The Palace of Versailles: History & Facts

Instructor: Cirrelia Thaxton

Cirrelia is an educator who has taught K-12 and has a doctorate in education.

The Palace of Versailles is the French jewel in Europe's crown of culture and style. Read about the quintessential, historic landmark where kings and queens of France have lived for centuries. After you study, quiz yourself!

The Beginning: Palace Construction and Redesign

King Louis XIII of France was responsible for the Palace of Versailles, an opulent castle in the town of Versailles that sits just 12.5 miles outside of Paris. A country village with only a church and a small castle, Versailles in the early 17th century was teeming with wildlife. Louis XIII, a big hunter, decided to establish a small brick and stone chateau there. On his many hunting trips, Louis XIII would stay at the chateau, of which he had grown quite fond. Then, when he was named lord of Versailles in the 1630s, Louis III decided to expand the chateau, purchasing more land and an estate before his death in 1643.

Early drawing of the Palace of Versailles
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The next French ruler who came to Versailles was King Louis XIV, also known as the 'Sun King' because of his belief in a centralized government with the king at the center. Louis XIV saw the chateau at Versailles as a small and insignificant domicile, so he planned to redesign it, adding north and south wings and other buildings on the estate grounds. In 1662, Louis XIV envisioned a castle of solitude away from the Louvre in Paris, where he felt threatened by the Parisians' political fervor that fueled their social unrest.

Palace of Versailles
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Thus, he masterminded the construction of the magnificent palace, which is still in existence today. Working with architect Louis Le Vau and artist Charles Le Brun, Louis XIV created the baroque and ornate royal residence that became the model for European castles. By 1682, Louis XIV had moved the French government and its court to his Palace of Versailles.

Architecture of the Palace of Versailles

One of the most heralded features of the Palace of Versailles is the Hall of Mirrors. Considered to be Louis XIV's idea, this is a hall in which seventeen mirrored arches span out, reflecting seventeen windows with arcades facing a garden. Every arch has twenty-one mirrors, making a grand total of 357 mirrors. With statues and busts lining the hall, this impressive room attracts millions of visitors every year. One interesting historical fact about the Hall of Mirrors is that it was the place where Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, ending World War I in 1919.

Hall of Mirrors
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The stunning Royal Chapel of the Versailles Palace is yet another grand form of baroque and gothic architecture. Many features of this chapel resemble medieval cathedrals. For instance, the chapel has a pointed roof and gargoyles. But, the majority of its design was based on 17th Century motifs, such as ornate columns, carved pillars, and colorful marble-tiled floors.

Ceiling of the Chapel of Versailles
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On the second floor of the Chapel of Versailles, there was a tribune that seated special guests of the king who looked down on the nave during mass. The decoration of the chapel focused on the French king. For instance, paintings and sculptures represented the power of the monarchy through iconography that depicted the king's 'divine right' to lead the people.

Just Outside the Palace of Versailles

Near the Palace of Versailles there is the Grand Trianon built by Louis XIV to create a striking, pink marble building as a private area for retreating from the hectic pace of the palace. Many have said that the Trianon is a mini-palace, since it has all the luxuries of a castle, including beautiful interior rooms and outside gardens. Napoleon Bonaparte resided there years later, and Charles de Gaulle expanded its structure into a permanent residence during his presidency. Even today, heads of state from around the world visit the Grand Trianon for formal occasions.

Grand Trianon
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