Palace and Gardens of Versailles
Photo Credit: Marc Vassal
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From the seat of power to the Museum of the History of France
The ChĂ˘teau de Versailles, which has been on UNESCOâ€™s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIIIâ€™s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.
The Hall of Mirrors, the Kingâ€™s Grand Apartments, the Museum of the History of France. The ChĂ˘teau de Versailles, the seat of power until 1789, has continued to unfurl its splendour over the course of centuries. At first it was just a humble hunting lodge built by Louis XIII. But Louis XIV chose the site to build the palace we know today, the symbol of royal absolutism and embodiment of classical French art.
In the 1670s Louis XIV built the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen, whose most emblematic achievement is the Hall of Mirrors designed by Mansart, where the king put on his most ostentatious display of royal power in order to impress visitors. The Chapel and Opera were built in the next century under Louis XV.
The chĂ˘teau lost its standing as the official seat of power in 1789 but acquired a new role in the 19th century as the Museum of the History of France, which was founded at the behest of Louis-Philippe, who ascended to the throne in 1830. That is when many of the chĂ˘teauâ€™s rooms were taken over to house the new collections, which were added to until the early 20th century, tracing milestones in French history.
From the central window of the Hall of mirrors the visitor look down on the grand perspective that leads the gaze from the Water Parterre to the horizon. This original perspective, which preceded the reign of Louis XIV, was developed and prolonged by the gardener AndrĂ© Le NĂ´tre by widening the Royal Path and digging the Grand Canal. This vast perspective stretches from the faĂ§ade of the ChĂ˘teau de Versailles to the railings of the park.
In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned AndrĂ© Le NĂ´tre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the ChĂ˘teau. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But AndrĂ© Le NĂ´tre did not work alone: Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Superintendent of the Kingâ€™s Buildings, directed the project from 1664 to 1683; Charles Le Brun, appointed First Painter of the King in January 1664, produced the drawings for a large number of statues and fountains; and, a little later, the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart drew up increasingly understated scenic plans and built the Orangerie. Lastly, the King had all the projects submitted to him and wanted the â€śdetails of everythingâ€ť.
The laying out of the gardens required enormous work. Vast amounts of earth had to be shifted to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal, where previously only woods, grasslands and marshes were. The earth was transported in wheelbarrows, the trees were conveyed by cart from all the provinces of France and thousands of men, sometimes whole regiments, took part in this vast enterprise.
Since 1992, the gardens have been gradually replanted, and after the devastating storm of December 1999, the work speeded up to such an extent that quite a few sections have already been restored to their original appearance.
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