Europe Trip 2010: Day 12, Versailles

We spent almost this entire day at the Palace of Versailles. It was possibly my favorite thing we saw on this trip — I’ve always wanted to see it since I learned about it in history class, and it definitely lives up to its reputation as possibly the most amazing palace in Europe, and definitely one of the largest and most beautiful in the world. Read on for many pictures of our visit to Versailles!

The Palace of Versailles was created by King Louis XIV in the mid-1600s. It’s about 12 miles outside of Paris, and while it was mostly countryside when it was founded, it has now become a suburb of Paris (though we just headed for the Palace and didn’t really look at the little city). It was originally a little camping lodge retreat for King Louis XIII, and Louis XIV fondly remembered spending some childhood vacations there. Louis XIV moved the center of France’s political power from Paris to Versailles in 1682, when he was about 44 years old (he lived quite a long life — died just before he turned 77!). It was the center of France’s political power until the French Revolution in 1789, when the Palace was stormed, the royal family taken and executed, and many ornate historical artifacts destroyed. But more about that later!

We hoped on to a few subways to catch a quick train out to Versailles (only about 30 minutes long). We got there just as it was opening, beating the huge crowd and lines we’d see later. It’s hard to capture how large the entrance area is, but here are some shots. We kept imagining bedazzled horse-drawn carriages coming on these cobble stones centuries earlier…

With our Paris Museum Pass (which is totally worth it), we got in for “free.” But, we decided it’d be good to book a guided tour, so went and did that. It didn’t start for 30 minutes, so we wandered around the back of the Palace to the famous Gardens behind it. The most amazing thing is just how huge the gardens are — they’re about nine miles long!! And pretty wide as well. Here are some pictures are the back side of the Palace.

And here you can see the “Garden Canal” stretch far off into the distance! More on it later.

More of the beautiful gardens near the Palace:

So, this one big “Garden” is so huge and amazing that it actually is made up of several smaller gardens, made “private” by paths surrounded by well-maintained hedges and trees. We were a bit hungry and noticed that one of the nearby gardens had a cafe marked on the map, so we had to check it out. Sure enough, there it was…

It was getting time for our tour, so we had to go back to the front of the Palace and meet with it there. Amazingly, only about 30 minutes after we’d arrived, there was a huge line to get in! One line was for tickets (which we already had, thanks to the Museum Pass), and another line was for security (which we had gone through when it was short, but we’ve heard is quite painful).

Our guided tour was definitely worth it. We basically got to see a lot of the “apartments,” for the lower-class servants and the royalty (one of their many rooms) and our guide gave a lot of interesting details, from what kind of taste different kings/queens had, to what they did in the different entertainment rooms, to how many, many items were stolen or destroyed from the Palace during the French revolution. Again and again we heard that such-and-such valuable furniture piece was here (they know from records), but then gone after the Revolution. Amazingly, many furniture pieces have shown up in the last couple decades — they’d made their way to dealers who knew they were from Versailles, and decided to sell it back to the museum, or, very graciously, donate it. (Yes, the walls really have gold-leaf decorations on them.) Here are some apartment pictures:

Interestingly, one of the Louis (I forget which king), was very into clocks/watches. These were luckily not destroyed during the Revolution because they were considered achievements of technology. The most amazingly clock (the second one photoed) still keeps true time to this day — the maker, centuries ago, made it while keeping in mind leap years, and it not only displays the time, but the correct date as well. And it’s quite lovely.

Another interesting thing was a huge bookshelf where they said international spies had all their files and notes stored. These books are now empty, but the guide said all the files are kept in government offices in Paris.

We even got to see a royal bathroom — the toilet cushion was red, reminding them that they were royalty even when sitting on the pot… Rather humorous, I think.

Interestingly, here and there you could see places on the wall where some ornate designs had been removed — Andrew told me this was most likely where the royal seal was marked, but was removed during the Revolution.

We eventually made our way out of the Royal Apartments and down into the old opera house. The opera house was small, but amazing considering it was built just for shows at the Palace. But, apparently there was not too much foresight when it was being built — when it was created, it was often too expensive to use it because of the great number of the candles required to light it up for a night. So it was actually rarely used. Like much of the Palace, it’s been restored a lot. It’s actually now used for shows once again.

Thus, our guided tour ended. We didn’t realize it, but the guided tour only covered this area that the public normally couldn’t access, which was very nice, but it didn’t cover any of the part that was publicly open! So, we continued with the main tour of the Palace. This included the more famous, large halls, the Chapel, lots of paintings of French royalty, and beautiful views of the garden outside in the back.

Of course, there’s a chapel attached to the Palace. It was hard to get a good view, but it has beautiful, intact paintings on the ceiling — here’s the view from the second floor (yes, it’s very tall!) — it’s hard to see anything beyond the crowd on the first floor.

And more beautiful artwork in amazing rooms… Sorry for not giving more specific details, but it all started blending together… But the main point is is that Louis XIV made these amazing rooms to wine and dine the French nobility. He would call them here, away from their business, so he could better run the country without them interfering. They would compete with each other for his attention constantly, even over petty things like who got to be the one carry his candle as he walked to bed, or be near him at the dinner table. This made them forget about their real political concerns, letting Louis XIV effectively manage the country, and do a good job of it. He was quite a loved ruler.

And then we came to the most famous room in the Palace of Versailles — the Hall of Mirrors. It’s a long hall that is covered by mirrors on one side, and huge windows opening to the garden on the other side. This was made in a time when people were quite proud of their appearance, and nobility loved to see themselves in these mirrors. And a huge collection of fine mirrors such as seen here was quite rare.

Next up were the royal bedchambers. It was a little underwhelming after the Hall of Mirrors, as they were relatively quite small, but still quite ornately decorated.

Moving on, we entered halls filled with paintings from Napoleon’s time (the last one to rule in the Palace). We also saw many paintings that were in the process of being restored.

By this time, we were feeling quite ready for a picnic in the garden! We fled the Palace and went to security, where our food had been stored (no food allowed in the Palace). We had stored it in a bag with bagged ice which had apparently melted — this caused the bag to leak a little, which made security move it to an area in the back… consequently, it took several minutes before they found our bag (we were worried we’d lost our lunch!), but with it in hand we made ourselves back around to the Gardens.

We first stopped at the “Orangerie,” a huge orange orchard that’s entirely in wheeled pots. Louis XIV wanted to have fresh oranges, and so got all of these trees imported and put them in wheeled pots to take outside and store inside during the winter (under the Palace, I believe). Really amazing. This is one of Andrew’s favorite parts of Versailles.

We walked out into the gardens, heading towards the Canal (more on that in a minute). We went through several side-gardens. Each one of these had it’s own kind of “centerpiece,” either a pond, and/or sculpture, or something grander, such as the huge, enveloping columns in one shown below. A lot of the artwork had an Apollo theme, as Louis XIV thought of himself as the Sun King. Interestingly, the “walls” that separated the paths and gardens from each other were not actually that dense, but mostly made of sparsely-planted shrubs — I think the fences were a recent addition to keep tourist from wandering in them…

We eventually made our way to a pond (the “Apollo Basin”) right at the edge of the “Grand Canal.” Here’s the Apollo Basin:

And it was here we decided to have our delicious picnic, facing the Apollo Basin, and right next to many others who had similar ideas. We had some fun people-watching while eating our amazing cheese, crackers, and prosciutto purchased from a local deli, along with amazing pears (they’re so good here right now!) and some chocolates for desert. And, of course, Orangina.

After a refreshing lunch, we set off again, this time heading for the Grand Trianon. To get there, we walked along the “Grand Canal” for a little ways. Basically, there’s a huge Canal that’s about 1.5 miles long, and it’s intersected by a slightly smaller canal going the opposite direction mid-way through, making it a giant cross-shape. It’s so huge that they rent kayaks there — we were tempted, but it was a very hot day and we enjoyed the shade too much. (The French were obsessed with Venice at this time.) We walked along some beautiful, shady paths with trees all around for a ways to the Grand Trianon. We kept wondering who planted all the new trees since the Palace wasn’t used much since the mid-1800s, after Napoleon…

We eventually reached the Grand Trianon. The Grand Trianon is where King Louis XIV went to retreat from the constant public eye (well, nobility-eye really). He normally only spent about one night a week there to relax. So, it was much smaller, but still very ornately decorated. It was interesting to see how his life was when he wasn’t being constantly watched and serving for a model for others. While everyone admired King Louis XIV and he was a great leader, loved by peasants and nobility alike, his successors didn’t do so well, and part of it is because they were quite reclusive — while Louis XIV only spent one night a week at the Grand Trianon, his successors spent most of their time at such removed buildings, away from the Palace.

Leaving the buildings of the Grand Trianon, we wandered through more amazing gardens, slowly making our way to “The Hamlet,” Marie-Antoinette personal retreat. Here’s some of the neat stuff we saw as we tried to find it:

And then we discovered “The Hamlet.” This was one of the most beautiful and fascinating things I think I saw at Versailles. Basically, Marie Antoinette secretly wanted a “simple life of a peasant,” except for the hard labor… She wanted to live in a fairytale world, and since she was queen, she created one. (Marie Antoinette was married to Louis XVI — because Louis XIV had lived so long, his successor was actually his great grandson (Louis XV), who started to retreat from the public, and the successor of Louis XV was actually his own grandson, Louis XVI.) Louis XVI almost retreated entirely from the public, not wanting to have the duties of being king, as can be seen by his wife’s creation of “The Hamlet” — their negligence of their real-life duties is part of what brought about their executions during the French Revolution.

But… “The Hamlet” was quite lovely, and even featured its own small vineyard and several vegetable gardens at each little cottage.

There were also several very hungry, huge goldfish in a large, central pond! They were eating so noisily, we heard this strange gulping sound about 30 feet away, before we had any idea what it was!

After “The Hamlet,” we started making our way back to the Palace to head on out — we were quite exhausted, and the museum was starting to close! Along the way, we stopped by the “Temple of Love,” a rather isolated temple devoted to, you guessed it, love. In the center of this temple, surrounded by Corinthian columns, is a statue of Cupid turning Hercules’ famous club into a bow (to use for inciting love!). This reflects the attitude at the time — the nobility were more concerned with love than war and politics. As Rick Steves’ puts it in his guide, “When the Revolution came, I bet they wished they’d kept the club.”

And so we decided to conclude our visit to Versailles. We wandered back past kayakers in the “Grand Canal,” past the grand entrance to the Palace, past its statuary, visited a few gift shops in the town of Versailles, and then caught the train back to Paris.

And that was pretty much it for Day 12 of our 2010 Europe trip! Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Day 13, our last full day in Paris, which includes a visit to the Orsay art museum, the Paris catacombs, a carnival outside of the Louvre, and one last visit to the Louvre itself.

Leave a Response (or trackback on your own site)

You must be logged in to post a comment.


Welcome to Paradoxdruid's Rants... a community based webblog. Feel free to snag an account and post.

Contributors Login


My first first-author paper!

Just wanted to share that my first first-author paper is now online! In the journal Stem Cells and Development, here’s my paper on “Roles of Integrins in Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cell Growth on Matrigel and Vitronectin.”

The Future of Scientific Publishing

Just read a fascinating (if lengthy) essay on disruptive technology and the future of scientific publishing. Well worth the read!


Just wanted to share’s Visual Guide to Deflation, which is quite explanatory.

All Things Stem Cell

Hey all Paradoxdruid readers! I recently started up a blog on stem cells that I’d love you all to take a look at:

Barely Literate: The Fermata

I participated in another Barely literate book review podcast, this time on Nicholson Baker’s “The Fermata”. Give it a listen!

Time for Change

Obama has outlined a strategy for America, in great depth. Read all about!

Free Rice

Okay, I’ll admit that it’s entirely possible that I am the last person to learn about this website*, but it’s really addictive. 


Site best viewed in Mozilla Firefox. Site CSS template by Andrea Pitschmann. Banner photo by photocase.