Our Time In Paris, Part 2 (Versailles)

Return to International Travel – Introduction
Review: SWISS A340-300 ORD-ZRH and Marhaba Lounge ZRH
Lodging Review: Sina Villa Medici, Florence, Italy
Our Time In Florence, Part 1
Our Time In Florence, Part 2
Lodging Review: Park Hyatt Vendome, Paris, France
Our Time In Paris, Part 1 (Louvre, Sainte-Chappelle, Arc, Eiffel Tower)
Our Time In Paris, Part 2 (Versailles)
Our Time In Paris, Part 3 (Catacombs, Musee d’Orsay)
Viking Kari and an Afternoon in Montmartre
Our Time in La Roche-Guyon and Vernon/Giverny
Our Time on the Normandy Beaches
Our Time in Les Andelys and Le Pecq
Lodging Review: Renaissance Republique, Paris, France
Review: Air France A350 CDG-ORD


While our Viking cruise offered a paid half-day excursion to Versailles, we decided to do it on our own before the cruise even began. It was cheaper and we could explore at our leisure…and there is a LOT to explore! We bought tickets online ahead of time a few days in advance. Since the tickets are timed, this allowed us to get a morning time to tour the palace and then we had the rest of the day to explore the grounds and the Trianons. Had we waited to buy tickets on-site we would have toured the palace later in the day. Based on our experience I would advise touring the palace either first thing or last thing. The grounds are massive and you will spend a lot of time walking. There are several different ticket options and the one we bought included the palace, the grounds, the Trianons as well as an official guide book. I don’t know if there are other places to get this guide book but we went into the bookstore to get ours. The staff was not familiar with this book but after asking around we were given a book that costs €20 so we thought that was rather a good deal.

Chateau de Versailles

A Brief History

Originally owned by nobles dating back to roughly 450-750 AD, some of the land in this area was donated to the church in the 11th century. In 1561 the financial secretary of Charles IX acquired the land and built a manor house, though he was killed the next year. In 1589 Henri IV spent a few nights here and in 1604 returned to hunt in its forest. Louis XIII first came to Versailles as a child to hunt and once he became king returned many times. In 1623-24 he built the first, much smaller, version of the palace we see today and some of the rooms remain. Many additions and expansions followed and by 1639 it was one of the interesting places to view near Paris. Louis XIV continued modifications and in 1682 moved the seat of government to Versailles from the Louvre Castle. Louis XV greatly enhanced the artistic collection. Louis XVI and his bride, Marie-Antoinette, are responsible for the replanting of the gardens and for the creation of the Trianons and the Queen’s Hamlet before they were eventually executed during the French Revolution.

During the Revolution many works of art were removed to the museum that now resides in the Louvre and many of the books were taken to the National Library. Once things had calmed down Napoleon had planned to reside in the palace but abdicated before that ever came about. He did live in the Grand Trianon as of 1809. In 1833 King Louis-Phillippe I used his own money to transform it into a museum dedicated to “all the glories of France”.

In 1871 Wilhelm I, Emperor of Germany, announced the formation of the Second Reich in the chateau’s Hall of Mirrors. To help erase that embarrassment, the peace treaty that ended World War I was signed in the same Hall of Mirrors in 1919. The government moved into the palace in 1871 and back to Paris in 1879. In 2005 Congress returned all the rooms assigned to it back to the museum, except for the Congress room which is still used occasionally to debate revisions to the constitution.

To reach the palace entry visitors first pass this statue of Louis XIV and then the parade grounds which are paved with cobblestones. There are certain sections where an obvious effort has been made to make driveways, no doubt to make the ride for carriages and other wheeled vehicles smoother. There is a set of railings to provide entry into the Honour Courtyard and then the Royal Railings (seen at top) through which one enters the Royal Courtyard.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, who reigned for 72 of his 76 years

We arrived a little early for our timed ticket so we took the opportunity to scope out the restrooms and dining options for later. Since there was no line for entry to the chateau we thought we’d give it a shot and were allowed entry a full 30 minutes ahead of our time.

The Chateau

With over 721,000 square feet, there’s a lot to see in the Palace of Versailles. There are loads of paintings, furniture, statues, tapestries, chandeliers everywhere you look. And of course there’s no way to cover everything in this little blog. We spent over two hours in palace itself and I’m sure there are things we missed.

Royal Chapel

The first room we visited was the Royal Chapel which was completed in 1790. It was the fifth chapel though all previous versions were temporary. I wish the folding chairs had not been in place as the floor is quite beautiful as well.

Later, when we were on the First Floor (that’s the one above the Ground Floor for us Americans) we were able to get a view from there.  The way the chapel fills with light really makes it beautiful.

Venus Room

During Louis XIV’s reign the Venus room was the main entrance to the State Apartment. The walls are covered with marble and at one end is this statue of Louis XIV in ancient attire.

Louis XIV in ancient attire

The room gets its name from the painting on the ceiling, Venus Subjugating Divinities and Powers to Her Empire, by Rene Antoine Houasse in 1676.

Ceiling of the Venus Room: Venus Subjugating Divinities and Powers to her Empire (1876)

Mercury Room

This room was originally an antechamber but later became the State Bedroom. The bed was embroidered with gold. During times of informal receptions, this room was set aside as a games room for the royal family.

The Mercury Room

One of the famous portraits of Louis XIV, by Hyacinthe Rigaud in 1730, hangs in this room.

The Hall of Mirrors (aka The Great Gallery)

Rooms from the King’s Apartment, the Queen’s Apartment and a terrace in between were remodeled to become this famous gallery. The floor contains black, red and white marble. Construction of the room was done in 1678 but it was another six years before it was completely fitted out. The ceiling is said to be the masterpiece of Charles Le Brun and reflect the civil and military achievements of the king’s first twenty years.

King’s Bedroom

Commissioned by Louis XIV, this is where he slept during most of his seventy-two year reign and where he died in 1715. Louis XV initially slept elsewhere and used this room for formal ceremonies for awakening (lever) and going to sleep (coucher) though he eventually moved in as well. In 1778 Louis XVI received Benjamin Franklin and his delegation and signed the Treaty of Friendship and Trade Between France and the United States. In 1789, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their children all stood on the balcony of this room to face the crowd amassed in the Marble Courtyard below.

King’s Bedroom

Queen’s Bedroom

This was the largest room in the Queen’s State Apartment and where she spent most of her time. This is where the queens gave birth and several queens (and children) died here as well. The room has been restored to look as it did when Marie-Antoinette left it for the last time on October 6, 1789.

Queen’s Bedroom in her State Apartment

Queen’s Private Apartment

The queen also had a private apartment. When she left her State Apartment each day, this is where she often stayed. It had previously been an apartment for Madam Sophie (her late sister-in-law) and it was completely renovated for Marie-Antoinette.

Queen’s Bedroom in her Private Apartment


The Guardroom

This is the only room in the Queen’s State Apartment that has retained its decor exactly as it was during the reign of Louis XIV. The ceiling painting is of Jupiter and many of the others evoke scenes of royal justice.

The Guardroom

The Coronation Room

This room had previously been a chapel and then a guardroom. From this room the rioting mob broke into Marie-Antoinette’s bedroom in 1789. Louis-Phillippe decided to redecorate it to the glorification of Napoleon I. The giant painting of The Crowning of the Empress Josephine is actually a copy made by the original painter. We saw the original painting in the Louvre.

A copy of the Coronation of Josephine hanging in the Coronation Room

This obelisk, the Column of Austerlitz is Sevres porcelain set in gilt bronze and commemorates Napoleon’s victories during the German campaign of 1805.

The Column of Austerlitz in Coronation Room

The 1792 Room

This room connects the chateau’s central building and the South Wing. It was used as a Hall of Merchants in Louis XV’s day and the Swiss Guard’s room under Louis XVI. Louis-Phillippe chose its current decor which honors the heroes of the wars of the Revolution and they are depicted with the ranks they held in September 1792 during the proclamation of the Republic.

The 1792 Room

The Battle Gallery

This space was once the apartments of four princes and ten (or so) courtiers. Louis-Phillippe had those removed and replace with this magnificent gallery which features 33 giant paintings reflecting the military history from 496-1809. There are also 82 busts of the most famous military figures.

The Dauphin’s Apartment

The Dauphin (prince/heir to the throne) and his family also resided within the chateau and had their own set of rooms. The wood paneling in this room dates to 1755 and the angels in the decorations on the cornice reflect Louis XVI’s tastes when he lived here as Dauphin. The desk and chair were made for the Dauphin in the Chateau de Fountainbleu.

The Dauphin’s Library

This room was converted to a bedroom and enlarged in 1747 and its entire decorative scheme has survived.

The Dauphin’s Bedroom

Apartments of the Mesdames

“The Mesdames” referred to Marie Louise Therese Victoire and Marie Adelaide, the fourth and fifth daughters of Louis XV and Queen Maria Leszczynska. They never married and left France before the Revolution broke out, eventually staying in Naples for several years with Queen Maria Carolina, sister of Marie-Antoinette. They eventually settled in Trieste (then in Austria, now in Italy). Each sister had her own apartment within the chateau.

Madam Victoire’s bedroom reflects the “summer furniture” that would be in place during the warmer weather.

Madam Victoire’s Bedroom

The bookshelves contain several books that bear the coat of arms of the Mesdames.

Madame Victoire’s Library

The large drawing room in Madame Adelaide’s apartment now reflects the tastes of Madam de Pompadour and the fireplace in the back corner was designed especially for her. The organ reflects the Mesdames interest in music. The porcelain coffee set is by Sevres.

Madame Adelaide’s Large Drawing Room

The Gardens and Park

Before the Revolution, the estate of Versailles encompassed an area of over 21,500 acres which was divided into the Gardens (229 acres), the Small Park (2200+ acres) and the Great Park which was reserved for hunting and included several villages. During the Revolution the land was partitioned and some of it confiscated and the 2000 acres that remain are comprised of the Gardens and a portion of the Small Park.

The design of the gardens was carried out in the mid-17th century during the reign of Louis XIV though Louis XV and Louis XIV made minor changes. With a few exceptions the aim since 1995 is to restore the gardens to the way they looked in 1715, at the height of their splendor.

The King (Louis XIV) would walk in the gardens almost every day. To save water and energy, only the fountains where he was walking were turned on! The gardens were also open to the public during certain hours there was a celebration each year where there was a fountain show open to the everyone.

There are about 500 marble, bronze and lead sculptures around the gardens, making it the largest outdoor museum of sculpture in the world. Of these sculptures, there are about 20 antiques, 30 copies of antiques executed by pupils of the French Academy in Rome and the remainder are originals by the greatest sculptors of the day. However, since 2008 many have been replaced with replicas to prevent them from degrading any further.

The Water Garden and Northern Terrace

The Water Terrace is comprised of two large rectangular pools, the right-most of which can be seen in the left side of this photo. The Northern Terrace, viewed here from inside the chateau, features 13 statues, the Philosophers’ Roundabout and twelve bronze vases.

Northern Terrace with Water Garden

In this shot from the left rectangular pool you can see all the way down to the Grand Canal.

Water Garden down to Grand Canal

The Ballroom Grove

While this area looks a bit like an amphitheater, it is actually part of a fountain (obviously not in current use). When the water jets are turned on this area becomes an eight-level waterfall divided into five sections. It was inaugurated in 1685.

Ballroom Grove

The Orangery Garden

We did not visit the Orangery itself (the enclosed building) but the view of the Orangery Gardens from the Water Terrace is quite impressive. Within the Orangery Garden are six terraces and the small pond. Just off to the left out of camera range is the Swiss Pool which was dug over a five-year period by Swiss Guards. The pool is over 32 acres and could accommodate the entire chateau (obviously in a time before daily showers!).

The Orangery Gardens

The Saturn Fountain

This fountain, created 1672-1677 depicts the Roman god of time, generation, dissolution, abundance, wealth, agriculture, periodic renewal and liberation. The feast of Saturnalia was held in December in ancient times which I’m sure is one of the reasons this area of the gardens is called the Winter Basin. Saturn had been told that one of his offspring would overthrow him so legend has it that he ate his children upon their birth. This fountain shows him preparing to eat rock, thinking it is one of his children.

Saturn Fountain

The Mirror Pool

This pool is all that remains from a grove in this area. They’ve set up speakers and there is a periodic “dancing fountains” show.

The Mirror Pool

The Royal Alley

This is the name for the long walkway between the Chateau and Water Garden and the large Apollo Basin with its fountain. Along each side are a dozen sculptures, half of which are vases, and the others of Roman gods.

The Royal Alley

The Apollo Basin and Fountain

The basin gets its name from the fountain of Apollo On His Chariot which is symbolic of sunrise and dates to 1668-1670. As Louis XIV was known as the Sun King, this basin was important in the design of the garden.

Apollo Basin

The Enceladus Grove

This fountain in the midst of the grove is the giant Enceladus who was buried under Mount Etna after he attempted to climb Mount Olympus. It dates to 1675-76.

Enceladus Grove

The Water Theater Grove

While there was a Water Theater Grove during Versailles’ glory days it was demolished during Louis XVI’s reign during the replanting of the gardens. This newer version was installed in 2015.

The Water Theater Grove

The Grove of Apollo’s Baths

The grotto was built in 1665 and the three marble groups were installed in 1672. They illustrate the moment when the sun, having completed its daily journey, descents into the marine grotto of the goddess Tethys, wife of the god Oceanus.

Grove of Apollo’s Baths

The Three Fountains Grove

As you can tell we did not have much luck with most of the fountains actually running and this grove was no exception. Each of these three fountains shoot water in different patterns that work together to create a unique form when they’re all running at the same time.

The Three Fountains Grove…minus the fountains

The Grand Trianon

There once was a town of Trianon but Louis XIV acquired it in 1660 and incorporated it into the grounds of Versailles. Shortly thereafter he had all the townspeople moved and tore down the existing homes and buildings. Initially a grand home in the “Chinese style” was installed but the tiles that decorated it did not weather well and it was eventually replaced by what is now called the Grand Trianon. This is where the would install the ladies chose to “honor”.

During the Revolution the Grand Trianon was stripped of its furniture. Louis-Phillippe re-furnished the rooms and modernized them, including adding furnaces in the basement. Gradually it became a museum until General de Gaulle decided to turn it into a presidential residence where foreign heads of state on official business could be received. After being turned over to the management of Versailles in 1982, it once again became a museum in 2010.

The Mirror Room

This room overlooks the Grand Canal and was used as a study by Louis XIV and the mirrors date to this era. Empress Marie-Louise added the pianoforte, the easel and small tables.

The Mirror Room of the Grand Trianon

The Empress’s Bedchamber

This room was designed for Empress Marie-Louise (Napoleon’s second wife). The bed was made for Napoleon’s bedroom at the Tuileries Palace and was also used by Louis XVIII who died in it in 1824.

The Empress’ Bedchamber in the Grand Trianon

The Music Room

The wood paneling in this room is some of the oldest in the palace and it was in this room that the king would sometimes dine while musicians played just outside. Napoleon converted it to the Drawing Room for high dignitaries of the court and then Louis-Phillippe converted it to the billiards room.

The Music Room in the Grand Trianon

Louis-Phillippe’s Family Drawing Room

This is where the royal family gathered in the evenings. The blue spots on the yellow cloth covering the furniture are actually small Fleur-de-lis. The round tables have numbered drawers and the princesses each had a key so they could store their work safely.

Louis-Philippe’s Family Drawing Room in the Grand Trianon

The Malachite Room

This was the bedroom for Louis XV’s mother. Little remains of that decor. It became the emperor’s living room under Napoleon. Its name comes from the furniture designed to be ornamented with malachite offered by Tsar Alexander I in 1808.

The Malachite Room in the Grand Trianon

The Springs Room

This room once overlooked a small springs that disappeared sometime during the reign of Louis XVI. Napoleon turned this room into his topographical cabinet and the furniture dates from that era.

The Springs Room in the Grand Trianon

The Cotelle Gallery

This was once a walkway that led to a fragrant pavilion. The furniture dates from 1810. It is where the Trianon Peace Treaty was signed with Hungary in 1920.

The Cotelle Gallery in the Grand Trianon

The Gardens Room

During the reign of Louis XIV this room contained gymnastic equipment and in Napoleon’s time there was a billiards table. The furniture is from the Elysee Palace and later covered with embossed velvet for visits by the presidents of France.

The Gardens Room in the Grand Trianon

The Petit Trianon

King Louis XV was a keen botanist and wanted a chateau to enable him to spend time in the garden nearby. The building became known as the Petit Trianon and it was commissioned in 1761. As a museum its original decor was gradually restored and it was completely restored and refurnished in 2008. Here are shots of a few of the rooms.

The Billiard Room

This room’s paneling is original and the billiards table was commissioned by Louis-Philippe for his son, the Duc d’Orleans.

The Billiard Room

The Reception Room

The wood paneling bears Louis XV’s monogram ornamented with life-size fleurs de lis. The small card table is all that remains of the furniture during Louis XV’s time. The pianoforte and harp reflect Marie Antoinette’s taste in music.

The Bedroom in the Queen’s Apartment

Once Louis XV’s study, Marie Antoinette turned this room into her bedroom. The console table and the mahogany are original as are the clock, the chairs and the screen.

The Queen’s Bedroom in the Petit Trianon

The Boudoir in the Queen’s Apartment

Originally a staircase that enabled Louis XV to go to his bedroom on the floor above, Marie Antoinette had this room converted to her boudoir. The windows can be obscured in the evening by means of a system of movable mirrors that rise from the ground floor.

Queen’s Boudoir in the Petit Trianon

The Queen’s Hamlet

Marie Antoinette had a dozen rustic thatched-roof houses built in 1783, grouped around a lake, forming a small village. It was not a make-believe village; it was principally built for the dauphin’s education and was essentially a small farm, managed by a farmer and whose produce was used in the chateau’s kitchen.

The Temple of Love

Though technically not part of the hamlet, one passes this structure on the walk from the Petit Trianon to the hamlet. It was built in 1778 on an island in the small river. Inside is a copy of Cupid Carving a Bow from the Club of Hercules. The original is now in the Louvre.

The Queen’s House

The largest building, it’s actually two buildings joined by a wooden gallery. The right side is the House proper while the left side is the Billiard house.

The Queen’s House

Other Buildings

Other buildings in the hamlet include the Marlborough Tower and Cleanliness Dairy, The Boudoir and The Farm.

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In the end

We were exhausted after walking all day and never even made it to see the other outbuildings of the main chateau, like the stables, the coach gallery and the indoor tennis court. This is absolutely worth a visit but be sure to leave yourself plenty of time because there is a LOT to see.

Categories: Attraction Review, Europe, France, Historical Site, Trip Report, UNESCO World Heritage Site | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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