8 Reasons Why The Palace Of Versailles Should Be On Your Bucket List

Discover why the Palace of Versailles, one of the most visited world heritage sites in the world should be in your bucket list.

Sep 26, 2020By Marie-Madeleine Renauld, MA & BA Art History and Archaeology
palace of versailles
Interior of The Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles by Charles Le Brun, 1678-84 (left); with Equestrian statue of Louis XIV in front of the Palace of Versailles by Pierre Cartellier and Louis Petitot, 1836 (center); and Interior of The Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, 1699 (right)


Le Château de Versailles or Palace of Versailles is one of the most visited monuments in the world. It is often associated with King Louis XIV, “The Sun King.” He was an absolute monarch who ruled France, one of the most powerful nations of the 17th century. He transformed the modest château of his father, Louis XIII, into a sumptuous palace, symbol of his power. Discover more about this monument, and why it is visited each year by millions of tourists.


8. The Royal Palace Of Versailles Was In An Ill-Suited Location

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Exterior of The Palace of Versailles, 1664-1710, via Château de Versailles


Versailles was originally a village in a swampy area a dozen miles away in the south-west of Paris. The place, covered in woods and filled with game, represented an ideal hunting ground. From the end of the 16th century onwards, Kings Henri IV and his son Louis XIII enjoyed hunting parties around Versailles. At the end of 1623, King Louis XIII ordered the building of a hunting lodge in Versailles to have a hideaway in the countryside. The building, transformed into a small castle between 1631 and 1634, represents the first milestone of the future Palace of Versailles.


Versailles is not an ideal place to build a king’s palace. The ground is naturally swampy, and there is no primary source of water in the neighborhoods. Versailles stands on a mound; the downhill Seine river that crosses Paris’ center could directly serve neither the village nor the new palace. The King’s gardener André Le Nôtre used local Gallycreek and other smaller water streams to build a network of tiny canals to provide water to the fountains and water pieces of the palace’s gardens. Unfortunately, the water flow was not powerful enough, not an ideal place to build the king’s palace. Engineers from all over Europe came up with the greatest hydraulic inventions since the Roman time to supply the 1600 water jets.


7. Day Of The Dupes: First Major Historical Event In Versailles

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Cardinal Richelieu presenting Poussin to Louis XIII by Jean-Joseph Ansiaux, 1817, via Museum of Fine Arts Bordeaux


The Day of the Dupes recalls, in fact, two days, November 10 and 11, 1630. On November 10, Marie de’ Medici, King Louis XIII’s mother and Queen of France, asked her son to fire Cardinal de Richelieu. Cardinal de Richelieu was an influential advisor to the King; at the beginning, Marie de’ Medici introduced him to Louis XIII. He suddenly turned out to be her most potent rival. Queen Marie de’ Medici strived to keep an iron hand on her son and the entire Kingdom of France. Notwithstanding Louis XIII’s efforts to reconcile the two opponents, he finally gave in his mother’s request.

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the palace of versailles under louis xiii
The Palace of Versailles under Louis XIII by A. Léo Leymarie, 19th century, via Archives of Montréal


Summoned by the King on November 11, Richelieu found the gates of the Palace of Luxembourg -Marie de’ Medici’s residence in Paris- closed. However, as he knew the place well, he entered through a secret door and startled both Marie de’ Medici and Louis XIII. The Queen gave her son an ultimatum: he had to choose between her, his mother and Queen of France, and Richelieu, a mere “valet”. In the beginning, King Louis gave his mother the impression that she had won against her contender. Thinking more carefully about the situation, Louis XIII needed Richelieu to help him rule: the Kingdom was more important than his mother’s jealousy. 


On the same day, on November 11, 1630, King Louis XIII left for Versailles and asked the Cardinal de Richelieu to follow him. He granted Richelieu his place back and officially requested his mother to leave the Court. Marie de’ Medici quit for Compiègnes. It was the last time that the Queen saw her son, the King. This event marked the end of the influential Queen, who spent the remaining years of her life in the countryside, in poverty.


6. Versailles: The Golden Palace Of Louis XIV

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Equestrian statue of Louis XIV in front of the Palace of Versailles by Pierre Cartellier and Louis Petitot, 1836, via Château de Versailles


From 1651 onwards, the young King Louis XIV, Louis XIII’s son, regularly went to Versailles. His mother, Anne of Austria, and his brother Philippe I, Duke of Orléans, escorted him during his hunting trips. Even if he did not take a great interest in the place at first, Louis XIV later fell in love with Versailles. In 1661 he ordered the building of his masterpiece: the Palace of Versailles. 


In the 17th century, France was a flourishing country that progressively became the ruling European nation. With King Louis XIV’s reign came a profound reform of the monarchic system initiated by his predecessors: the absolute monarchy. Louis XIV was supposed to be a king by divine right. He held all powers of France in his hands. He was the representative of God on earth. With the help of First Minister of State Jean-Baptiste Colbert, they reinstated the Academy of Arts to regiment the artistic creations. Arts had to play an extensive role in the promotion and glorification of the monarchy. Architects designed the royal domains to contribute to the Prince’s glory. The monarch’s power had to shine over the entire world not only through wars but also with monuments and arts. Over time, three palaces became the monarchy’s favorites: the palaces of Fontainebleau, Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and Versailles. 


From 1661 onwards, Louis XIII’s modest hunting lodge underwent tremendous transformations and turned into the beautiful palace that still exists today. Progressively, Louis XIV and his royal Court occupied the palace for longer periods. In 1682, the Palace of Versailles officially became the king’s and government’s principal residence.  


5. The Men Behind The Palace Of Versailles

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The Palace of Versailles garden facade first extension by Louis Le Vau, 1668, via Château de Versailles


In 1668, Louis Le Vau, First Architect of the King, started the first transformations. Louis XIV entrusted him with creating a palace suited for the glory of the monarchy. He kept Louis XIII’s building as a base and wrapped it in an architectural envelope “Le Vau’s envelope” with the King’s and Queen’s apartments.


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Interior of The Royal Chapel of the Palace of Versailles by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, photographed by Thibault Chappe, 1699, via 5 Minute History


Jules Hardouin-Mansart, the most significant architect during the second part of Louis XIV’s reign, was in charge of the second extensive construction project. Between 1678 and 1689, Hardouin-Mansart transformed and added buildings to the palace, while maintaining a great deal of Le Vau’s work. Thanks to him, the King and today’s visitors to the palace can enjoy, among others, the Hall of Mirrors, the Orangery, the Stables, and the Royal Chapel. The palace did not change much after his intervention.


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The Peace Salon of the Palace of Versailles by Charles Le Brun, 1681-86, via Château de Versailles


Charles Le Brun, the most influential designer of his time and “First Painter to the King,” conducted Versailles’ transformations. With Colbert’s help, he reformed the Academy of Painting and Sculpture and ran an artistic policy that influenced entire Europe. From the 1670s onwards, Le Brun created the interior decor of the Palace of Versailles, a masterpiece representative of his true genius. Visitors can admire his paintings in the Hall of Mirrors, the War Room, the Peace Room, and the King’s state apartment. Le Brun also designed the abundant decor for the Ambassadors’ staircase, which was destroyed in 1752.


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The Gardens of the Palace of Versailles by André Le Nôtre, 1661-78, via Château de Versailles


André Le Nôtre, the King’s gardener, was the man behind the famous gardens of Versailles. His work, skilfully ordered and composed, inspired many others. It represents the finest example of a “French garden.”


4. For The Glory Of The Sun King

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Symbol of the Sun King, gate detail of the Palace of Versailles, 17th century, via Château de Versailles


The iconography used to promote the monarchy played a significant role in shaping Louis XIV’s palace. He chose the filiation with Apollo, the Greek god of the light, arts, and music – artists used the sun to represent him. The entire iconography used by the artists of Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), revolved around Apollo and the sun myth. The Palace of Versailles and its gardens make a perfect example of this allegory. It is filled with several elements referring to Apollo: the sun, lyres, laurel wreaths, and bows and chariots.


3. The Hall Of Mirrors And The Gardens; An Ideal Place For Royal Parties

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Interior of The Hall of Mirrors of the Palace of Versailles by Charles Le Brun, 1678-84, via Château de Versailles


The Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) certainly is the most famous room in the Palace of Versailles. Between 1678 and 1684, architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart created the building while Charles Le Brun designed the interior decoration. This 73-meters long hall, covered with 357 mirrors, offered Louis XIV a luxurious room to entertain his prestigious guests. 


The gardens created by André Le Nôtre were as important as the palace for Louis XIV. One hundred fifty-five statues decorated the 43 kilometers of alleys. Fountains, basins, and groves shaped like small theatres completed this perfect decor for entertainment.


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Fountain in the Gardens of the Palace of Versailles by André Le Nôtre, 1661-78, via Château de Versailles


In Spring 1664, Louis XIV held his first celebration at the Palace of Versailles: “the party of the Delights of the Enchanted Island.” Dedicated to Queen Maria-Theresa and his mother Anne of Austria, the King invited 600 guests to the party. Famous playwright Molière and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully created for the occasion a ballet called The Princess of Elide. Louis XIV himself played the first role in this performance.


Being an exceptional dancer, Louis XIV liked to show off his talent during the extravagant parties organized at the palace. These celebrations, held in the Hall of Mirrors and Le Nôtre’s gardens, were another occasion to show off the King’s power.


2. The Palace that Influenced All European Monarchies

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Peterhof Palace by Jean-Baptiste Le Blond and Bartolomeo Rastrelli, 1714-23, via Artefact


Versailles set an example for all nations. It was a model of the absolute monarchy; the Kingdom of France was the most influential European nation of the 17th century. From 1690 onwards and for over a century, architects from everywhere in Europe will copy the palace’s architecture and decor. For instance, the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso in Spain and the Peterhof Palace in Russia were greatly inspired by Versailles. But none of them could compete with the original masterpiece. No other palace became as grand as the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV spent an enormous amount of money on building such a majestic monument. In 1685, 36,000 people worked permanently on the site.


1. The Palace Of Versailles: One Of The Most Visited Heritage Sites In The World

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The King’s State Apartment in the Palace of Versailles, 17th century, via Château de Versailles


In 1837, Louis-Philippe, King of the French, opened inside the palace a museum dedicated to “all the glories of France.” Yet, only during the 20th century, the palace became the museum we can visit today. In 1924, John D. Rockefeller Jr., American financier, and philanthropist proposed his help to the French State to save the palace. Indeed, due to the lack of money, the monument had fallen into ruin. Thanks to his support, the curators reopened certain parts of the gardens and brought back to the Palace several pieces of furniture sold after the French Revolution.


Today, the Palace of Versailles welcomes 10 million visitors each year, making it one of the world’s most visited heritage sites. Visitors can explore the extensive gardens as well as the grand rooms of the palace. Versailles’ collections host about 60,000 art pieces, providing an excellent overview of centuries of French history.



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By Marie-Madeleine RenauldMA & BA Art History and ArchaeologyMarie-Madeleine is a contributing writer and antique furniture restorer. She holds an MA and BA in Art History and Archaeology from the Catholic University of Louvain (UCL), Belgium. She also followed training in antique furniture restoration. In her free time, she enjoys creative activities, and hiking through the Swiss mountains where she now lives.