On a rainy morning in Paris, we rushed across town to make it to the travel agency in time for our morning tour to the Palace of Versailles. Turns out they messed up our tour date/time and we were told to come back in the afternoon. This worked out completely to our advantage because we avoided Versailles in the rain and were able to spend most of the day in the Louvre. The clouds cleared just as we arrived!
Our “tour” (booked through Viator) was actually pretty lousy. They loaded us onto the bus and transported us there, but once we were off we were given an audio guide and a too-short time limit. If you’re planning on going to Versailles yourself, I think you could definitely do better. I found out my mom and aunt didn’t know the story of Versailles or that segment of the French Revolution at all, and started wondering why I had… there’s that Art History degree kicking in for me again! I thought the visit was much better knowing some background of its importance. So, here’s some tidbits of knowledge about the infamous, incredible Palace of Versailles.
Louis XIV (called the “Sun King” and symbolized by Apollo throughout the Palace) is credited with turning the Versailles into the place we see today. The French monarchy in this time period thrived on the illusion that visible affluence was power. Versailles is the place where the Royal family surrounded themselves with the Court. They were led by strict rules of etiquette, based on titles, family name, social class, etc. Their sophistication was to be closely emulated. Entertainment, over-the-top luxury, and special favors were constant.
And the people loved it. This accessible, visible Royal family was exciting, and also made the King more “real” to his subjects. Anyone could visit the King’s own bedroom as long as he was not present, or anyone could see him strolling throughout the gardens. The elegant, extravagant design of every bit and piece of the Palace and its grounds attributed to the wealth of the King, and France as a whole.
Louis XV and Louis XVI had pressure to keep Court there like their forefather although it became increasingly old-fashioned and expensive. It was a legacy. Eventually, Kings and Queens began to withdraw to their private apartments or to Trianon (a mini palace located far off in the gardens), especially Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette.
Hundreds of servant positions were eliminated in an attempt to save money without sacrificing personal luxuries and Versailles began to lose its appeal. The Court began to wonder why they should spend time travelling out all the way from the capital, and the King and Queen became increasingly distant from their subjects and serious affairs.
On October 5, 1789, a group of thousands of angry civilians and revolutionaries (also called the Women’s March on Versailles, set off by high market prices and lack of food) broke into the city armory for weapons and marched to Versailles. When they reached the Palace gates, the clueless Marie Anoinette supposedly coined her famous words “Let them eat cake,” in response to a servant explaining to her that the mob was hungry. She escaped momentarily, but the riot ended in the capture of the rest of the Royal family.
When Versailles was raided much of the furnishings were looted, and many pieces of art were sent to the Louvre. Since then, no one has dared to make Versailles a seat of power again—it was too suggestive of returning to the old ways of government. It served several short-lived purposes but, finally, it was decided that the palace would become a museum dedicated to the glory of France.