The Palace of Versailles, the largest castle in the world

The Palace of Versailles is a true symbol of French grandeur. This magnificent palace located near Paris, has been the home of many kings and queens over the centuries. The Palace of Versailles is the largest palace in the world and it was built by Louis XIV, King of France, also known as the Sun King. The origins of the palace date back to 1623, when Louis XIII decided to build a hunting lodge on the Marly estate. The project evolved over time and eventually became what we know today as the Palace of Versailles. The palace is now open to the public and visitors can explore its extensive gardens and galleries.

The origins of the Palace

The first castle is in fact a simple hunting lodge measuring 35 meters long by 6 meters wide. This small building is nicknamed the “puny castle” or even “the house of cards” because of the mixture of colors formed by the red brick, the black slate and the white stone that compose it. The king’s apartment is on the first floor and this castle has only 4 rooms, an office, a wardrobe, a bedroom and an antechamber. It was in 1631 that expansion work began, including the addition of small pavilions on the edge of the castle. The wings of the building were redesigned and in 1634, the wall enclosing the courtyard was replaced by a portico. From the outside point of view, the gardens are laid out in the French style. This period coincides with the birth of the second castle. But following the death of Louis XIII, the castle was gradually abandoned and it was not until 1660 that the young King Louis XIV became interested again in Versailles and its development. In September 1960, Louis XIV planned to enlarge the garden and create a new park of considerable size. From 1661, it was the apartments of the castle that were restored, at the request of the Sun King. The other phases of construction began in 1664 which, on the advice of Colbert, provided for an enlargement of the castle on the garden side. The surface of the castle is tripled and the Orangery and the Menagerie make their appearance. In 1667, work on the Grand Canal began.

The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles
The Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles

The other construction phases

The second phase of construction began in 1669 with the redevelopment of the envelope of the Palace of Versailles, also known as the “new castle”. The first floor is dedicated to the large apartments of the king and queen. To the west of the palace, a terrace was built on the gardens but it was later removed to allow the construction of the hall of mirrors. The third phase of work began in 1678 and saw the appearance of:

  • The new orangery (1678)
  • The Saint-Louis chapel (1678)
  • The South Wing and the North Wing (1678)
  • The Hall of Mirrors (1679)
  • Small and large stables (1679)

At the request of King Louis XIV, the court and the power settled permanently in Versailles in 1682. The royal family, ministers, servants, courtiers, staff, workers… then represent thousands of people. The last construction campaign for the Palace of Versailles began in 1699 and ended in 1710. The opera will be built in 1769 and inaugurated in 1770 during the marriage of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.

The park of Versailles

Located in the Yvelines department to the west of Paris, the park of the Palace of Versailles extends over nearly 815 hectares. It encompasses the Palace of Versailles, the Petit Trianon, the Grand Trianon as well as the French gardens created by André Le Nôtre, to whom we also owe the gardens of the castles of Vaux-le-Vicomte and Chantilly. There is also the Grand Canal and the King’s vegetable garden.

  • The Petit Trianon : it is a small castle surrounded by gardens of various styles offered by Louis XVI to Marie-Antoinette. She will have an English garden laid out there.
  • The Grand Trianon : formerly the marble Trianon, it was built at the request of Louis XIV, near the castle. It served as a place of residence for the stays of heads of state. Today it is a place of reception for the French Republic.
  • The French gardens : created by André Le Nôtre, these gardens are characterized by their geometries inspired by the gardens of northern Italy. With a regular and linear earthwork, they leave plenty of room for water games through the installation of canals and basins.
  • The Grand Canal : it is a cross-shaped piece of water that extends over more than 20 hectares. Designed by André Le Nôtre, its work lasted 11 years and its dimensions reach 1670 meters long by 62 meters wide.
  • The king’s vegetable garden : built on a swamp in 1678 by the botanist Jean Baptiste de la Quintinie, it is made up of refined and rare plants from all over the world. The king’s vegetable garden covers 9 hectares.

The gardens surrounding the palace

The gardens of the Palace of Versailles are adorned with sculptures, ponds and fountains. The best known are the 4 large seasonal pools located at the crossroads of the garden paths.

  • The Flore basin, located to the north, illustrates spring.
  • The basin of Ceres, located to the north, illustrates the summer.
  • The Basin of Bacchus, located to the south, illustrates autumn.
  • Saturn’s Basin, located to the south, illustrates winter.

Note also the basin of the Dragon, the basin of Neptune, the basin of Latona or even the basin of Apollo decorated with a statue of the god on his chariot.

The orangery is home to more than 1500 shrubs, mainly orange trees, but also lemon trees, pomegranate trees, laurels and palm trees. Some shrubs are over 200 years old. The orangery is formed by a central gallery 150 meters long facing south, thus protecting the shrubs from cold and frost in winter.

The groves created by André Le Nôtre were used for the king’s walks and court entertainments. 824 bronze, marble and lead sculptures adorn the gardens of the Palace of Versailles, making it the largest open-air sculpture museum in the world.

French gardens designed by André Le Nôtre
French gardens designed by André Le Nôtre

The Royal Stables

The large stable and the small stable are located opposite the Palace of Versailles and close the Place d’Armes. These 2 buildings form the royal stables and are of identical size. However, they are dedicated to different assignments:

  • The large stable : under the orders of the Grand Equerry of France, the large stable housed the school for young nobles in the service of the king, as well as the famous riding school of Versailles. Today, the large stable houses the carriage gallery.
  • The small stable : under the orders of the first squire, it housed the carriage horses, as well as cars and fancy vehicles. Nowadays, the small stable houses the National School of Architecture of Versailles and the workshops of the research and restoration center of the museums of France. It also houses the gallery of sculptures and moldings that adorn the park of the Palace of Versailles.

Versailles in figures

  • It took 53 years of work to transform a simple hunting lodge into a gigantic palace.
  • 36,000 workers were needed to build the palace as we know it today.
  • The Palace of Versailles is made up of 2300 rooms, 1944 windows and 352 chimneys.
  • The facade of the castle extends over 600 meters.
  • The Hall of Mirrors has 357 mirrors.
  • 43 kilometers of paths lined with 155 statutes decorate the gardens.
  • The annual operating budget of the castle amounts to 123 million euros for the year 2013.
  • In 2019, more than 8 million people visited the Palace of Versailles. Foreigners represent 80% of visits.

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