Palace of Versailles

versailles palace fountain

The Versailles is a town and château in France, 20 km southwest of Paris.

A hunting lodge built for King Louis XIII in 1623, Versailles was rebuilt with extensive gardens in 1631. Under King Louis XIV it became the main royal residence and the seat of the French government from 1682.

The château was enlarged in two main phases, first by Louis Le Vau in 1668, then, by Jules Hardouin Mansart in 1678. The interior decorations were carried out under the supervision of the Premier Peintre du Roi, Charles Le Brun.

palace of versailles park

Palace of Versailles gardens laid out by André Le Nôtre, with a program of sculptures directed by Le Brun, was designed to complement the château: their solar imagery was directly related to the image of Louis XIV as the Roi Soleil (Sun King).

Further altered by Louis XV, Versailles was one of the most resplendent European palaces of the 18th century, a symbol of French royal power and an exemplar for contemporary monarchs.

In 1668 Louis XIV bought adjacent land where he built the Grand Trianon initially a pavilion, rebuilt in 1687 as a château set in its own large gardens.

The Petit Trianon was built as a pavilion in these gardens by Louis XV from 1761 to 1768. In 1774 Queen Marie-Antoinette rearranged and developed the gardens, building the Hameau (Hamlet).

Palace of Versailles History

palace of versailles courtyard

Palace of Versailles 1623–1677
At the beginning of the 17th century, Versailles was a small village, located in an undulating, wooded region about 10 km from the royal château of Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

In 1623 Louis XIII, an enthusiastic hunter, acquired land in the district, and a hunting lodge was built for him, a modest, two-story building, with three ranges of apartments, and surrounded by a moat.

The King first stayed there in 1624. As he gradually spent more time on his Versailles estate, the hunting lodge soon became too small, and in 1631 Philibert Le Roy demolished it and built in its place a château of brick and stone.

Between 1631 and 1634 the principal range of apartments, flanked by two square blocks, was built at the back of the courtyard, followed by the north and south wings, the courtyard being enclosed by an arcaded portico. During the same period, the King purchased surrounding land, and a garden was laid out by Jacques Boyceau and Jacques de Nemours.

The young Louis XIV first visited Versailles in 1651, but the château was too small to receive the royal family and the accompanying nobility, and from 1661 Louis began to have the building enlarged by Louis Le Vau.

the versailles grounds

Two wings were built in the forecourt, one for kitchens and domestic accommodation, the other one for stables. During the same period, the King commissioned André Le Nôtre to design new gardens.

Le Vau proposed in 1668 a plan which preserved the original château at the center, surrounding it with an envelope, which entirely screened it from the garden side but left it visible from the courtyard. The new building, the envelope, was in white ashlar.

The north wing, reserved for the King, contained the Appartement des Bains on the ground floor, the Grand Appartement on the first floor, and private apartments around the Cour de Marbre. The south wing, a long block of 25 bays, contained the apartments of the Queen, her children, and the King’s brother, Philippe I, Duc d’Orléans.

Palace of Versailles

On the garden side, a terrace paved in marble at the first-floor level separated the apartments of the King and Queen. Between 1671 and 1679 two additional wings to the north and south of the cour d’honneur were built to house ministers and their departments.

The palace interiors were fitted up in the 1670s while building works continued: the apartments of the King and Queen were decorated in marbles of various colours, and the ceiling paintings were entrusted to CHARLES LE BRUN and his team; the Escalier des Ambassadeurs to the north and the Escalier de la Reine to the south gave imposing access to the Grands Appartements.

At this time the King’s suite comprised six rooms: a guardroom, an antechamber, a bedchamber, and three offices. The rooms were paneled with marble, some of them were hung with richly embroidered silks and filled with sumptuous furniture.

Palace of Versailles – After 1677

palace of versailles mainhall

The enlargement of the château was a constant preoccupation of Louis XIV, and in 1678 Jules Hardouin Mansart was put in charge of extensive building works, which gave the Palace of Versailles its definitive appearance.

New wings, the Ailes du Nord and du Midi were added north and south of the main block; the Galerie des Glaces replaced the first-floor terrace, with Le Vau’s projecting blocks turned into the Salon de la Guerre at one end and the Salon de la Paix at the other.

To accommodate the services, the Grandes, and Petites Ecuries were built opposite the château, together with the Grand Commun. The works continued until 1686 and 1687, employing a vast number of artists and craftsmen. The King regularly inspected progress in the company of Hardouin Mansart, Le Nôtre, and Le Brun.

the Versailles Royal Chapel

The exterior, in a style of elegant classicism, has an arcaded, rusticated ground floor, supporting a main floor with round-headed windows divided by pilasters; the attic story is crowned by a balustrade bearing sculptured trophies.

In May 1682 Versailles became the king’s official residence and the seat of government. The Grand Appartement was converted to an apartment of state; the salons of Diana, Venus, Mars, Mercury, and Apollo were used for concerts, games, and refreshments.

The Galerie des Glaces, with an arcade of 17 mirrors facing the windows looking onto the gardens, had a vault 73 m long, decorated with a scheme of allegorical paintings by Le Brun proclaiming the achievements of Louis and of France between 1661 and 1678.

This was the most privileged part of Versailles, where the courtiers might observe the monarch proceeding to mass or to receptions from his private apartments, located directly behind the Galerie des Glaces, around the inner Court, the Cour de Marbre, in the old part of the château.

the palace of versailles chendelier

At the end of his reign, this suite consisted of a guardroom, two antechambers, his bed-chamber, the Cabinet du Conseil, and a series of salons and small galleries in which he kept collections of paintings and objets d’art. Later, these salons and galleries were to be radically altered during the reign of Louis XV.

The last building erected during Louis XIV’s reign was the Chapel, begun in 1699 to plans prepared by Hardouin Mansart and finished by Robert de Cotte. It was dedicated in 1710, five years before the King’s death.

Louis XV first lived in Paris and Vincennes and took up residence at Versailles only in 1722. He respected the earlier work, leaving unchanged the exterior of the château and the Grands Appartements.

chateau de versailles the hall of mirrors

From 1738, however, he greatly altered the cabinets of Louis XIV on the north side of the Cour de Marbre. New salons were created to form a more intimate suite, decorated with magnificent white and gold paneling by Jacques Verberckt and Anges-Jacques Gabriel.

In the same part of the palace, the King had a suite of small, richly decorated, and furnished private rooms built around an interior courtyard known as the Cour des Cerfs, reached by interior staircases. Since the King’s large family was accommodated in the palace, the Appartement des Bains was replaced by suites of rooms fitted out for his children and their households.

There was, however, no large theatre: temporary auditoria had been set up as circumstance demanded, notably (until its demolition in 1752) on the landing of the Escalier des Ambassadeurs.

Gabriel had been involved in plans for an opera house as early as 1748, but the Opéra was finally built at the end of the Aile du Nord for the marriage of the Dauphin (the future Louis XVI) to Marie-Antoinette, Archduchess of Austria, in 1770.

In 1771 Gabriel made plans to rebuild in stone the façades of the buildings around the Cour Royale on the city side, to harmonize them with Hardouin Mansart‘s work on the garden side. This ‘grand dessein’ was suspended by financial difficulties at the end of the reign, and only the interior wing on the north side was redone. Louis XVI, succeeding in 1774, showed the same respect for the work of Louis XIV and made only a few changes to his inner apartments.

chateau de versailles Mars Drawing Room

In October 1789 Louis XVI and the royal family were forced to leave Versailles under pressure from the revolutionary Parisian crowd. Versailles, abandoned during the revolutionary period, was stripped of most of its furniture, which was auctioned in 1793 and 1794, and the building slowly deteriorated.

Some restoration work was undertaken by Napoleon I in 1810 and by Louis XVIII in 1820, but the main effort to protect it was not begun until the reign of Louis-Philippe, who as early as 1833 was determined to create at Versailles a museum dedicated to ‘Toutes les Gloires de la France’.

Major works were implemented. The Ailes du Nord and du Midi were converted into museum galleries housing extensive collections of 17th, 18th, and 19th-century paintings and sculptures.

chateau de versailles interior

Some of the work undertaken in this period was spectacular: the Galerie des Batailles on the first floor of the Aile du Midi was 120 m long and decorated with 33 pictures illustrating the greatest French military victories, from Tolbiac (496) to Wagram (1809); the Salles des Croisades, evoking the medieval crusades to the Holy Land; the Salles d’Afrique, which recalled the conquest of north Africa in the reign of Louis-Philippe himself.

The new museum and the old royal apartments within the main central block opened in 1837.

Since then the Musée National du Château de Versailles has maintained these two aspects: the Galeries Historiques comprising the Musée de l’Histoire de France, and the royal and princely apartments in the central part of the palace, which has been restored and refurbished in successive campaigns since they were opened.

Palace of Versailles Gardens

In 1661, when Louis XIV began to enlarge the Château of Versailles, the surrounding grounds were in a rudimentary state, although some avenues had been laid out and box-edged flower beds placed round the château in the 1630s under the direction of Jacques Boyceau and Jacques de Nemours.

interior palace of versailles

The King acquired further land (at the end of his reign the estate extended over 2473 ha, now reduced to 815 ha) and had gardens designed and laid out by Andre le Notre which would harmonize with Le Vau’s new building.

Louis paid the greatest attention to the design of the gardens, visiting them daily whenever at Versailles; in 1689 he even wrote a kind of guidebook for visitors, Manière de montrer les jardins de Versailles, revised several times until 1705.

The grounds still retain the general structure of Le Nôtre’s layout: a principal east–west axis flanked by parallel secondary axes north and south, and intersected by four north–south avenues. In the grid squares thus defined, Le Nôtre, succeeded by Jules Hardouin Mansart, installed groves (bosquets) and fountains.

the versailles Napoleon

The east–west axis ran from the terrace of the château via the Parterre d’Eau, with the bronze allegorical statues of the rivers of France, the Latone steps, the Parterre de Latone, and the Tapis Vert walk, to the Bassin du Char d’Apollon at the beginning of the 1560 m Grand Canal.

On the south side, the gardens terminated with the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses, which extended the Parterre de l’Orangerie towards the château, and the Orangery built by Hardouin Mansart under the Parterre du Midi.

To the north, the gardens slope down to the Bassin de Neptune by way of the Parterre du Nord, the Pyramide fountain, and the Allée d’Eau. Some bosquets survive to evoke the splendor of Louis XIV’s grounds: on the south, the Salle de Bal (or Bosquet des Rocailles) by Le Nôtre and the Colonnade, built by Hardouin Mansart; and to the north, the Bosquet d’Encelade and the Bosquet des Dômes, both by Le Nôtre.

The excavation, setting out, and decoration of the bosquets and the numerous modifications lasted nearly 40 years. One of the essential elements of the gardens was the waterworks: the prominence of water and the diversity of its use excited the admiration of contemporaries but involved the king in extensive engineering works to draw it from the rivers Seine and Eure; for example, the construction in 1681 of the ‘Machine de Marly’, 14 waterwheels designed to pump the 6000 cubic meters that were daily required to operate the fountains.

Garden Sculptures

The sculpted decoration of the Chateau de Versailles gardens was undertaken at the same time. The decorative theme was often inspired by solar myth and so connected to the person of the Roi Soleil, as, for instance, the Bassins des Saisons and the 24 statues commissioned by Jean Baptiste Colbert in 1674 and inspired by the Iconologia of Cesare Ripa.

the Versailles north pond

The first sculptures in gilded or painted lead were replaced by statues of white marble, either copy of antiques or works carved under the direction of Charles Le Brun. It was not until 1684 that the first sculptures cast in bronze by the Keller brothers, Johan Jacob and Balthasar, appeared on the grounds.

These carvings, which made the gardens of Versailles the largest contemporary open-air museum of sculpture, were the work of sculptors from the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, such artists as François Girardon, Martin Desjardins, Gaspard and Balthazard Marsy and Antoine Coyzevox.

Louis XV and Louis XVI made a few changes to the gardens of the château. During the former’s reign, Anges-Jacques Gabriel altered the layout of the Bassin de Neptune, created by Le Nôtre, and set up the lead sculptures by Edme Bouchardon, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne and Lambert-Sigisbert and Nicolas-Sébastien Adam. Louis XVI replanted the grounds, too many old trees have died.

A few of the original bosquets were removed and some altered: the Bains d’Apollon north of the Parterre de Latone, which was altered to an anglo-chinois style after a design by Hubert Robert, and at the south edge of the grounds the Labyrinthe was replaced by the modest Jardin de la Reine.

Abandoned after 1789, the grounds were partially restored under Louis XVIII between 1816 and 1824, and restoration and replanting are still continuing.

Grand and Petit Trianons at Versailles

The Grand Trianon

the versailles statues

In 1668 Louis XIV bought Trianon, next to the Versailles estate, and commissioned Louis Le Vau to build him a house there. The pavilion finished in 1670 and decorated with white and blue tiles much like Delftware, became known as the ‘Trianon de Porcelaine’.

Its gardens, designed by Michel Le Bouteux, a nephew of André Le Nôtre, became famous for the beauty, variety, and scent of their flowers. Le Vau’s pavilion deteriorated rapidly, and in 1687 the King appealed to Jules Hardouin Mansart to replace it with a château of white stone and pink marble.

The work was completed in a few months, supervised very closely by the King.

The building consists of two L-shaped single-story wings, linked by a marble peristyle with piers of Languedoc and Campanian marble.

The façades are articulated by Languedoc marble pilasters. The building has a low-pitched roof, the parapets punctuated with vases, trophies, and stone statues.

The main courtyard, enclosed by a wrought-iron grille, gives access to the peristyle and thence to the gardens, which were enlarged by Le Nôtre and Le Bouteux in 1687.

The south wing contains the suite occupied by Louis XIV between 1691 and 1703, and, from 1810, by Empress Marie-Louise on her rare visits to Trianon. The salons, overlooking the garden, include the Salon des Glaces, the bedchamber, the antechamber of the Chapel, and finally, the first antechamber, which opens onto the peristyle.

versailles main gate

The north wing comprises two parallel series of apartments. On the garden side, a suite of rooms used by Louis XIV until 1691 became the 19th-century reception salon.

Behind them, looking east over the Jardin du Roi is a suite with smaller rooms occupied during Louis XIV’s reign by Madame de Maintenon, and which Napoleon I fitted out as a private apartment, comprising an antechamber, a study, a bathroom, a bedchamber, and a dining room.

The north wing leads to the wing known as Trianon-sous-Bois through a gallery decorated with paintings commissioned by Louis XIV from Jean Cotelle II and Etienne Allegrain, which depict the principal groves and gardens of Versailles and Trianon.

The chapel created by Louis-Philippe on the site of Louis XIV’s former billiard room stands at the junction of the two wings. The Trianon-sous-Bois wing is built in stone without marble veneer and consists of a main story with an attic.

The gardens of the Grand Trianon have largely preserved the layout. They lie along an east–west axis leading from the peristyle, with a high parterre with two pools, dropping to the low parterre, which leads to the large Bassin du Plat-Fond or Miroir.

the versailles gardens

When the Grand Trianon itself was built, the plans for the garden were entrusted to Le Nôtre, then, at his death in 1700, to Hardouin Mansart, who finished planting the bosquets. From that time the garden developed northwards in a formal sequence comprising the Buffet d’Eau, the Jardin des Marronniers, the Amphithéâtre des Antiques, and many ‘Salles Vertes’.

At the end of the Trianon-sous-Bois wing, the Jardin de Laocöon leads back to the former Jardin des Sources and the Jardin du Roi. The sculptural decoration of the Trianon gardens was installed byHardouin Mansart in 1704: the sculptures for the water basins are mostly reused from the Bassins des Saisons in the grounds of Versailles.

Towards the end of the 18th century, the Trianon gardens were neglected in favor of Marie-Antoinette’s works at the Petit Trianon, and they were further modified during alterations made to the château under the Empire.

Two guard houses were built at the entrance to the grounds and near the old Jardin des Sources a small bridge spanned a ha-ha. It now connects the grounds of the Palace of Versailles Trianons.

Louis XIV used Trianon as a private retreat and held festivities, concerts, and suppers for selected guests. His successors were less interested in the château.

Its furniture was sold during the Revolution, but in 1805 Napoleon I had it restored and entirely refurnished. Louis-Philippe, in the image of his ancestor Louis XIV, came to Trianon often with his family. In the restoration of the château between 1962 and 1966 the mural decorations were restored to their 17th-century state, while the furniture is on the whole that of the Empire period.

The Petit Trianon

versailles palace paint

In 1749 Louis XV extended the Trianon gardens towards the north-east, installing a farm, ‘la nouvelle ménagerie’, which included a superb botanic garden; a second botanic garden located near the château was organized by Bernard de Jussieu. In 1761, on the advice of the Marquise de Pompadour, the King commissioned Anges-Jacques Gabriel to build a pavilion within the Trianon Gardens.

Built from 1762 to 1768, the five-bay façades of white stone are articulated by fluted Corinthian columns and pilasters. The building has a basement, main floor, and attic story, but the basement is properly visible only on the side facing the botanical garden, leaving the salons themselves at courtyard level.

Following his accession in 1774, Louis XVI gave the Petit Trianon and its grounds to Marie-Antoinette, who, following Louis XV, created a seven-room apartment on the main floor.

The mezzanine and attic accommodated several of the Queen’s intimates. It was the rearrangement of the gardens that engaged the Queen’s full attention. She drew on the advice of both her architect Richard Mique and an enlightened amateur, the Comte de Caraman.

These gardens were laid out in the Anglo-Chinois style: artificial hills, grottoes, rivers, and lakes were created, with sinuous footpaths winding among them, revealing in their twists and turns the many charming buildings commissioned by the Queen.

versailles palace painting

A small Belvédère overlooked the Grotto and the Petit Lac; and on an island in the ‘river’ stands the Temple de l’Amour, built-in 1778 by Mique, with Joseph Deschamps.

Marie-Antoinette’s garden was extended by the Hameau (Hamlet), a group of 12 peasant houses made of cob and roofed with tiles or thatch, built by Mique from 1783 to 1785: they include the Moulin with its waterwheel, the Boudoir, the Réchauffoir, the Maison du Billard connected to the Maison de la Reine by a wooden gallery, the Colombier, the Maison du Garde, the Tour de Marlborough, and the Laiterie de Propreté.

The Grange, which served as a ballroom, and the Laiterie de Préparation have disappeared.

In 1805 Napoleon, charmed by the Petit Trianon, ordered it to be restored and had the Hameau fitted out for Empress Marie-Louise. In 1837,

Louis-Philippe, having completed the transformation of Versailles into a historical museum, restored the two châteaux at Trianon and their gardens.

In 1867, the year of the Exposition Universelle in Paris, Empress Eugénie assembled at the Petit Trianon a collection of objects recalling the memory of Marie-Antoinette and her family. The interior of the Petit Trianon has been restored to its state.

Palace of Versailles – Visitor Information

chateau de versailles details

Ticket information:
A ticket price to the Palace interior is 15 € / 13 € reduced

A visit to the Trianon Palaces and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate will cost you 10 / 6 €

The private apartments of Louis XV and Louis XVI, the Royal Opera, and the Royal Chapel are only available through guided tours and the ticket price is 16 €.

A ticket passport includes access to the entire Complex of Versailles, including the palace, gardens, exhibitions, Trianon Palaces, and Marie-Antoinette’s Estate. The price is 18 €.

Opening times

The palace is closed every Monday and on public holidays: the 1st of January, the 1st of May, and the 25th of December. See details about the opening times on the official website.

Palace of Versailles Location

Château de Versailles Address: Place d’Armes, 78000 Versailles, France.

Palace of Versailles Map

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