs. It sits on a large piece of marble that is decorated with two intertwined letter L’s (I told you we’d see them again!).
After dinner, the King and his dinner party would retire to the Clock Cabinet, room 23, where they would play games.
The Clock Cabinet gets its name from the clock shown below. Louis XV was really interested in science, particularly astronomy. This clock was presented to the Academy of Sciences in 1754, and then taken to Choisy before being moved to Versailles. In addition to the time, the clock indicates the day of the week, the month, the year, and the phases of the moon. It was used to set the first official time throughout the kingdom.
The clock was designed by Claude-Siméon Passemant, the King’s engineer, and made by clockmaker Louis Dauthiau. It was placed into a bronze casing crafted by father-and-son team, Jacques and Philippe Caffíeri.
In the crystal sphere at the top of the clock the planets can be seen revolving around the sun.
In the centre of this room, Louis-Philippe I placed a small-scale replica of an equestrian statue of Louis XV that had once stood in the Place de la Concorde, but was torn down during the French Revolution4.
Like the Post-Hunt Dining room before it, the Clock Cabinet is also richly decorated with gold engravings, marble tables, and more red and gold fabrics.
This next room, number 22, is Louis XV’s and Louis XVI’s Private Bedchamber. Louis XV was more reserved than his predecessor, Louis XIV, and wanted a more private and practical room in which to sleep. In the evening, Louis XV would undergo the public coucher ceremony in the official King’s Bedchamber, where his courtiers undressed and helped him prepare for bed. Once the ceremony was over, Louis XV would retire to this nearby room and actually sleep. He would then wake up in the morning and return to the official King’s Bedchamber to perform the lever ceremony, in which courtiers helped him dress and prepare for the day (for more information on this, see this post). Pageantry!
This room, designed in 1738, was easier to heat because it was smaller and south-facing. The bed would have been located where the white fabric is hanging from the ceiling.
It was this room in which Louis XV passed away on May 10, 1774.
I really liked the floral textiles in this room.
Hidden in the private bedchamber, to the left of the alcove, is a door that leads to Louis XVI’s Clothes Cabinet.
Louis XVI had this room doubled in size from 1788-1789 from an earlier room belonging to Louis XV. The white and gold panelling was done by Jean-Siméon and Jean-Hughes Rousseau. It features symbols relating to the navy, agriculture, trade, science, and the arts. The white and gold colour scheme was a very popular decor style at the time.
The next room, number 26, is the Inner Cabinet, which was commonly called “the Corner Cabinet.” Two different windows provide views out onto the Marble and Royal Courtyards. Louis XV enjoyed spending time here. It was from the balcony of this room that he sadly watched Madame de Pompadour’s funeral procession depart Versailles in 1764.
The wall paneling was crafted by sculptor Jacques Verberckt in 1753.
In 1778, during the reign of Louis XVI, this room hosted several ambassadors from the future United States of America, including Benjamin Franklin. They were seeking an alliance with France in their War of Independence against Britain. This was granted, and France supplied the Thirteen Colonies with financial and military support.
The original furniture has been restored to this room, a remarkable feat considering that most of it would have been sold off during the French Revolution. Of particular note is the cylinder/roll-top desk shown below, the first of its kind, which was made for Louis XV by cabinetmakers Jean-François Œben and Jean-Henri Riesener from 1760-1769. The lid of the desk can be rolled open to reveal the writing surface. The desk was designed so that Louis XV could leave his papers on the desktop, but hide them away from prying eyes by closing it. He could also lock both the cylinder lid and all the drawers with a single quarter-turn of a key.
I love the beautiful carpet!
The pink curtains with gold trim are gorgeous.
The vase below features the story of Diana, the Greco-Roman goddess of the hunt.
The American Independence Candelabra (shown below) was commissioned to celebrate the combined victory of French and American forces over the British in the Battle/Siege of Yorktown in 1781. The piece features leopards, roosters, sirens, and the prows of ships—all symbolic references to the various people who took part in the battle.
In 1738, Louis XV had the latest development in personal hygiene installed in its own separate room: a flush toilet! The seat is made of mahogany and set atop a marble floor. How fancy! By 1789, there were nine flush toilets at Versailles—most of them were for the private use of the royal family.
The Dispatch Cabinet, number 27, was where Louis XV discreetly met with his secret agents, examined their reports, and wrote instructions for them.
I wouldn’t be surprised if moving one specific book on one of these shelves opens a secret door.
A small cabinet, shown below, made by Jean-Henri Riesener holds Louis XVI’s watches. I’m sorry these photos are slightly out of focus—I was in a hurry because the tour group I was with had already gone into the next room! These watches were so beautiful that I couldn’t resist taking pictures of them. I will admit that the guide closed the door behind him in the next room, not realizing I had been left behind, and then I had to knock and be let in. I was really embarrassed by my faux-pas, but Neil thought it was hilarious!
The room where I caught up with the rest of the group was Louis XVI’s library, number 30. It was designed by architect Jacques Gabriel shortly before Louis XV’s death in 1774. There are several libraries on the upper floor of Versailles, but Louis XVI liked this one because it was near his Private Bedchamber. He used it to study geography and other sciences, which he was really interested in.
The round mahogany table is from Saint Lucia and was placed here in 1778. Its large size allowed Louis XVI to spread maps across its surface. The table is attributed to the work of cabinetmaker Jean-Claude Quervelle.
The cylinder desk in the corner was made by Jean-Henri Riesener around 1781.
In addition to the old books, I really liked the pink and floral textiles used on the chair and partition screen.
Below is the Golden Service Room, number 28, which is also called “the Golden Dishes Room.” This was a private room belonging to Madame Adélaïde, one of Louis XV’s daughters. It was built after Louis XV had the Ambassador’s Staircase demolished. She occupied this space from 1752-1769. The paneling was done by Jacques Verberckt and includes musical instruments, fishing equipment, and gardening tools. Madame Adélaïde learned Italian in this room from renowned Italian playwright Carlo Goldoni and took harp lessons from Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, a French writer. Louis XV later used this room for drinking coffee and displaying his gold tableware, which is how the room got its current name.
Next up is the Porcelain Dining Room, number 31. This room used to make up two of Madame Adélaïde’s rooms, and is likely where the young Mozart performed for the royal family in 1764. In 1769, the room was redesigned as a dining room. The room in its present form was mostly used by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Here they could host 40 guests for a “society supper,” which was a compromise between the great banquets held at the official royal table (where there could easily be one hundred guests) and the private meals preferred by Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
I really love the blue and gold colour scheme of this room, so please permit me the indulgence of the many pictures I took of it.
Lovely marble fireplace and blue chair.
You can see a line in the table below where it could be pulled apart, have leaves added, and then extended to seat more people.
The gold paneling and blue curtains are swoon-worthy.
The “porcelain” used in the name of this dining room comes from a special use that Louis XVI put it to. Every year at Christmas, Louis XVI would present his latest porcelain pieces from the royal porcelain Manufacture of Sèvres in this room. In the 18th century, porcelain was one of the most highly prized luxury items; it was worth even more than gold! It was so expensive and fragile that only the wealthiest of patrons owned it. The royal manufacture of porcelain dates back to 1738, when Louis XV and Madame de Pompadour established the Manufacture of Vincennes to compete with the porcelain factories in Chantilly, France and Meissen, Germany. In 1756, Madame de Pompadour had the Manufacture of Vincennes moved to Sèvres, close to the Château de Bellevue (which she owned). At this point in time, the Manufacture of Vincennes was renamed the Manufacture of Sèvres. Vincennes/Sèvres porcelain is prestigious and known for its excellent quality. Some of the best ceramicists have worked with the company. As a result, the pieces can be very expensive—a single plate will set you back several thousand dollars. A few examples of this porcelain are shown below.
This porcelain was commissioned for Louis XV in 1751, when the royal porcelain Manufacture was still located in Vincennes. There were originally 1,749 pieces to the set that were delivered to the King in three installments in 1753, 1754, and 1755 at a cost of 82,272 livres (a very rough estimate of more than $21 million USD today5). The celestial blue colour was developed especially for this service by the French chemist Jean Hellot. The service was sold off during the French Revolution. Versailles has been working carefully over the last 30 years to reacquire pieces from this service, as well as other items that once graced the halls of the Château. It’s a costly process, and requires patience (for the items to go on sale) and luck (to successfully track down the lost pieces). As of the time I’m writing this post in July 2019, the official Versailles collections website lists 12 returned items from this porcelain service.
Another piece from the set, a punch bowl, is shown below. Drinking punch was a brand new, wildly popular trend that took off in the last half of the 18th century; the fashion had come to France from England. The porcelain punch bowl, made in 1753, was one of the first of its kind. It would have come with a porcelain mortar that was used to grind the spices that perfumed the punch. Punch was made with tea, lemon, sugar, and rum from the sugar islands of the Caribbean.
Below are some close-up shots of the blue curtains and gold paneling.
The last room we toured in the King’s Private Apartments was Louis XVI’s Games Room, number 33. Originally, this room housed Louis XIV’s Cabinet of Curiosities—a fascinating object that would have been remarkable to see but, sadly, has disappeared without a trace. The room has undergone several changes but is now presented in the form it had as a games room during the reign of Louis XVI. Remarkably, most of the original furniture has been restored to this room as well, also having been sold off during the Revolution. After dinner, Louis XVI and his guests would retire to this room to play games. Louis XVI preferred backgammon, while his brothers enjoyed billiards and whist.
The chairs were designed by Jean-Baptiste Boulard in 1785.
The four corner cabinets were made by Jean-Henri Riesener in 1774. The gouache paintings (a method using watercolour and a glue-like substance to thicken it) commemorate the military victories of Louis XV. They were painted by Louis-Nicolas Van Blarenberghe (a member of the Van Blarenberghe art dynasty that also included his grandfather Jacques-Guillaume and son Henri-Joseph).
Our tour of the King’s Private Apartments is done! On our way to the Royal Opera House, we took a peek at the Lower Gallery. The Lower Gallery contains a series of 24 statues by Charles Le Brun that depict the four seasons, the four parts of the day, the four humours of man, the four forms of poetry, the four elements, and the four parts of the world.
Here is a diagram that illustrates where the Lower Gallery can be found on the ground floor of the Château de Versailles. It is situated between the Marble Courtyard and the gardens, and lies underneath the Hall of Mirrors.
Here are a couple of other shots of the Lower Gallery.
We have one stop left on our guided tour: the Royal Opera House. The Royal Opera House was built entirely of wood during the reign of Louis XV, from 1763-1770, under the direction of architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel. At the time, it was the largest concert hall in Europe, and could hold nearly 1,500 spectators. In addition to its use as a theatre space, it could also be adapted for use as a ballroom and a hall for feasts thanks to a complex system of movable floors using winches and hoists. It was inaugurated on May 16, 1770—the same day that it served as a reception hall following the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
The sculpted decoration was done by Augustin Pajou and the paintings by Louis-Jacques Durameau.
The space was decorated differently based on whether it was set up as a theatre or a ball room. As a ball room it was noticeably more colourful, with emerald green, blue, and silver serving as the dominant colours.
It’s kind of hard to tell in the picture below, but there is an optical illusion going on with the chandeliers in the spectator boxes. There is actually only half a chandelier, but it is set against a mirror—making it look like it’s actually a full chandelier! That’s a sneaky way to cut down on costs without cheapening the effect.
You might be able to see it better with the two half-chandeliers below.
Knowing that fact, look at the photo below at the middle row of chandeliers. All three of them are taking advantage of that mirror trick.
And look at them again, now from farther back. It’s hard to tell the difference between the top row of full chandeliers and the middle one with the half-chandeliers!
The last event to be held in the Royal Opera House before the French Revolution was the Banquet of the Guards on October 1, 1789—four days before the Women’s March on Versailles. The Opera survived the Revolution mostly intact, but it was stripped of all its furniture, mirrors, lighting, and decoration.
Louis-Philippe commissioned the restoration of the Opera House when he decided to turn Versailles into a museum in 1833. Changes were made to the hall’s original layout and decoration; red paint with gold crosses and fake red marble was used to cover up the original colours. Today, the Opera House can seat 600 spectators when it is set up as a performance space or 1,200 when it is being used as a ballroom.
Don’t let the fake marble fool you—remember, the hall is made entirely of wood, which makes for great acoustics.
The painting on the ceiling is Apollo Preparing the Crowns for Illustrious Men of the Arts, and was done by Louis Jacques-Jean Durameau in 1769.
Below is a decoration placed overtop the stage. It features the arms of France (three fleur-de-lys on a shield) flanked by two angels, with sunbeams behind them.
A close-up of the decoration.
That concludes this first post on touring the main residence of the Château de Versailles. I hope you enjoyed this close look at the Private Apartments of the King and the Royal Opera House. In the next post, we’ll visit some of the more famous areas of the Château including the Royal Chapel, the King’s State Apartments, and the Hall of Mirrors. Thank you for reading!
1a From what I remember, once you leave the main residence of the Château you can’t go back inside. Neil and I wanted to go on our private guided tour, grab some lunch, check out the gardens before it started to rain, and then come back to see the rest of the residence later in the day when it was (hopefully) a little less crowded. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to do this. This makes the argument to divide your visit into two days even stronger. Spend one day touring the residence and then one day going through the gardens and the residences found there. That way, there’s no worrying about trying to get back in anywhere. Also, bring something to snack on. You never know when you’ll be able to squeeze food into your visit, and for some reason that day we ended up not eating lunch—probably because we were running short on time and/or were trying to beat the rain. That didn’t help what was already a marathon experience: we were severely hangry by the end of it!
1b Further, of all the places where it might be worth it to catch the little tourist passenger train between sites or rent a golf cart, Versailles is it. The grounds are massive, and the attractions are spread out. Save your legs for when you’re actually walking through the things you want to see. It’s just over 2 kilometers (1.24 miles) to walk from the main residence to the Petit Trianon, which will take you around 30 minutes to walk. It’s the same distance from the main residence to the Grand Trianon. The distance between the two Trianons is shorter at 0.5 kms (0.31 miles), which is about 6 minutes to walk. The distance from the Petit Trianon to the Queen’s Hamlet is 0.55 kms (0.34 miles), about 7 minutes to walk. At first, we were too proud/cheap to pay for a golf cart or hop on a little train to get from the main residence to the Petit Trianon. We paid for that decision very quickly. We were very happy to hop on a small passenger train to take us from the Grand Trianon back to the main residence. Of course, it might not have been so bad if we hadn’t already spent several hours walking the hard marble floors of the main residence. Again, divide and conquer!
3 On August 17, 1661, prior to his arrest, Fouquet hosted Louis XIV at the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte. Fouquet threw a spectacular, no-holds barred celebration, ostensibly in honour of Louis XIV. There was music, dancing, a big feast, a tour of the impressive grounds, and several rounds of fireworks. Guests enjoyed the first ever performance of Les Fâcheaux, a comedic-ballet by French actor and playwright Molière. The party was impressive and unmatched in its splendour and display of wealth. Louis XIV was furious. He had already decided prior to this occasion that Fouquet had to be brought down, and this party further secured this decision. To Louis XIV, it seemed that this party was Fouquet’s declaration that he was more King than the King of France. He might have arrested Fouquet on the spot, but his mother, Anne of Austria, talked him out of it. Fouquet would be arrested a few days later, on September 5. One could say that Fouquet was like Icarus, flying too high around and subsequently getting burned by the heat of the Sun King. In 1664, Louis XIV held his own impressive celebration at Versailles, The Party of the Delights of the Enchanted Island. This celebration just happened to also feature a comedic-ballet produced especially for the occasion by Molière (as well as Italian composer and violinist Lully), The Princess of Elide, in which Louis XIV performed as a dancer in one of the leading roles. The Marble Courtyard later served as the stage for Alceste, an opera by Lully, which was performed as part of Louis XIV’s Grand Fête on July 4, 1674 . A feast was later served in the Marble Courtyard as part of that same celebration on July 28. Who has the best château and throws the biggest parties now? Whose tiles are the stage for whose parties now?
4 Fouquet was arrested by Charles de Batz-Castelmore d’Artagnan, lieutenant of the King’s musketeers. A fictionalized account of d’Artagnan’s life by French writer Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras inspired Alexandre Dumas to write three novels that also featured d’Artagnan as a lead character, the most famous one being The Three Musketeers. Fouquet was imprisoned at the prison fortress of Pignerol, and one of his valets was Eustache Dauger—a man who has been theorized as being the unidentified prisoner known as “the Man in the Iron Mask.” The character of “the Man in the Iron Mask” appears in the third novel by Dumas that features d’Artagnan as a lead character, The Vicomte de Bragelonne. Fouqet appears as a character in this novel as well. This novel is so long that it is often split up into 3-6 separate volumes, each with their own title; The Man in the Iron Mask is one of them.
5 The Place de la Concorde was temporarily renamed the Place de la Révolution during the French Revolution. This public square is where Louis XVI was executed, with the guillotine facing the empty pedestal where that statue of Louis XV once stood.
6 The inflation rate from 1751-2017 is approximately 3,730%. So 82,272 livres in 1751 would be worth 3068745.6 livres in 2017. But the French don’t use livres anymore, so it’s hard to think about what that would be worth in terms of currency still being used. What is that in US dollars? An accurate result would be very tricky to get, far beyond my mathematical skill level and knowledge of economics. Especially because US dollars did not exist in 1751, so a direct comparison cannot be made. However, in my second post on the history of Versailles, I worked out a very rough estimate that 1 US dollar (1791-2015) was worth 6.849315068 French livre tournois (1663-1795). This is based on what it takes to purchase the same amount of consumer goods and services in Sweden in 1783. Sweden? 1783? Yes, a different country and 30 years later than France in 1751. It’s an estimate so rough that one could say I’d be more almost more accurate making it up. It’s not a ballpark figure, it’s a state. Still, it’s fun! Using the 1 = 6.84… equation, that comes to a calculation of 21,018,805 dollars. I can thus say that the service of porcelain cost “more than the equivalent of 21 million US dollars today” and that would be correct—I’m just not sure exactly how much more. 21 million dollars, for porcelain! If you divide that by 1,749 (the number of pieces in the porcelain service), that works out to $12,017 a piece. So maybe that $3,000 plate going on auction at Christie’s is actually a steal?