The Palace of Versailles was the principal royal residence of France from 1682, under Louis XIV, until the start of the French Revolution in 1789, under Louis XVI. It is located in the department of Yvelines, in the region of Île-de-France, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) southwest of the centre of Paris.
The site of the Palace was first occupied by a small village and church, surrounded by forests filled with abundant game. It was owned by the Gondi family and the priory of Saint Julian. King Henri IV of France went hunting there in 1589, and returned in 1604 and 1609, staying in the village inn. His son, the future Louis XIII, came on his own hunting trip there in 1607.
Henri IV, King of France and Navarre.
After he became King in 1610, Louis XIII returned to the village, bought some land, and in 1623-24 built a modest two-story hunting lodge on the site of the current marble courtyard. He was staying there in November 1630 during the event known as the Day of the Dupes, when the enemies of the King’s chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu, aided by the King’s mother, Marie de’ Medici, tried to take over the government. The King defeated the plot and sent his mother into exile.
King Louis XIII, King of France and Navarre
After this event, Louis XIII decided to make his hunting lodge at Versailles into a château. The King purchased the surrounding territory from the Gondi family and in 1631–1634 had the architect Philibert Le Roy replace the hunting lodge with a château of brick and stone with classical pilasters in the doric style and high slate-covered roofs, surrounding the courtyard of the original hunting lodge. The gardens and park were also enlarged, laid out by Jacques Boyceau and his nephew, Jacques de Menours (1591–1637), and reached essentially the size they have today.
The palace of Louis XIV
Louis XIV first visited the château on a hunting trip in 1651 at the age of twelve, but returned only occasionally until his marriage to Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660 and the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, after which he suddenly acquired a passion for the site. He decided to rebuild, embellish and enlarge the château and to transform it into a setting for both rest and for elaborate entertainments on a grand scale.
The first phase of the expansion (c. 1661–1678) was designed and supervised by the architect Louis Le Vau. Initially he added two wings to the forecourt, one for servants quarters and kitchens, the other for stables.mIn 1668 he added three new wings built of stone, known as the envelope, to the north, south and west (the garden side) of the original château. These buildings had nearly-flat roofs covered with lead.
Louis XIV, King of France and Navarre
The king also commissioned the landscape designer André Le Nôtre to create the most magnificent gardens in Europe, embellished with fountains, statues, basins, canals, geometric flower beds and groves of trees. He also added two grottos in the Italian style and an immense orangerie to house fruit trees, as well as a zoo with a central pavilion for exotic animals. After Le Vau’s death in 1670, the work was taken over and completed by his assistant François d’Orbay.
Enlargement of the Palace (1678–1715)
The King increasingly spent his days in Versailles, and the government, court, and courtiers, numbering six to seven thousand persons, crowded into the buildings. The King ordered a further enlargement, which he entrusted to the young architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. Hadouin-Mansart added two large new wings on either side of the original Cour Royale (Royal Courtyard). He also replaced Le Vau’s large terrace, facing the garden on the west, with what became the most famous room of the palace, the Hall of Mirrors.
Grand Hall of Mirrors
Mansart also built the Petites Écuries and Grandes Écuries (stables) across the Place d’Armes, on the eastern side of the château. The King wished a quiet place to relax away from the ceremony of the Court. In 1687 Hardouin-Mansart began the Grand Trianon, or Trianon de Marbre (Marble Trianon), replacing Le Vau’s 1668 Trianon de Porcelaine in the northern section of the park. In 1682 Louis XIV was able to proclaim Versailles his principal residence and the seat of the government and was able to give rooms in the palace to almost all of his courtiers.
After the death of Maria Theresa of Spain in 1683, Louis XIV undertook the enlargement and remodeling of the royal apartments in the original part of the palace, within the former hunting lodge built by his father. He instructed Mansart to begin the construction of the Royal Chapel of Versailles, which towered over the rest of the palace. Hardouin-Mansart died in 1708 and so the chapel was completed by his assistant Robert de Cotte in 1710.
Louis XIV died in 1715, and the young new King, Louis XV, just five years old, and his government were moved temporarily from Versailles to Paris under the regency of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. In 1722, when the King came of age, he moved his residence and the government back to Versailles, where it remained until the French Revolution in 1789.
Louis XV, King of France and Navarre
Louis XV remained faithful to the original plan of his great-grandfather, and made few changes to the exteriors of Versailles. His main contributions were the construction of the Salon of Hercules, which connected the main building of the Palace with the north wing and the chapel (1724–36); and the royal opera theater, designed by Ange-Jacques Gabriel, and built between 1769 and 1770. The new theater was completed in time for the celebration of the wedding of the Dauphin, the future Louis XVI, and Archduchess Marie Antoinette of Austria.
Louis XV also made numerous additions and changes to the royal apartments, where he, the Queen, his daughters, and his heir lived. In 1738, Louis XV remodeled the king’s petit appartement on the north side of the Cour de Marbre, originally the entrance court of the old château. He discreetly provided accommodations in another part of the palace for his famous mistresses, Madame de Pompadour and later Madame du Barry.
The extension of the King’s petit appartement necessitated the demolition of the Ambassador’s Staircase, one of the most admired features of Louis XIV’s palace, which left the Palace without a grand staircase entrance. The following year Louis XV ordered the demolition of the north wing facing onto the Cour Royale, which had fallen into serious disrepair. He commissioned Gabriel to rebuild it in a more neoclassical style. The new wing was completed in 1780. Louis XVI, and the Palace during the Revolution
Louis XVI was constrained by the worsening financial situation of the kingdom from making major changes to the palace, so that he primarily focused on improvements to the royal apartments. Louis XVI gave Marie Antoinette the Petit Trianon in 1774. The Queen made extensive changes to the interior, and added a theater, the Théâtre de la Reine. She also totally transformed the arboretum planted during the reign of Louis XV into what became known as the Hameau de la Reine.
This was a picturesque collection of buildings modeled after a rural French hamlet, where the Queen and her courtiers could play at being peasants. The Queen was at the Petit Trianon in July 1789 when she first learned of the beginning of the French Revolution.
In 1783, the Palace was the site of the signing of three treaties of the Peace of Paris (1783), in which the United Kingdom recognized the independence of the United States. The King and Queen learned of the storming of the Bastille in Paris on July 14, 1789. while they were at the Palace, and remained isolated there as the Revolution in Paris spread. The growing anger in Paris led to the Women’s March on Versailles on October 5, 1789.
Louis XVI, King of France and Navarre
A crowd of several thousand men and women, protesting the high price and scarcity of bread, marched from the markets of Paris to Versailles. They took weapons from the city armory, besieged the Palace, and compelled the King and Royal family and the members of the National Assembly to return with them to Paris the following day.
As soon as the royal family departed, the Palace was closed, awaiting their return—but in fact, the monarchy would never again return to Versailles. In 1792, the Convention, the new revolutionary government, ordered the transfer of all the paintings and sculptures from the Palace to the Louvre. In 1793, the Convention declared the abolition of the monarchy, and ordered all of the royal property in the Palace to be sold at auction.
The auction took place between 25 August 1793 and 11 August 1794. The furnishings and art of the Palace, including the furniture, mirrors, baths and kitchen equipment, were sold in seventeen thousand lots. All fleurs-de-lys and royal emblems on the buildings were chambered or chiseled off. The empty buildings were turned into a storehouse for furnishings, art and libraries confiscated from the nobility. The empty grand apartments were opened for tours beginning in 1793, and a small museum of French paintings and art school was opened in some of the empty rooms.
Die Proklamation des Deutschen Kaiserreiches by Anton von Werner (1877), depicting the proclamation of Kaiser Wilhelm I (18 January 1871, Palace of Versailles). From left, on the podium (in black): Crown Prince Friedrich (later Emperor Friedrich III), his father Emperor Wilhelm I, and Grand Duke Friedrich I of Baden, proposing a toast to the new emperor. At centre (in white): Otto von Bismarck, first Chancellor of Germany, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, Prussian Chief of Staff.
The palace has also been a site of historical importance. The Peace of Paris (1783) was signed at Versailles, the Proclamation of the German Empire occurred in the vaunted Hall of Mirrors, and World War I was ended in the palace with the Treaty of Versailles, among many other events.