Until half-way through the 17th century, Versailles was a tiny village in the countryside outside Paris. It was site of the royal hunting lodge and although, as they were keen hunters, the French regents “camped” there frequently, it was hardly a fitting place for the Kings’ court.
But in 1642, Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King, set up residence at Versailles and began the process of transforming the humble hunting lodge into the larges and grandest palace in the world.
The magnificent Palais de Versailles was designed by the architect Louis Le Vau and its hundreds of splendid rooms were sumptuously decorated by the interior designer Charles Le Brun. One of the most striking rooms is the Galerie des Glaces or Hall of Mirrors, a fairy-tale ballroom designed to reflect and multiply the dazzling King and his courtiers. Surrounding the palace are 800 hectares of parkland and gardens, laid out in the contemporary French Garden style by the landscape designer André Le Nôtre. They include avenues of trees, parterres of flowers, manicured lawns, fountains and sculptures. One of the most impressive features of Versailles is the geometric layout of the entire complex, including buildings and gardens with the Sun King’s bed chamber at its heart.
The Royal Court was officially established at Versailles on May 6, 1682. By keeping his Ministers, Advisors, Provincial Rulers and Courtiers close to him, dependant on him and more or less cut off from the outside world, Louis XIV kept them powerless and loyal. Strict rules of etiquette kept control at Versailles The epitome of this was the “lever” which required an attendance of courtiers every morning when the Sun King rose from his bed. All at Versailles clamoured for the privilege. Breaches or negligence of protocol, lack of deference or a mere fall from favour meant banishment and to banished from the court was to be banished from the sun and from life. Sometimes it simply meant death.
Versailles remained the seat of absolute power until the French Revolution in 1789, when Louis XVI, his wife Marie Antoinette and their children were forced to return to Paris
Versailles is important, historically, as a symbol of the Absolute Monarchy of the Ancien Regime.
Today the village of Versailles is a busy suburb of Paris and the Chateau de Versailles is a treasured part of France’s heritage.