Versailles of Dreams Past
Although as an American it pains me to admit it, when it comes to elegance, beauty, and style, the French know what they are doing. Harnessing these decidedly French talents resulted in one of the most breathtaking palaces in the world—Versailles. Louis XIV built Versailles in the 1600’s in order to escape his paranoia of a Paris-based political uprising happening against him. Despite the humble reasons for its beginning, Versailles has become a symbol of wealth and opulence and was dedicated to the French as a museum.
The walk to the palace is studded with the typical things you would find at a tourist attraction: overpriced souvenir stores, water selling for 3.50 euros, and cafes. Once you turn the corner, the 20th century consumer black hole is left behind revealing a cobbled road with tall trees leading to golden gates, which contain what seems like a glowing palace. It is most certainly a proper abode for the self proclaimed Sun King. Approaching the palace by foot slowly reveals with every step the enormity and detail of the structure. The exterior of the palace is made up of variously colored and layered marble, carved into elaborate columns, arches, and relief statues, all complemented by a healthy helping of gold on the roof and windows. Everything is done in exquisite taste.
The interior of the palace provides everything promised by the exterior. Its luxuriousness, however, is not overdone, and all of the decoration is incredibly rich, yet tasteful. Hundreds of tourists and locals are herded to the first rooms, which contain art set up in museum fashion, instead of looking like the home that it was. Excerpts of historical facts connecting the art to its inhabitants, as well as the history concerning the building itself, are generously displayed. These rooms contain statues from Greek mythology that were placed in the maze for children in the garden, as well as paintings which served like pictures to document both the building process of the palace and the fetes that occurred there afterwards. One of the paintings depicts the legendary silver furniture, which was commissioned by Louis XIV, only to be melted down shortly after to pay for the Nine Years' War.
Walking deeper into the palace reveals rooms decorated as if they were inhabited in the 17th century. Hopelessly elaborate paintings cover the ceilings, and real gold gilds everything from the doors to the baseboards. My favorite touch was definitely the richly colored and patterned cloth that serves as wallpaper in the rooms. It was not until we entered the Hall of Mirrors, however, that I understood why Louis XIV burned all the information concerning the cost. Seventeen elegantly arched windows facing the gardens are reflected in seventeen tall mirrors, filling the room with an ethereal light. The golden neoclassical statues with flowing skirts and draping crystal chandeliers reinforce this otherworldly feel.
In accordance with the Sun King's obsession with Greek mythology, primarily Apollo, the god of the sun and light, the rooms of the palace are thematically decorated according to different Greek gods. Many times the function of a room was reflected in its direction; such as the war room reflected that Greek god's “purpose.” Without fail, every single one of the rooms was decorated to perfection; vases, chandeliers, and paintings complemented the theme accordingly.
Do not fool yourself into thinking that Versailles is just another tourist trap, attracting thousands who come for the hype. The entire structure, both inside and out, is an exquisite and tasteful work of art, the product of years of labor and planning. It is a glimpse into a world past, the likes of which we may never know again. Take advantage of a chance to witness art at an unthinkable scale, and place Versailles on your travel list!
If you visit Versailles, make sure to choose a sunny day fit to explore the breathtaking gardens and Marie Antoinette's hamlet. Aimer!