A September Day at Versailles: Visiting the Palace of the Sun King

 

On a day that was bathed in sunshine, we voyaged to Versailles, the decadent Baroque palace of France’s roi soleil (sun king). As we wandered among the palace’s 250 gardened acres and peered through windows into the gilded interiors  — just as a subject might have done 300 years ago — history lessons about the French Revolution came to mind.

Wanting to escape Paris’ stuffy climate in the seventeenth-century, Louis XIV summoned architects to spiff up and greatly expand his father’s hunting lodge and grounds. The King’s planners drew up extensive expansion plans that commenced in 1661, resulting in one of the world’s largest palaces. More than 30,000 laborers are said to have participated in the building projects!

In 1678, Louis XIV had begun moving his court to Versailles. By 1682, nearly 20,000 noblemen, servants and flatterers had moved into Versailles resulting in the court’s official establishment there. With the seat of government then outside Paris, and the nobility leading debauched lifestyles at Versailles, so the seeds of the French Revolution were born.

Despite the blazing sun, and ornamental gardens that lack shading and protective canopies, we spent several hours promenading through Versailles’ grounds, which actually form one of Europe’s largest parks. Amazingly, forests were once imported to ornament Versailles’ gardens, the focal point of which is the mile-long Grand Canal.

The flowerbeds and hedges were coiffed immaculately. Versailles’ chief landscape architect, André Le Nôtre’s quotation about the palace’s view into the delicate gardens seemed timely:  “Flowers can only be walked on by the eyes.”

In Louis XIV’s time, it was not possible to run all the fountains at once, so when Louis strolled through the grounds, the fountain-tenders turned on the fountains in advance of his footsteps and then turned them off behind him.

The gardens’ more than 600 fountains and statues were installed between 1661-1668. I most enjoyed the cherub statues as well as the creative manner in which fountainheads were camouflaged as cat-tail plants or as if they were coming out of turtles’ mouths.

Our readings about the palace’s posh interiors didn’t persuade us to venture into the treasure box-like rooms. Nevertheless, one guidebook statistic about the over-the-top décor stuck with me: Versailles’ paintings, if laid end to end, would equal more than 7 miles (11 km.) of canvas!

Note: This is Part I of a Versailles Series. Also see Versailles in Black & White (Part II) and

A Return to Versailles (Part III).

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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All rights reserved.

Our Peterhof Gardens Promenade

Peterhof-Palace-St. Petersburg-Russia

Often referred to as Russia’s Versailles, the Peterhof Palace gardens (ПЕТЕРГО́Ф) offered us a picturesque spot through which to stroll during our visit to St. Petersburg earlier this month.

Under shadows cast by heavily-gilded cupolas, we were brusquely ushered through the grandiose palace complex past faces from all walks of life. When we crossed paths with artists dressed in Baroque garb, we tried to imagine Peterhof in its heyday shortly after its commissioning by Peter the Great in the 18th century.

Peterhof Palace RussiaAnd then we tried visualize the depths of its destruction at the hands of Nazi occupiers between 1941-1944. Reconstruction work and regular maintenance continue to this day.

Peterhof Palace Russia ArchitecturePeterhof Palace Gardens RussiaWe found the elegant gardens and cast of characters to be of the most interest as they brought life to the prim palace.

There were Russian school-children visiting the UNESCO-registered complex, yet some seemed more interested in games of hide & seek than in the ornate architecture.

Peterhof Palace Russia Gardens and FountainsPeterhof Russia Gardens of PalacePeterhof RussiaPeterhof Russia Gardens of Palace 2

There was even a bride that resembled a delicately-painted matryoshka doll.Peterhof Russia Wedding BrideAnd aggressive salesmen, peddling matryoshka dolls, wooden structures with Eastern Orthodox spires and Siberian cashmere shawls. Some expressions evoked Cold War intrigue.

Peterhof Russia Gardens of Palace VendorsPeterhof Palace Gardens Russia 3Peterhof Palace Russia Fountains and Cupola

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Photography & text © by Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.