In the Halls of the Sun King
A bright friday dawned as we departed Paris for Versailles on the RER to experience the great palace of Versailles.
As architecture as a political statement Versailles is right up there with Washington, the Kremlin or Karnak. This place is designed with one thing in mind, to impress the friends of the king and intimidate his enemies.And Versailles is huge, so big that they run a train around the grounds for the tourists. So big in fact that it can’t be described in a single blog post. 🙂What you don’t see in the picture below is the giant, water wheel powered, hydraulic machine that pumped the water for Versailles through the miles of underground pipes and aqueducts. All that magnificent engineering hidden away, sigh…The royal chapel, commissioned by Louis XIV. Every day at 10am the court would attend the king’s mass, as befitted the anointed of god on earth. The king and family would sit in the royal gallery (right above the door) with the ladies of the court sitting along the side galleries. The officers of the court and the public sat in the nave below.The view from the royal apartments to the east. In the morning the Sun King would walk to the window and greet the rising sun, very, well pharaonic really.
If an English monarch had tried this on there’d be a revolution. In fact there were, several of them. Absolutism is something of a continental taste it seems.And looking the other way, Louis XIV’s royal bed.Then there’s room after room of magnificent frescoes.And of course the most famous room in Versailles, the hall of mirrors. Built at a time when Venice held the monopoly, they were among the most expensive things you could posses. So you can imagine what these 17 mirrored arches would have set Louis XIV back.Despite the venetian monopoly the mirrors were actually constructed in France by emigre Venetian glass makers in accord with the economic principle of mercantilism. The rumour goes that the Venetian government dispatched assassins to murder these glass makers, though by the look of it unsuccessfully.The hall has seen a lot of history, though my favourite moment is the the Bal es Ifs (Ball of the Yew Trees) where Louis the XV, wearing the costume of a yew tree, met Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson d’Étiolles, costumed as Diana, goddess of the hunt. Jeanne-Antoinette became in time the king’s mistress, you might know her better as Madame de Pompadour.The hall of mirrors has also seen it’s share of serious politics, the Germans crowned the Emperor here at the end of the Franco Prussian war in the 19th century, and in turn the warring powers signed the Treaty of Versailles here bringing WW 1 to a close. Turnabout is fair play I guess.Looking out to the formal gardens, and it looks like they’ve got the builders in…The North or Lawn Paterre, an ornamental lawn, facing the grand apartments. You can see some of the eighteen statues that surround it.The Knife-grinder by the Keller Brothers (after Foggini) at the top the central stairway to the North Parterre.