The opulent magnificence of this sprawling castle is so overwhelming that not many visitors pay much attention to its historical significance where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors on 28 June 1919 proclaiming the end of the World War I.
The flawed Treaty between Germany and the Allied Powers could not prevent the next – and more catastrophic – worldwide war from happening. But Versailles continues to mesmerize those who come to visit it. And it is so easy to come here –hardly 20 kilometers from Paris.
Versailles is the largest castle in Europe. It was the center of power since the late 17th century until the French Revolutionaries overthrew the monarchy. The last monarch, Louis XVI, was flamboyant and arrogant – and also probably bankrupt because of the extravagance of his father and grandfather.
He was captured and guillotined in 1789 along with his wife, Austria-born Marie Antoinette, who famously advised her starving subjects to eat cake if there were no bread available. She was probably either too naïve or utterly detached from realty to know that the poor eat bread because they couldn’t afford cake.
This massive castle was once a humble hunting village – quiet and tranquil, an ideal place for killing eatable animals and churning them out as French delicacies from their versatile kitchens.
The beheaded king’s grandfather, Louis XIV, was a mighty and ambitious ruler with enormous resources at his disposal. He had spent most of his childhood here when Paris had become a center of intrigues and conspiracies between rival nobles.
He had liked the place then and, upon becoming the King, moved the capital here in 1682 and made the hunting lodge as the royal residence. Over the decades it became one of the most spectacular buildings in the world. Many other European monarchs tried to replicate Versailles, but none succeeded – even remotely.
Epitome of grandeur
Louis XIV began building his dream chateau sometime in 1664 and the process continued till his death in 1715. The fiercely ambitious despot with exquisite taste wanted Versailles to excel in grandeur and that, undoubtedly, it did.
The French Revolution caused the decline of Versailles. Its royal residents were packed off to Paris. Piles of exquisite furniture were sold off and paintings were dispatched to the world’s most famous museum, Louvre, also in Paris. Versailles became the temporary seat of the nationalist government, holding parliamentary sessions where the last king loved to watch operas.
Touring the castle
There are a few rules that visitors have to follow for touring the palace. Visitors, on their own, can go through the royal apartments of the king and the queen, and also the Hall of Mirrors is undoubtedly the most celebrated hall in the palace where royal ceremonies used to take place. Rest of the palace can only be viewed in guided tours that take a long time and can seldom be completed in one day.
L’Opera was completed by Louis XV and inaugurated when Louis XVI married Marie-Antoinette.
The palace has five chapels. The last one was constructed by Louis XIV and is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Baroque architecture.
The garden that surrounds the palace evolved with it and is an excellent example of French garden planning and landscaping.
Don’t miss an art exhibition at Versailles that may coincide with your stay in Paris and marvel at the superb blending of artworks with exquisite architecture.
Not to be missed
Veresailles is, however, not only a site for one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, drawing some 30,000 tourists everyday, it is also a sprawling town where a hundred thousand people live. Take a walk through the town and get amazed at the beautiful houses, roads, markets and squares that the people have built for themselves for living happily.