“Versailles was built by Louis XIV, enjoyed by Louis XV, and paid for by Louis XVI.” -architecture professor I had as a sophomore
I took a class on 17th century art last year, and we read this article that compared Versailles to Disney Land. I enjoyed the article but thought the comparison was a bit of a stretch. Versailles and Disney Land? Please.
I was so wrong.
I booked my ticket early with the website promising me that I could just jump into Line A and go straight to the entrance. So I’m thinking “I’ll just skip right into palace, laughing at those fools who didn’t book ahead.” Nope. Everyone else followed the website’s advice. So we all waited in that twisting line together for about an hour. I decided to read since my book was finally getting good. And I was glad I didn’t bring my book on the French Revolution which was my original plan. That just seemed a little rude. At least at Disney Land they have that story about the ride you’re getting on, you know?
Once I got an audio guide (which I got mainly out of peer pressure since everyone else got one and I didn’t want to miss out), I had to go through the history of the palace that is accompanied by paintings of its former occupants. I skipped past most of this since I’d spent the past two weeks in French museums and was a little sick of paintings with French wall text. And it was hot. So hot and unairconditioned. And sticky and gross. Basically Alabama in the ’60s before A/C was a thing. I went through a lot of water bottles that day. But better to be hot at Versailles than bored back at the hotel.
These guys did not half-ass absolute monarchy. There’s gold everywhere. Louis XIV also fashioned himself as “The Sun King” so there’s Apollo imagery everywhere, too. All gold plated. His bedroom is also in the east wing of the palace so he literally rose with the sun. The man knew marketing. As I went through his apartments, all I could think was “Let’s get to the real star of the show: Marie Antoinette.”
I would argue that Marie Antoinette is probably more notorious in the history of Versailles than Louis XIV. But I think that’s just because I like that Sofia Coppola movie. Anyway, her bedroom is part of the tour and the audio guide points out the door through which she fled during the revolution. Unfortunately any emotional tension you might feel because of that is totally destroyed by the couple standing behind you with a selfie stick.
The state departments were packed the whole way through. After I saw Marie Antoinette’s room, I was ready for the next big attraction: the Hall of Mirrors. Now here is when I become an absolute jerk: the Hall of Mirrors was a bit of a let down. Maybe it’s just because it was crowed and hot, but it wasn’t the spectacular space I’d always imagined. I mean, the mirrors were a little grimy. But no matter how many selfie sticks blocked my view, it’s obvious that the room is all about the money. Espcially considering how insanely expensive mirrors were at the time. Let down or not, I got a postcard anyway.
Then, to the gardens. Those fabulous gardens. According to the Versailles/Disney article we read, Louis XIV went to a party at his minister of finance’s palace (anyone who’s anyone has a palace after all) and saw the new gardens which were based around a central axis design. Apparently he stole the architect from the minister and started renovating his father’s hunting lodge the next day. The whole point of the article was that Disney’s Main Street USA has a similar layout. Which is true. But you see more Disney-ness in the gift shops (you know I love a good gift shop). They have books on palace, postcards, t-shirts, Marie Antoinette buttons, and on and on. They also have kids section with knight and princess toys and costumes. Which seems like a weird message to give a little girl considering French history, “Here little Suzy, be a princess! Until you overtax the peasants to fund your extravagent lifestyle and they eventually revolt and your find yourself at the guillotine! But enjoy that tiara until then!”
Back to the gardens. They were stunning. And I know nothing about plants so this is just based on how pretty the colors were but whatever. I was about to get in line for the tram to go to Marie Antoinette’s village (yep) until I remembered that I’m an able-bodied 21 year old so I could just walk. It was hot. But worth it since I listened to the soundtrack to that Sofia Coppala movie. There’s nothing like listening to “I Want Candy” while strolling past some manicured trees.
Marie Antoinette built this tiny village where she could play peasant when she got bored with court life. Talk about insulting. But today it’s this really cool little village with these cute gardens. You almost expect Snow White and the dwarves to show up it’s so well maintained. But they don’t.
I spent the rest of the day around the gardens and then took the RER home. Which might as well have been the Monorail.