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I have to start this blog by confessing that I absolutely hate going to the Chateau at Versailles. It holds a similar place in my mind as the Louvre and the Champs Elysees. The chateau in and of itself is fascinating but the throngs of people that come by the busload from Paris to visit and the long, snaking lines for the ticket windows makes the experience less than pleasant for someone who is not particularly fond of crowds. I am even less fond of them when you combine large groups of people from around the world who have very different ideas of what constitutes a line. That being said I have been to Versailles three times, once the first time I ever visited Paris and twice since I have lived here with company. I suspect my visit in April was my last and I am okay with that.

So, while we now know that Louis XIV intended to have Fouquet arrested before the magnificent party was thrown at Vaux le Vicomte we also know that upon seeing the amazing chateau and gardens at Vaux Louis felt that as king he needed an even more magnificent chateau and gardens to be his home.

Like most of the great chateaux in France Versailles started out as a hunting lodge that was built upon over the years to become the structure we see today. Construction on the chateau to make it the seat of Louis XIV reign began in 1664 and construction was continuously being done through 1788. Lucky for Louis his betrayed friend Fouquet had already done a lot of work for him in identifying the best artists of the time to design and build not only the chateau but the spectacular gardens surrounding Versailles. Le Notre, the famous French designer of gardens is being celebrated throughout this year as it is his 400th anniversary. In addition to designing the gardens at Versailles and Vaux le Vicomte he is also responsible for the gardens at Fontainebleu and Chantilly (where we will visit last).

Louis was crowned king at the age of 5 after the death of his father. To this day he is the longest serving monarch in history having served for just over 72 years. His rule was that of absolute monarchy and therefore believed fully in the divine right of kings. France thrived under Louis’ reign and was the leading power in Europe during the time. All of Louis’ immediate heirs predeceased him and upon his death he was followed onto the thrown by his great-grandson Louis XV.

After Louis XIV’s father’s death the upper nobility of France, all located in Paris, plotted an ill conceived rebellion against the royal family known as the Fronde. Queen Anne of Austria (Louis’ mother) was forced to flee Paris in the middle of the night with Louis and her younger son and sought refuge in the chateau at Saint Germain en Laye. It is speculated that Louis never forgot this humiliation and moved his court to Versailles for two reasons – because of the Fronde he hated Paris and he felt that at Versailles he could more easily spot traitors.

As you walk through the Chateau you are overwhelmed by the opulence. Everywhere you look is a spectacular painting, sculpture or piece of furniture. While the size of these chateaux borders on ridiculous it is important to note that the king and his family alone did not live there. The chateaux throughout France were the homes to other members of the aristocracy in high positions with the king and as travel was so cumbersome in those days it was also the temporary home of dignitaries from around the world. And of course we cannot forget the thousands of servants needed for the upkeep and care of not only the chateau and its gardens but also its inhabitants.

The most amazing part of Versailles is the famous Hall of Mirrors or in French the Galerie des Glaces. All seventeen mirrors and windows in the Hall of Mirrors look out on the gardens and the kings own apartments are just off the hall. On June 28, 1919 the Hall of Mirrors was used to sign the Treaty of Versailles thus ending the Great War, World War I.

Versailles, like the Louvre, is a place that on your first visit to France is a must see. You can skip it and go to Fontainebleu as you will encounter fewer lines and still get to see a spectacular palace, but in the end I think Versailles is a must see. If nothing else you need to see the gardens. We will return to Versailles again before we finish our journeys through French history. As we approach the French revolution we will go back to Versailles to see the Petit Trianon, the home of Marie-Antoinette. Thankfully though on that trip we can skip the lines and chaos of “the big house” and meander through the gardens to Marie’s hamlet. But, until then we have several more stops to make both inside Paris and out.

Next stop – Maintenon