The Palace of the Sun King
The Palace of Versailles is one of France’s crowning achievements. No other palace in the world comes close to its grandeur. Each room is conceptually designed and decorated lavishly with gold, paintings, and furniture.
The king of France, Louis XIV, was the visionary behind this palace, which was once his father’s hunting lodge surrounded by marshes. Louis XIV decided to have his palace constructed in the worst environment but despite the odds, he succeeded.
People might think Versailles was a perfectly beautiful place to live but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ultimately, the cost to construct Versailles was too great that it would mark the end of the monarch’s reign over France. Come and learn about the Palace of Versaille’s fascinating history.
The Palace of Versailles in 1600.
The History of the Palace of Versailles
The Palace of Versailles began as a hunting lodge that Louis XIV and his father would visit. At the age of 27, Louis XIV returned to his childhood playground and decided to build his dream palace there. He chose a rather inhospitable environment as Versailles was marshlands. His decision was as if to say,” Watch me do the impossible because I can”.
Louis was an impatient man and he would make everyone work fast. Construction would occur day and night without delay without safety or health precautions. It was a common occurrence that workers would die on site and be carried out during the night to not lower morale.
The palace took over forty years to complete. During this time, King Louis XIV slept in the Sun King’s room which overlooks the front courtyard as the sun rose upon the horizon. While Louis slept comfortably, his servants and guards would roll out carpets to lay on the floor with rats.
Careful attention to detail was given to every corner of Versailles. French Baroque architecture is unique for the expressive ornaments and combination of art styles. It was most predominant during the reign of King Louis XIV, XV, and XVI.
The Era of the Sun King
Louis XIV had a desire to make Versailles and all of France the center of the world for fashion, art, music, dance, theatre, cuisine, and language. Growing up Louis wore only the finest fabrics in silk. He was a huntsman, an admirer of the arts, loved clothes, and a skilled dancer.
Louis XIV believed he was divinity and saw Apollo, the greek god of the sun, as his role model. He began to call himself the Sun King because he believed he was the center of the universe, like the sun.
The Sun King staring right at you! 🌞
The sun signifies dominance over all things. Louis commissioned paintings from the greatest artists at the time to immortalize his image. The paintings were elaborate pieces of Louis in suits of armor accompanied by celestial beings.
Bringing Nobles to Versailles
Louis invited the nobles from across the country to live in Versailles and promised they would not pay taxes. While at Versailles, the nobles would be distracted by eating, drinking, gambling, and having sex. This would enable Louis XIV to have total control. More buildings and apartments were constructed around the palace to make room for new residents.
In return, your role as a noble living in Versailles was to be in the king’s good graces and hopefully, one day, be noticed. Nobles would spend years just to have their name mentioned and be a part of the king’s inner social circle.
Everything became a ceremony for King Louis. He would eat in front of his subjects for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Nobles would surround Louis hoping to be talked to. During the morning and at night, high-ranking nobles would have the privilege to remove or put on a piece of his clothing.
Statue of Louis XIV outside the Palace of Versailles.
“L’etat, c’est moi” – Louis XIV
“The state, that’s me.” – Louis XIV
Hygiene in Versailles
Versailles was a horrible place to live at the time because everyone was unhygienic. People avoided bathing as they feared their pores would open with warm water and die. Instead, they sought to use powders and invest time in sourcing ingredients to create perfumes to cover up their odors.
Versailles smelled of urine and feces. Nobles would spend their days drinking and relieving themselves in the corner of the room. A portable toilet was passed around to defecate. The excrement was later thrown outside the windows of the palace unto the ground below.
The Gardens of Versailles
The gardens are another marvel to admire when you visit the Palace of Versailles. Each section is conceptually designed and elegantly decorated as the interior of the palace. Gold-painted statues of gods and animals stare at onlookers as they pass by.
King Louis built the Lake of the Swiss Guard, an artificial lake built to the west of the gardens. The purpose was to show off his power and grandeur before the King of Switzerland visited. During the summertime, boats can be taken out for a stroll on the lake.
Even the entire backyard of the royal family is impressive. They spared no expense.
The Hall of Mirrors
Louis Le Vau, the palace’s original architect, died before being able to finish building the palace of Versailles. His successor, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, was given the role to rebuild the facade facing the gardens. Louis XIV sent spies to Vienna to study mirror craftsmanship and bring that knowledge back to Versailles.
The Hall of Mirrors (Galerie des Glaces) is beyond beautiful and holds hundreds of panes of mirrors that reflect the sunlight into the room.
The Era of King Louis XV
Louis XIV left a long-lasting legacy that made Louis XV feel overshadowed by his great-grandfather. He was the Sun King after all. Louis XV had a desire to follow in XIV’s footsteps, but his first objective as King was to dawn a new heir to the throne. He married Queen Marie Leszczyńska, who gave birth to 10 children over 10 years.
Three of her ten children died. Children were not given names until a certain age as it was common they didn’t survive to adulthood. After giving the consecutive pregnancies, Marie was fed up and would abstain from intercourse by making excuses to lock herself in at night. For this, Louis XV began to bring aristocratic women to Versailles and have orgies.
Louis XIV sided with the Americans as they fought the English during the civil war. He went so far as to head into the battlefield and got sick. Fearing his soul being sent to Hell, Louis XIV told his mistresses to leave for him to receive absolution if he were to die.
Miraculously, he recovered and promised to be a better person and dedicate his love to his people. This is why they called Louis XV, the well-beloved. This only lasted a few months, and he was back to his old vices.
A man Damia tried to assassinate Louis XV with a knife, puncturing the king with only a flesh wound. Damia was immediately arrested and tortured in the most brutal way possible. His feet were burned, his bones broken, and his limbs ripped apart as horses walked in different directions.
The people at Versailles continued to live a good life, oblivious to the people’s suffering. Louis XVI tried four times with different advisors to convince the nobles must pay taxes to stabilize the economy. This was followed by outrage as it disrupted the traditional hierarchy of a social class system. France was still in debt and would continue for the rest of the Monarchy.
King Louis XV died of smallpox. It was rumored around Versailles that he had syphilis. Of course, it was proven not to be true as their son, King Louis XVI was fine. The day King Louis XV died no one cared as the people he was surrounded by and the population thought he was a bad king and were tired of him. He was put into an iron coffin and sent away. France was ready for a new king.
“Après moi, le déluge” – Louis XV
“After me, the flood” – Louis XV
The Era of King Louis XVI
The people of France had high hopes for King Louis XVI. The nobles and population alike loathed his wife Marie Antoinette for being Austrian. They were married for eight years without having children. Rumors say that Louis XVI was impotent or homosexual. At the time, no one was educated on how to reproduce offspring. Compared to his predecessors, Louis XVI was a disappointment in bed.
One night, the ceiling above King Louis XV’s bedroom began to leak rain. As a result, he went to sleep in the queen’s room and made a child. Three years later, they would make love again when rats entered the king’s room and forced him to return to the queen’s quarters.
Marie Antoinette was in love with hot chocolate just like Queen Maria Theresa of Spain before her. The hot chocolate was a thick drink with spice that was treated as a tonic aphrodisiac. The royals had enlisted their chocolatier to prepare the daily drinks. Maria began to consume it ten times a day with macaroons. She also never reused clothes and wore a new dress every day.
Things fell apart the day the people of France stormed the bastille and then went to the Palace of Versailles to take the royal family as prisoners to Paris. Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and 20,000 people had their heads cut off in la Place de la Concorde. Today, you’ll find the Luxor Obelisk standing where the guillotine used to be.
After storming the palace, the French took the furniture and moved the paintings to the Louvre, but the palace was kept intact. I feel that the French didn’t dismantle the palace because they saw it as a work of art, a building made from the blood and sweat of their people.
Napoleon decided to live in Versailles when he was in command. Bonaparte lived a good life at the palace with more resources at his disposal than his predecessors. His greed led him down the same path as the previous owners by crowning himself emperor and his wife, Joséphine Bonaparte, empress.
The Consecration of Emperor Napoleon and the Coronation of Empress Josephine in Notre-Dame Catherdral on 2 December 1804 by Jacques Louis David
Versailles is an incomprehensible experience that leaves you overwhelmed. Every other building, before and after, pales in comparison to the Palace of Versailles. Others have tried to replicate the baroque architecture but have failed.
Gold and every jewel imaginable hang from either the ceiling or the clothes of the royal family. I felt insignificant standing within the lavishly oriented rooms decorated with the finest upholstery. Louis XIV used the majority of France’s wealth to pursue the construction of his palace. His belief in “divinity” also led him to neglect the life of his country. The cost of building the palace was his family’s execution and the end of the monarchy.
Portraits of King Louis XIV, King Louis XV, and King Louis XVI
Today, France is known across the globe as the center of fashion, art, music, dance, theatre, and cuisine. French is the language of love and millions of tourists flock to France every year. The Palace of Versailles is an unforeseen long-term investment and a catalyst for the French Revolution. In the end, Louis XIV accomplished his goal and the French continue to tell the story of the Palace of Versailles.
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