Saturday, September 29, 2007.
Château de Versailles or The Palace of Versailles began in 1624
as a royal hunting lodge. Here is the entrance to the tour.
Because of my abortive expedition to Versailles the previous day, I made doubly sure of my
train connections today. My mistake this day was not purchasing my ticket to Versailles
at the RER ticket window. It seems one could buy entrance to major attractions this
way, and I should have done it. As it was, I arrived at 8 a.m. at the gates of Versailles
and read a sign that said the tour opened at 9 a.m. - but so did the Versailles ticket window.
That meant that while waiting first in line at the ticket window, I would later be
way back in the line to enter. The whole purpose of my trip here today is to be
first in line then quickly walk to the Hall of Mirrors to take pictures before tourists
At about 8:30 an American got in line behind me. We decided I would go wait in the line
to enter the Château while he remained first in line to get tickets. Our strategy worked,
and I was able to quickly walk to the Hall of Mirrors. USA! USA!
Interior stairway in the Château.
There is an old myth that because the palace at Versailles did not have a single toilet,
that occupants and guests would have to relieve themselves in the stairwells (in the
smaller side-stairwells, not a grand stairwell like this).
I'm sure people peed in out of the way places.
But at the time they had "chaises pierces" that were decorated, high backed chairs
with a potty hole for the chamber pot. The higher-ups got the honor of
carrying the royal poo out to be examined each day. Doctors set great
store about your health with your urine and poop.
The Hall of Mirrors - look! No tourists! The hall has 3 million visitors a year.
The ornate gallery has 357 mirrors stretching 60 yards and reflects light from
17 windows from which may be viewed Versailles' vast gardens.
They won't let you use a camera flash when there
is lots of painting on the wall. I set my camera on the edge of a pillar and chose the
exposure priority setting and the camera took a long-exposure picture.
In 2005 the Hall of Mirrors underwent a $19.1 million 18 months restoration.
Two-thirds of the mirrors are restored originals, damaged ones were removed in favor
of antique replacements.
The hall's paintings, gilding and sculptures were cleaned of dust, smoke and wax. Some awkward renovations of the past were also repaired, and workers put in a new parquet floor and touched up marble and gilding.
Gel solvents plucked out dirt and grime from Charles le Brun's broad canvases, without
affecting the layers of paint|
The reason the Hall of Mirrors was so impressive to the
general public was that at that time, mirrors were usually made of
polished metal-heavy, and not very clear.
Then they started making glass mirrors in Venice that were much
clearer and very expensive. Most people only had a small hand mirror (like in
a powder compact) and only the very rich had a big mirror: a full
length mirror was almost unheard of. So when they lined the whole
gallery with mirrors that reflected the outside and made the room look even
bigger, it was a marvel. When Marie Antoinette was imprisoned, they took
her mirror away, to show her that looking at herself was
no longer so important. A maid smuggled her a cardboard framed mirror
in jail and it's still in the conciergerie museum.
As for comfort, Versailles was like any other grand chateau of the day.
The kitchens were far away from the dining areas, and meals were never
the right temperature. There was no heat except for fireplaces and
German style tile fireplaces that Marie-Antoinette brought from Austria. There was
no running water, and people didn't bathe except for spit baths (they
thought that having water all over you was unhealthy - it might have been, with
the drafty conditions.)
You don't get to visit most of the castle because
it's too expensive to keep it up. Much of the original furnishings have
been stolen, and they even know where lots of it is today, and when it
becomes available, the government tries to buy it back. The Rockefellers
and the Duponts gave lots of money to refurnish the castle.
Thanks to Susan Browne for sharing her knowledge of Versailles)
The Treaty of Versailles ending World War I was signed here on June 28, 1919.
The German Empire was also proclaimed in the Hall of Mirrors after Germany defeated
France in 1871. France demanded harshness toward a defeated Germany, mainly
because it had suffered 1.3 million dead, 27 percent of all men between 18 and 27.
Here I set the camera on its back and it snapped these pictures of the ceiling.
One of the main challenges was restoring Charles Le Brun's overhead paintings, which mark
important moments in the reign of Louis XIV, the Sun King, who had the hall built as a
monument to his own glory.
This is the Queen's Chamber. The guide let me use the flash on my camera.
Not the greatest pictures ... Nineteen royal children of France were
born here, including the future Louis XV. Marie-Antoinette escaped
from the rioting crowd on October 6, 1789 out the door under the
hangings left of the bed. The rioters brought the royal family back
to Paris, where a son died of illness and the king and queen were
beheaded. Notice how
short the beds are? It's because they had a superstition about laying
down flat to sleep. They thought you could die from it, that it looked
like you were laid out for burial, so they slept propped up on pillows.
Queen had apartments that the King had to be invited to come, and some
courtiers had just a room or two, and some were the size of a modern
house with many rooms.
Here is the 380-foot-long Hall of Battles, with its 33 huge paintings recording French military victories from the Battle of Tolbiac in 496 to the Battle of Wagram in 1809.
Look in the right-hand-corner of the picture on the far right below - that's seems like a little
too-familiar embrace between those two dudes ... don't ask, don't tell?
The corridor behind the Hall of Battles. I find the choice of floor patterning curious.
It doesn't seem to fit in with the "old" surroundings.