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Three avenues converge on the main gates of
the palace of Versailles from the town which has grown up around
it. The site was home to Louis XIII's hunting lodge before his son
massively rebuilt it. The grand entrance to the palace now leads
up to a statue of Louis out hunting (centre-left), which stands
before the Marble Court on the far right.
Once inside the palace, one of the first sights
is the Chapel Royal, which combines elements of Baroque and Gothic
styles and reaches up over two floors, with the balcony accessible
from the first floor. Constructed in 1699, it was dedicated to St
Louis IX, the Crusader king. This was where Louis XIV daily attended
mass, and where the young Louis XVI was married to Marie Antoinette.
The magnificent ceiling of the Hercules Salon
contains the last of two commissioned works by the French rococo
artist, François Lemoyne (1688-1737), 'Hercules entering the
kingdom of the Gods', which was executed between 1733-1736. It
watched over the stately receptions which were held in this room.
Below, the fireplace is decorated with lions' skins and the head
The Venus Drawing Room was used during receptions.
Buffets were set up in the room, loaded with silver bowls offering
up fresh and preserved fruits. The ceiling here displays René-Antoine
Houasse's Venus, the Goddess of Love lying surrounded by her admirers.
Houasse was born about 1645, and died in 1710.
The Mars Drawing Room is the third of the seven
state apartments on the first floor of the palace which together
form the Grand Apartment. Since the sun was the emblem of Louis XIV,
seven planets were taken to serve as the subjects of the paintings
in each room.
The state apartments of the king and queen (and
each succeeding queen), and the King's Chamber, lie behind the Hall
of Mirrors to the left, with a view over the gardens to the right.
The hall extends along most of the width of the palace's centre
section, has a barrel vault ceiling, and an entire wall of mirrors,
creating the illusion that the room is wider than it is.
In 1701, Louis XIV moved his bedchamber into the
drawing room which lay east-to-west in the palace, facing the rising
sun, and he renamed it the King's Chamber (Chambre du Roi). The bed
lay in an alcove with a carved and gilded wooden balustrade (just
visible here) separating it from the rest of the chamber. Louis died
here on 1 September 1715, after reigning for seventy-two years.
A bust of Louis XIV sits over the fireplace to
the right-hand side of the king's bed. The bed itself is visible in
the mirror, as are the high paintings on the wall opposite. This was
the king's sanctuary where he could lunch en petit couvert (in
In 1729, the first of François Lemoyne's two
commissions in the palace, 'Louis XV According Peace to Europe',
was completed and displayed over the fireplace in the Peace Salon
(Salon de la Paix). Court intrigues at Versailles were partially
responsible for the artist committing suicide just eight years
The same salon is also a prime example of the
extensive use of marble throughout France during the reign of Louis
XV, which was assisted by an effective transportation network.
Versailles itself became a centre point for the rarest and most
beautiful use of marble.
This official portrait of Marie Antoinette in
full court dress by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun in 1778 is in the
Grand Couvert Antechamber, which was the former Queen's Guard Room.
In the eighteenth century the king and queen dined here in public.
On one side of the Battle Gallery is a series of
paintings which show the major battles in French history in chronological
order, plus other major historical events which relate to France. On the
other side is a series of paintings featuring Napoleon's various battles.
Before being converted into a gallery, the room was separated into
apartments for the royal children.
One of the first of the paintings to feature
Napoleon is of the emperor and his staff at the Battle of Wagram
on 6 July 1809, when he defeated the rebellious Austrian empire
and its Russian allies. It was painted by Horace Vernet (1789-1863)
between 1835 and 1836.
The hall which links to the Opera contains statues
of past kings of France. Here, Dagobert I was king of Austrasia
(north-eastern France and part of western Germany) in 623-629 while
his father was still alive, and then king of France in 629-639. He
was one of the rare Merovingian kings not to partition and weaken
The palace's garden façade overlooks the Water
Parterre and the beginnings of the park, which was the scene of
fetes, parties, and celebrations hosted by Louis XIV, one of which
lasted for three days. Operas, plays, and firework displays were all
part of the entertainment.
King Louis XIV's gardener, André Le Nôtre
(1613-1700) was also a landscape architect. Responsible for the
construction of the grand park at Versailles, in Paris he also
extended the Tuileries westwards onto land which would one day
become the Champs-Élysées.
A minor but still impressive water feature, this
stands between the Water Parterre and the Latone Fountain. During
the ancien régime, the chateau grounds were ten times greater
than they are today. What is now called Le Grand Parc was formerly
the lesser park, and was surrounded by grounds set aside for hunting.
A long perspective from the foot of the palace
starts with the Latone Fountain and Parterre, and proceeds down the
green carpet to the Apollo Fountain which heralds the start of the
Grand Canal. The canal's cross-point is visible halfway along its
length, with the right-hand turn leading to the Grand Trianon.
The gardens are filled with short side paths and
sheltered alcoves in which ministers and members of the king's court
could conduct private meetings or secret rendezvous without being
seen by anyone from a distance.
The columns of the Colonnade Grove form an
outdoor room. Each arch houses a fountain which throws up an
identical stream of water. The grove lies just off the Green
Carpet lawn and opens up to the maze of pathways that forms
the formal gardens.
One of those paths leads to the intersection
between the King's Garden, the Colonnade Grove, the Girandole
Grove, and the Mirror Fountain. At its centre sits the Saturne
Fountain. The same layout is mirrored three more times in the
gardens with the Bacchus, Ceres, and Flora fountains.
Looking out past the Apollo Fountain, this
area was previously not much more than swamp with little flowing
water. The land was drained and the Grand Canal, over a mile long,
was built with numerous fountains. The gardens were organised around
it and from this point, Louis XIV could take a boat to the Grand
The entrance to the Grand Trianon now leads into
the antechamber and Print Corridor, which looks onto an interior
courtyard on the south side of the building. The structure was
erected in 1687-1688 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart to provide Louis XIV
with a retreat at the far end of the park, far from the constraints
In the early nineteenth century the King's
Antechamber became the sitting room for ushers attending the Empress
Josephine. It leads out into the Peristyle (seen in the main feature
on Versailles), which is now open on both sides, but was enclosed by
glass windows on the courtyard side when it was first built, and was
glazed on both sides between 1810-1910.