Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris' Best #2: Versailles Estate (Chateau)

 When I have always thought about Versailles, I have mentally pictured the Versailles Chateau, also known as the Palace of Versailles. That is where we started our tour of the Versailles Estate.
 Here is the floor plan of the chateau. Our tour started on the ground floor with the blue area (chapel and 17th century galleries) which then took us upstairs to the red area (King's and Queen's State Apartments) then back downstairs to the light blue (Dauphin's Apartments). We were not able to tour the yellow area (History of France) or the purple area (Mesdame's Apartments). The opening photograph is of the Royal Chapel, the first room we entered after having our ticket stamped.
 In the 17th century, Louis XIV, the Sun King, transformed the former hunting lodge of his father (King Louis XIII) into the finest estate in Europe. He then installed his court and government in the building and filled it with the finest 17th century art. During the French Revolution, Versailles was stormed and looted, leaving only the building. The furnishings in the building today attempt to re-create the original feel. The first few rooms we toured were filled with fine 17th century art, such as this one.
 After touring the art rooms, the mass of tourists moved upstairs through this hall of statues. I cannot find a name for this area in any of the literature we were given or in my web searches, but it is directly above the 17th century art rooms.
 At the far end of the hall of statues, we entered Hercules Drawing Room. This was a very impressive room, though it was so packed with visitors that it was very hard to enjoy. Notice all the heads at the bottom of the picture to the left.
One of the first things I noticed about Versailles was that it was mostly made of wood on the interior. For some reason (maybe it was all the churches and museums we had visited in Paris?) I had anticipated stone and marble, but that was not the case. Mostly, the interior is wood - including the floors. This is another shot of the Hercules Drawing Room.
 To me, this fireplace is the most impressive part of the Hercules Drawing Room. You could put a bed in there and sleep in it. That's my wife in the black jacket.
 I'm going to skip over many of the rooms because, at some point, they start looking the same. So I'm going to try and just hit the highlights. This map can be used as a reference point.
 This is the Mercury Drawing Room. This shot would not have made my 'favorites' list except for the fact that it gives you an idea of the mass confusion that the tour groups lend to the day. There were tour leads in virtually every room, and they were practically yelling their version of French history so that everyone in their group could hear. This shattered the tranquility and made it very hard to soak in the beauty of the surroundings. In this photo, you can see the tall blonde female tour lead in mid-shout.
 Here is my wife listening to the audio tour in the War Drawing Room. There was not much noteworthy about this room except that it serves as the entrance to the Hall of Mirrors.
 This view is standing in the War Drawing Room, looking into the Hall of Mirrors.
 The Hall of Mirrors is, in my opinion, the highlight of the chateau. It has the premiere view location in the floor plan and truly is spectacular. The right side of this room is covered with windows looking out over the gardens and the Grand Canal. Behind the wall to the left is the King's Bedchambers. The Hall of Mirrors recently underwent a $17 million restoration where 70% of the original 357 mirrors, dating to about 1680, were preserved, including one inscribed with the graffiti "Rene" from an 1820 restoration. The mirrors that were replaced had mirrors from the same era put in their place.
 Looking out the windows in the Hall of Mirrors, one sees this view. How would you like to be the King and stumble out of your bedroom each morning into the Hall of Mirrors and see this view of your estate? It would be hard to be in a bad mood, I would think.
 I know I have shown you this photo already in the previous post, but I liked how it came out so much that I thought I would put it here, in the proper sequence for the tour of the chateau. This is the far end of the Hall of Mirrors.

 Looking up, this is the ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors. We did go into the Kings' Chamber to the left, but the light was so low that photos really didn't do it justice, so I am leaving those out. It seems odd to me that the floor plan was set up so that the bedrooms were adjacent to the grand Hall of Mirrors. I would have put the private royal family area off to one side, so that they could have their privacy when appropriate. My wife said the audio tour stated that the King had become so immobile that he conducted much of his business from his bed. Maybe that explains it.
 Here is Queen's Bedchamber, with my wfie looking a tad worn out already. Again the location of this bedroom, adjacent to the Peace Drawing Room which is adjacent to the Hall of Mirrors, confuses me. Okay, maybe the King conducted his business from his bed, but what was the Queen's Bedchamber doing here?
Unfortunately, I did not record the name of this room, but it was on the same side of the upper floor as the Queen's rooms.
 Again, the ceilings were magnificent, if in need of repair. Note what appear to be white sticky-notes all over the ceiling...was this to temporarily hold it together, or mark where repair is needed?
 Another view of an adjacent room with a huge paiting. And a mass of tourists. Yikes. It was in this room that I saw a maintenance worker use a huge skeleton key (it must have been 9 inches long and 4 inches deep) to unlock one of the doors and enter a private room. They really did use those things!!
 We were then routed downstairs via stone steps that had been used so often that deep ruts had been worn into them along the ends, close the the handrails.
 Downstairs, we were led through a number of rooms that had been redecorated in the style of the era. Very beautiful. The carpet looks very faded from the years of sunlight.
 Obviously some sort of library...I am not sure if the books and other furnishings are original (they may have been able to retrieve them after the looting during the Revolution), but I am sure they are authentic to the time period.
 I have been talking about getting a massive globe for our living room, so I was surprised to see this gem at Versailles. This is much more elaborate than I want, as it opens up to reveal a topographic map of the earth's surface. Either that or it shows the underworld!
 Here is a close-up of it. Very massive.
 The first huge globe I saw was at Mount Vernon, in George Washington's home. I think that is where the seed was planted for wanting my own.
 To show you the wood in Versailles and its condition, I took this closeup of a downstairs wall. As you can see, time has taken its toll.
 Another shot showing the same thing. Make no mistake about it, millions of dollars are being invested to restore portions of the estate and they are making every effort to keep as much of it open to the public as possible at all times. It is going to take awhile to restore the whole thing - and then it will be time to start all over again!
And finally, one more unknown downstairs room. Well, that has been our quick tour of the chateau. I have skipped many of the rooms, and we probably saw much less than half of the palace when we went through. It is worth the hour trip from Paris, but what makes this such a fabulous place to visit is what we are going to show you tomorrow...the surrounding gardens. Stay tuned.

Photos in this post: Canon S5 IS


Anonymous said...

Your pictures are very beautiful and your information, well, informative. :]

I have enjoyed looking through your site! Thanks for the posts!
Keep up the great work.

God Bless

Anonymous said...

Been there myself. Words can't describe it. One needs to experience this Chateau. It was amazing and would love to back someday. Coming across your site brought it all back to me again like it was yesterday. Thanks.

J said...

Couldn't agree more - words just can't describe it!