Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 37 Paris to Versailles Day Trip

Our second full day in Paris. When we were in Paris in 2002 we had 48 hours in which to see as much as we could. We missed seeing Versailles and promised ourselves that on this holiday we would do a day trip to Versailles, so this the day.

We have taken the RER (Réseau Express Régional)train which is a regional express network with RER trains offering fast transportation, and easily accessible. It was a half hour trip.

The Palace of Versailles, or in French the Château de Versailles, or simply Versailles, is a royal château in Versailles, the Île-de-France region of France. When the château was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a suburb of Paris, twenty kilometers southwest of the French capital. From 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789, the court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France. Versailles is therefore famous not only as a building, but as a symbol of the system of absolute monarchy of the Ancien Régime.

What a history this site has. In 1575, Albert de Gondi, a naturalized Florentine who gained prominence at the court of Henry II, purchased the seigneury of Versailles. In the early seventeenth century, Gondi invited Louis XIII on several hunting trips in the forests surrounding Versailles. Pleased with the location, Louis ordered the construction of a hunting lodge in 1624. Designed by Philibert Le Roy, a small château was constructed of stone and red brick. Eight years later, Louis obtained the seigneury of Versailles from the Gondi family and began to make enlargements to the château.

Louis's successor, Louis XIV, had a great interest in Versailles. He had grown up during the disorder of the Fronde, a civil war between rival factions of aristocrats, and wanted a site where he could organize and completely control a government of France by absolute personal rule. He settled on the royal hunting lodge at Versailles and over the following decades had it expanded into one of the largest palaces in the world. The King's court was officially established there on 6 May 1682.The idea of establishing the court at Versailles was conceived to ensure that all of his advisors and provincial rulers would be kept close to him. He feared that they would rise up against him and start a revolt. He thought that if he kept all of his potential threats near him, that they would be powerless. Over the next 50 years there were four distinct building campaigns that enlarged and enhanced the properties. Louis XV and Louis XVI lived there as well and during the French Revolution it was vacated by the monarch. It's preservation and that of its contents was in question at various later junctions.

With the Revolution of 1830 and the establishment of the July Monarchy, the status of Versailles changed. In March 1832, the Loi de la Liste civile was promulgated, which designated Versailles as a crown dependency. Like Napoléon before him, Louis-Philippe chose to live at the Grand Trianon; however, unlike Napoléon, Louis-Philippe did have a grand design for Versailles.

In 1833, King Louis-Philippe proposed the establishment of a museum dedicated to “all the glories of France,” which included the Orléans dynasty and the Revolution of 1830 that put Louis-Philippe on the throne of France. For the next decade, under the direction of Eugène-Charles-Frédéric Nepveu and Pierre-François-Léonard Fontaine, the château underwent irreversible alterations. The museum was officially inaugurated on 10 June 1837 as part of the festivities that surrounded the marriage of the Prince royal, Ferdinand-Philippe d’Orléans with princess Hélène of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and represented one of the most ambitious and costly undertakings of Louis-Philippe’s reign. Over 3,000 paintings depicting glorious events in French history and a small army of busts of French heroes were commissioned by Louis-Philippe to decorate his new museum.

What an astounding monument and we are glad to have seen it.

1 comment:

  1. What a delightful reminder of our own family trip to Versailles, when we back-packed through Europe with four kids, back in 1982. I suspect some things have changed!

    We recently got back from a wonderful two week trip to Turkey and Greece on a group tour hosted by Bud and Beulah Penner. We had a marvellous time. I finally got caught up on the blogs piled up in my reader, including your own fascinating itinerary.

    Enjoy your time in and around Paris.