In 1623, the Château de Versailles was far from the baroque architectural masterpiece it is today, spanning over 800 hectares and boasting 2,300 rooms. Prior to its establishment in the Yvelines, all monarchs resided at the Louvre Palace, now renowned as a museum. The former childhood chamber of Louis XIV has since been converted into a museum.

Before the Palace of Versailles: A History of a Hunting Lodge

Louis XIII, father of the Sun King, played a pivotal role in establishing the royal presence at Versailles. It was initially a forested marshland where the young king would hunt with his father, Henry IV. Later, experiencing agoraphobia and desiring distance from his mother, Louis XIII, who would be reigning when King Henry IV was assassinated by Ravaillac, chose to spend more time at Versailles. A castle was thus erected in 1623 on the Versailles estate to accommodate the king's hunting expeditions. Expanded and beautified in 1631 with French gardens and royal pathways, it was momentarily abandoned at the onset of Louis XIV's reign, until the young king ordered its reconstruction in 1660. Preserved by the Sun King as the foundation for his own grand palace, it now encompasses the Court of Honor.

Construction of a French Architectural Gem

The Palace underwent continuous renovation and expansion during the reigns of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI. The gardens were enlarged, and the park was embellished. Changes were not limited to the exterior; interior enhancements were made to accommodate new queens and to realize grand projects like the Royal Opera and the Royal Chapel. Other structures on the Versailles estate also play a significant role in the palace's history.

For instance, the Grand Trianon was constructed in 1687 as a secondary residence for the Sun King, where Louis XV and Queen Marie Leczinska resided. Meanwhile, the Petit Trianon (1761-1768) was built for the King's favorite mistress, Madame de Pompadour. Queen Marie-Antoinette later resided in the Petit Trianon, distancing herself from the formality of Louis XVI's court, where she commissioned a theater and a farm hamlet inspired by Normandy.

1789: A Turning Point

The French Revolution led to the loss of 7,000 hectares of land from the estate, but it did not dissuade future occupants from abandoning it. Napoleon I intended to make the palace an imperial residence, a plan that dissolved with the Empire itself. Louis XVIII considered making Versailles his summer residence during its restoration, although the idea was abandoned. Under Empress Eugénie's influence, Napoleon III transformed the Grand Trianon into a grand reception hall. The French Revolution significantly impacted the history of the Palace of Versailles.

A Central Hub for Diplomacy

After Louis XVI's reign, the Palace never again served as a royal residence but continued to showcase France's grandeur and served as a symbol for future leaders. Numerous historic events, such as the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, occurred here. General de Gaulle used the Grand Trianon as a residence for visiting foreign dignitaries and established a presidential space, later restored to the palace.

The Chateau de Versailles and its extensive estate, rich in heritage and history, became public in 1995. Events like the Grandes Eaux Musicales and performances at the Royal Opera allow visitors to experience the Palace of Versailles much as it was during the reign of kings.

April 24, 2024