The Palace of Versailles
To say that the Palace of Versailles was the reason that the Ancien Regime of France fell is, to be sure, a total oversimplification of complex social and economic factors that were in play in late-1700’s France. To walk these halls today, however, it takes little imagination to understand how there *might* have been some lingering tension over the extravagant spending and lifestyle of the French nobility compared to the overtaxed and exhausted-by-war commoner of the era.
A cobbled together construction of over 700 rooms and capable of hosting over 20,000 guests, the Palace of Versailles is a bit much. The total acreage of the entire Versailles estate could fit Manhattan inside twice, One famous room, the Hall of Mirrors, required 1,000 candles just to fill the chandeliers. Of course, this still would never be enough light for the 2,000 horses that lived in the royal stables of Versailles.
The point obviously being that Versailles was built to excess. For much of Europe this was THE model of a residential royal estate. The court here was run on a strict etiquette that demand certain modes of behavior based strictly one one’s rank and distance from power. One of the most interesting is certainly the tradition that public onlookers be admitted to all royal births. As the story goes, when Marie Antoinette gave birth to her first daughter over two hundred people (ranging in status from Dukes to chimney sweeps) crowded into the room.
That does, I suppose, go a long way towards explaining the layout and size of some of the royal bedrooms.
I have no doubt that being royalty back in the day was probably more difficult than modern observers make it out to be. Every day represented an intricate dance, and each step could see your social position soaring or plummeting depending largely on factors out of your own control. That being said, there were certainly lavish perks to the lifestyle as well.
Imagining what it would have been like to spend each day in these preposterously rich surroundings where every room is a work of art and every meal a feast is almost impossible. Modern day tourist have access to a small part of that atmosphere, of course, but somehow I imagine it just is not quite the same.
The closest I managed to get to that feeling of spoiled luxury? The sheer dumb luck of being at Versailles at the end of the day. Wandering through the Gallery of Battles and then back to the Hall of Mirrors with no other tourists in the room (or the photos!), it felt for one fleeting moment like Versailles was all mine.
Very shortly after that moment, I was kicked unceremoniously out the door and into the gardens of Versailles with the other bougie types. Because we can’t all be King.
Train Ticket Round-Trip from Paris: €8.20 (on the RER-C, generally the train named ‘Vicky’)
Versailles Palace ticket: €15
Versailles Passport Ticket (includes Palace, Gardens, Trianon Palaces and Hamlet)
– One Day: €18
– Two Day: €25
Trianon and Hamlet Ticket: €10
The Chateau of Versailles is open daily except Mondays from 09:00 – 18:30 (17:30 in low season Nov – Mar). The Trianon Palaces and Hamlet follow the same schedule as Versailles, except they open from 12:00.
The Palace Gardens and Park are open from 08:00 – 20:30 (18:00 in low season). From early April to late October there are Fountain Shows and Musical Gardens (admission €9, but free with the Versailles Passport Ticket) every Saturday and Sunday. From mid-May to mid-June these are available on Tuesdays as well. See the official site of the Palace of Versailles for more info.
I visited Paris and the Palace of Versailles primarily while working a a photographer with GetYourGuide. Versailles is easy enough to visit on your own, especially if you don’t mind the audio guide. If you’re in a hurry, we went on this tour (which included transportation from Paris and a Skip-the-Line entrance to the palace, but didn’t leave enough time to fully explore the Palace Gardens). If you want a live guide I would suggest this company, or if you want to visit the Trianon Palaces as well these guys. Finally, though I didn’t work with them at Versailles, the Fat Tire Tours company offers a Bike Tour of Versailles and Trianon. They were great fun to work with at Giverny on the Monet’s Garden Bicycle Tour, and I assume their Versailles trip would be good too.