World Heritage # 4: The Palace of Versailles and its park

As part of a series specially dedicated to the sites French people recognized as UNESCO World Heritage, we invite you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as heritage of humanity. We continue this series with one of the first sites recognized in 1979, the Palace of Versailles and its park.

CEvery year millions of visitors from all over the world flock to the halls, galleries and alleys of Versailles. Because the whole of the park and the Palace of Versailles is a unique achievement in the world by its size, its quality and its originality. This high place of absolute monarchy has been a source of inspiration for other palaces across Europe. Hampton Court in southwest London and the Royal Palace in Berlin have both benefited. Besides, there are no longer any landscapers who have imitated the work of Le Nôtre.

The glorious hours of the Palace of Versailles

King Louis XIV wanted to make Palace of Versailles an “ideal royal residence”, a model of excellence across Europe. Through Versailles, the Sun King wanted to glorify the absolute monarchy. From the first modest improvements around 1660 to the installation of central power in Versailles, only about twenty years have passed. The hunting estate was then quite simply transformed into an exceptional site. The metamorphosis is real, both in terms of architecture and ornaments, and in terms of the layout of the gardens.

The entrance to the Palace of Versailles
The entrance to the Palace of Versailles

At the instigation of Colbert, architects, sculptors, painters and landscapers have devoted themselves to this masterpiece for several generations. Little by little, they made the Palace of Versailles and its park the symbol of absolute monarchy. For a little over a century, from 1682 to 1789, kings and their courts made Versailles their home. Louis XIV, Louis XV and Louis XVI followed one another there until the Revolution.

After the Revolution

After the Revolution, the palace obviously lost its function. The furniture was sold by the Convention. But under the First Empire, new developments will begin, because Napoleon would have liked to transform the place into "a palace worthy of the Empire". The events precipitating its fall will prevent it. Later, Louis XVIII will make Versailles his summer residence. And it was Louis Philippe I who entrusted the Count of Montalivet with the task of transforming the castle into a museum. He will have the dedication “To all the glories of France” inscribed on the pediments of the Gabriel wing and the Dufour pavilion. During the Franco-Prussian war, the Hall of Mirrors was transformed into a hospital.

Saved from abandonment

In 1874, witness to the decay of the castle, Émile Zola wrote, “It is from this abandonment that the Palace of Versailles died. It was built too large for the life that man can put into it ”. At the end of the XNUMXth century, Pierre de Nolhac became museum curator. He then plans to set up real historical galleries, and undertakes to restore the castle to its pre-Revolution appearance.

The Palace of Versailles today

The Palace of Versailles is a privileged witness of French art of the 386th and 221th centuries. The classification as a historical monument concerns the palace, the park, but also its outbuildings, such as the Petit and the Grand Trianon. Architecture, gardens, ponds, fountains and large-water shows, but also major works of art can be admired in Versailles. XNUMX works of art - including XNUMX sculptures - such as the coronation of Napoleon, the clock from the story of Artois, the portrait of Marie-Antoinette, the Apollo sculpture and many others, can be found around the many galleries and rooms .

Virtual exhibitions

Thanks to the alliance of technologies and works chosen by the curators, virtual visitors can now dive into the heart of interactive tours from home. It is thus possible to discover the paintings, the sculptures and the engravings in a new light. Several thematiques visits are in the spotlight on the site of the Palace of Versailles: Louis XIV and Nicolas Fouquet: a certain history of taste, Louis XIV, the construction of an image, Immortalizing Versailles, Fashion in Versailles, À la table des kings, Sciences at Versailles waiting for you online.

The arrival of contemporary art in Versailles

In recent years, Versailles has been mixing contemporary and baroque arts. We remember the very controversial exhibitions of Jeff Koons, the king of Pop Kitsch, or the “Dirty Corner”, more famous under the name of “Queen's Vagina” installed in the gardens by the contemporary artist Anish Kapoor. These exhibitions certainly have as many detractors as they do amateurs, but nevertheless seem to find their audience. And fans of the original charm of the place are not deprived of it. Located 16 kilometers from Paris, the Palace of Versailles can be discovered in all seasons. To fully enjoy the site, plan to spend at least one day there. Audio guides or guided tours are available on site.