A long time ago on a continent far far away, I wrote some blog posts about Paris, and I promised to write more when I got back to the U.S., which I did, kinda, but never posted them because I forgot I had a blog for two and a half years, that’s why. Here’s one of the posts I promised.
If you ask me there are two main reasons to visit Versailles should you find yourself in or near Paris.
1. Because it is way cool
Restored and preserved, it is opulent and historically fascinating. I recommend getting a tram ticket after seeing the main palace to visit the surrounding gardens, the smaller palaces (two), and the Queen’s Hamlet. Otherwise, your feet will get tired. Also, it might be raining, as it was when we were there. See how happy my husband looks?
There is a Ladurée shop in the main palace. I can only imagine that if Ladurée had been there during Marie-Antoinette’s time, she would have said, “Let them eat macarons!” and everyone would have agreed. It might have saved her head because macarons are that good, that’s why.
So … what else is there to see?
Let’s begin with the queen’s bedchambers in the main palace, where there is a secret door through which Marie-Antoinette and her head escaped when revolutionaries stormed the palace in 1789. It looks more door-like than secret-like in this photo, but I think when it’s closed the door part is hidden and thus secret. I can’t be sure because it was cordoned off to keep us tourists where we belong. And, yes, I know the photo is wonky. In addition to being a below-average photographer generally, I could hardly be expected to take even a mediocre photo at that very moment because the macarons in my bag were still waiting to be eaten and kept distracting me, that’s why.
Also, the table at which the royals ate their meals in front of the courtiers (obviously the pickings on Netflix were slim so people had to be entertained somehow) is now encased in Plexiglas to remind us peasants that “Let them eat cake!” really means “Psych! Cake is not for you.”
THIS IS WHERE I WOULD HAVE PUT A “HALL OF MIRRORS” photo. However, the one I took was so bad (yes, even worse than the wonky door photo), I am helpfully providing a link to a Hall of Mirrors photo taken by a normal person, whose name is Wikipedia. You’re totally welcome.
The Hall of Mirrors, once called Grande Galerie, was constructed during the reign of Louis XIV and was most recently restored in 2007. It is super fancy, right? It is the place through which visitors were (and are still) paraded so that we know whose taste and economic prosperity beats whose. It isn’t just a fancy passageway with hundreds of mirrors, chandeliers, and murals though. It is a place where things happened. Louis XV met Madame Pompadour there at a masked ball. Marie-Antoinette and the future King Louis XVI were married in the Hall of Mirrors. The Treaty of Versailles was signed there. It is still used by France’s heads of state for important events. The restoration is ongoing at Versailles and is costing lots and lots of money. Some things never change.
For those interested in a brief history (according to me) of Versailles and further descriptions of what we saw when we were there, you can continue reading below. If not, stop reading and head to Facebook. I’m probably there right now posting a status update about which Downton Abbey character I am (not really) (okay, Sybil) or photos of whatever I spilled on my shirt today (not really) (okay, mango).
A Brief History of Versailles . . . According to Blog This Mom!
So. There were some kings, most named Louis, and they were numbered much like the ducks at Tour d’Argent, which was another French king’s favorite place to dine, but his name was not Louis, it was Henry, and he also had a number, which was IV. However, Henry IV was the father of a Louis, Louis XIII. Louis XIII liked the hunting in an area about 10 miles southwest of Paris. This was in the early 1600s, so naturally he had to build a chateau.
Over time, the Kings Louis XIV-XVI built a palace to impress, which became the seat of the pre-revolution French government. Versailles grew into a ginormous palace surrounded by walls that contained gardens, hunting grounds, a smaller marble palace called Grand Trianon (so kings could get away from it all), and an even smaller palace called Petit Trianon (so kings could sock away their mistresses from public view).
Petit Trianon was built by Louis XV for his mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who died before it was completed, so Madame du Barry, the replacement mistress lived there. Apparently she didn’t mind a hand-me-down palace. Later, Louis XVI gave Petit Trianon and the surrounding area to Queen Marie-Antoinette, where she would go to escape those tedious royal duties that can wear a girl out.
HERE IS WHERE I WOULD HAVE PUT A “QUEEN’S HAMLET” PHOTO. However, I didn’t take one because I was sitting on a tram eating macarons, that’s why. Here’s a link to a photo of the Queen’s Hamlet by that Wikipedia dude.
The surrounding area of Petit Trianon during Marie-Antoinette’s days merits a closer look. It was known as the Queen’s Hamlet (okay, since they spoke French, it was known as “Hameau de le Reine”). It seems it was fashionable for the French aristocracy to have model farms on their large estates, and Versailles’ included a mill and dairy. However, at Versailles there was an entire model village, which was very much Marie-Antoinette’s personal amusement park. She liked to dress up as a peasant, milk cows, and pretend she lead a simple life (behind the security of the walls Versailles’s palace with its 350 separate residences). Her behavior made people mad.
In 1789, revolutionaries stormed the Bastille and launched the French Revolution. Louis and Marie did their best to offer reforms to the people, but the people were all, “Nope. Talk to the hand.” In the end, Louis XVI and his queen lost their heads. After that, France went through growing pains, including Napoleon’s stint as “Emperor of France.” Napoleon, who was a tyrant, a liberator, or both, got stomped at Waterloo and was exiled (for the second time). Since France wasn’t quite ready for a democracy, along came another numbered King Louis, this time the XVIII, and then a Charles, whose number I don’t know.
Enter Jean Valjean, who may or may not have been a character during the second French revolution. Jean Valjean may or may not look like Liam Neeson or Hugh Jackman. We will end our French history lesson, as it were, right here. If you want to know more about the second French revolution, watch Les Misérables.
Let’s finish up our look at Versailles with a couple of interesting American history factoids: In 1778, Benjamin Franklin secured military support from Louis XVI, the side effect of which made the newly formed United States legit because when France supported the U.S. and not Britain it meant that there was a U.S. You feel me? Also, the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War, was signed in 1783 at Versailles.
Obviously one important question remains: Liam Neeson or Hugh Jackman?