Power and Diplomacy in Versailles

versailles france hall stone statue

Last week I sent my hard drive down to Dublin in Tiernan’s car glove box, which made it really difficult to get photos for this post. But here it is. And with another closure of Versailles today it seems fitting to post another Versailles-themed blog.

So, the notorious queues of Versailles had ended up taking an unanticipated format with the strike action. When we eventually got inside the palace, I was eager to see what all the hype was about. My work colleagues and guidebooks had agreed that the interiors of Versailles are beautiful; culminating in the outrageously ornate Hall of Mirrors. Definitely worth seeing.

Sadly, we were encouraged not to linger in any of the rooms due to the number of people following on behind. My hopes of stopping for photographs were mostly dashed just by the sheer number of people. When we left in the mid afternoon most of the lines had vanished. If I ever get to go again, I think I’ll wait until almost closing to visit the Palace. Perhaps I can get some of those sans people photos that grace blogs like Kevin & Amanda!

Still, it was absolutely beautiful. This was the seat of French power and majesty from the 17th Century until the French Revolution. Everything was covered in a thick layer of gold – particularly on the street facing side of the palace.

The first thing we noticed was that the palace is comprised of deceptively narrow buildings. I’m not sure how well I can describe that. If you are looking up from the gardens or from the road, Versailles appears to be broad and imposing. Yet the buildings are only a couple of rooms deep. Look at this floor plan I took from Wikipedia to see what I mean:

Plans_du_rez-de-chaussée_et_du_premier_étage_du_palais_de_Versailles,_Éditeur_Gavard,_premier_étage_-_Gallica_2011_(detail,_color-coded)

We were rapidly swept about by the wave of people. Starting in the yellow area – the Royal Chapel – we seemed to fly through the King’s State Apartments to the Hall of Mirrors mercilessly. Everyone wanted to see the room on the postcards!

Built by Louis XIV, the Hall of Mirrors saw footfall as part of the King’s daily commute around the palace and also as a ballroom for major celebrations. It is strange to think that now trodden by thousands of tourists every day.  It would have been nice to linger, to think about how almost 100 years ago the Treaty of Versailles was signed here; bringing an official end to the First World War. Or about the parties and other diplomacies that must have happened there. To be honest, I have probably thought more about it now, writing this post, than I did while in that room.

versailles hall mirrors

When I visit a country I try to get a good look at their patterns and textiles. In fact, it might even be worth a blog in itself. These are the designs that signify a culture! France is a flourishing feast of upholstery. This chair, for example, would look utterly out of place in my house, but I wants it.

Actually, I met a girl, also named Rachel, in Morocco who studied textile design and felt up everything from rugs to pashminas. I really think she was on to something there and travelling through France and Italy has made me appreciate the use of fabric a whole lot more.

The only downside to Versailles interiors is: there isn’t enough of them! Aside from the two major bedrooms and some hall furniture, this is not a fully furnished palace. It’s the frescoes, the detail in the actual architecture you are visiting for, which – to me – is a bit of a shame. It really has been a long time since Versailles was the bustling heart of the French court.

We swept through the palace because we knew there was an awful lot more to see at Versailles. In fact, we did not even touch Marie Antoinette’s Petit Trianon or hamlet. After losing several hours to the queue, there just wasn’t time. Instead we spent several hours meandering through this:

Since our lovely American friends had supplied us with the palace tickets, we only had to purchase garden ones. Enormous scope aside, the gardens feel outrageous and grand as you move from hedged section to section to the wafting sounds of baroque music from hidden speakers. No picture can actually capture the sensation of sitting on a marble bench, watching a fountain play.

The gardens at Versailles are very structured. This symmetrical style became so iconically French that it took on the name “French Garden” (Jardin à la françaiseand other European houses would attempt to emulate it. Even one of my Irish faves – Powerscourt, is like a little Versailles in that respect.

Although there is something appealing about the patterns and balance of a French formal garden, I really missed the flowers which were starting to come out at Mount Stewart. Walking down the wide boulevards made the thousands of hectares really feel like thousands of hectares!

All the walking rapidly gave me some very serious shin splints! But there were so many positive things to reflect on: making new friends en queue, seeing the beauty of the hall of mirrors, and wandering to one of my favourite genres of music.

If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it.

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