Late start, gold panels, chilly gardens, and royal life.
- Our jet lag extended all the way to Sunday. To my horror, we woke up at 10:00 am on the day planned for our trip to Versailles. I huffed and puffed all the way to the train station. Jorge tried to lift my spirits and make me feel less like a total research failure. I was feeling pretty “hangry” too but would not stop to waste another minute.
Historic note: During the early 17th century, the palace of Versailles began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII . Throughout the rule of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, the royal château expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world. For over 30 years the royal seat and its grounds have been included in UNESCO´s word heritage list.
- Once we arrived at Versailles, my whole perspective changed. From a great distance I could see the palace’s gilded gates against the grey sky. That’s when I started to get really excited. For over ten years, this estate has been on my top ten places to visit.
- A week before our trip, I signed up for a tour of the kings’ (Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI) private chambers. The tour was enlightening as it totally changed my earlier notions and interpretations of the palace. Our tour guide was French gentleman with a heavy accent but perfectly charming. The whole time he spoke, I was in a state of constant bliss. He was incredibly knowledgable and well spoken, each word thoughtfully chosen and observations to the point.
- We entered the palace through the kings’ private entrance. Whether through decoration or function, much of the apartments were focused around hunting (a favorite pass time for all three monarchs). After the guards’ room, we climbed up the stairs that lead into an antechamber.
Observation: The walls were elegantly decorated and not overly saturated. The textiles and paneling boasted mostly ochre, green, and gold palettes. All of the furnishings were designed by master carpenters and inlaid with the most exquisite woods.
- From the antechamber, we passed through the kings’ dinning room, and then moved onto their private sleeping quarters. Our guide also emphasized the incredible lengths the Versailles estate takes to recover, restore, and preserve its furnishings.
Historic note: After the royal family was removed from Versailles. The new political state auctioned off much of the palace´s royal furnishings. In this way, they helped finance their budding regime. All of the current furnishings at Versailles have been re-purchased or gifted back. Some still linger in museum or private collections around the globe.
- We winded through a sequence of rooms that included the study, library, secret meeting room, and bathroom before we reached the chapel of Versailles. One of the cabinets in the study, is the most expensive piece of furniture at the palace. Its estimated worth is roughly 11 million euros. The rich mahogany piece has an even richer history. It was auctioned off to a member of the English royalty, then to the Rothschild family, and then stolen by Hitler. Eventually the sideboard made its way back to its intended place.
- They were hosting a private concert in the holy space but as we were on the tour, we were able to sit and admire the lux green marble and Baroque decorations of the church.
- After our tour, we explored public areas of the palace. The difference between the private and public domains of the palace was striking. If I had not taken the tour, my impression of Versailles would have been different. The public and ceremonial portions of the palace are heavily adorned and clash with the elegant interiors of the kings’ private quarters. Celestial ceilings hang over the lofty chambers connecting different sections of the palace. Floral prints and bold colors cover the walls of each room. Thick embroidered fabrics falls from every canopy and sifts the light from every window.
Historic Note: Our tour guide emphasized that more than anything, protocol and ceremonies were a means to entertain the nobility. If they were concerned with their own status, who would be invited to which party, who could sit, who had to stand, then they would be less concerned with issues of state.
- The palace’s sense of ceremony and theatre impressed me more in person. Although the almost comical nature of Versailles’ ceremonies is shown in popular movies like Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, the ridiculous nature of Versailles’s etiquette and protocol is even more incredible in person.
- Once we explored the palace, we spent the late afternoon walking through the extensive gardens. Before entering Marie Antoinette’s retreat and the Grand Trianon, we stopped for hot chocolate at the Petite Trianon.
Spoiler: The day we spent at Versailles was my favorite. Despite the crowds of people, it was completely immersive. Like time traveling…
To be continued…