Versailles: A veritable treat for the eyes

Architectural delight
Last Updated 16 July 2010, 13:54 IST

 What I really needed was a peaceful unhurried getaway from the city for a day. France being a fairly large country, reaching out to the beaches for a day was not practical. So I had to zero in on the suggestion of my host to visit a historical castle in close proximity at Versailles.

With sprawling parks, gardens, innumerable fountains and canals, the Palace of Versailles better known as Chateau de Versailles, is a veritable treat to the eyes. If that is not enough, life-like sculptures that adorn the flanks of little pools, the stunning interiors with the works of master painters decorating the walls add more charm to the whole place. The train from Montpernasse in Paris took around half an hour to drop me in the main station of Versailles. A walk for a few minutes brought me face to face with a massive entrance to the palace.

Looking around the  palace and its exteriors can be done in more than one way. Bicycles are handy if you are keen on visiting all the spots in quick time. Faster still are the electric cars, but they stick to the tracks. And those with restricted mobility can use mini trains that cover important sights. I chose to take a walking tour of the whole estate. The palace complex consists of separate apartments for the king and queen amongst several other chambers and pavilions, each one more enticing than the other. And all these buildings have well decorated facades with ornate columns as also wonderful interiors that still exude the regal ambience of yesteryear. 

Its great transformation from what was just a hunting lodge of earlier kings to an astounding piece of architecture took me a little deeper into its history. Much of the beautification and expansion were done during the  reign of Louis XIV. He not only moved his court here but also shifted the seat of power to Versailles.

In subsequent years, King Louis XVI also continued the tradition and the whole palace reached its peak of grandiosity. It is said that some of the best sculptors, painters, artists and architects were drawn from far and wide and a major portion of the state’s coffers was believed to have been spent extravagantly. Also, queen Marie Antoinette was known for her uniquely luxurious lifestyle, which made a dent on the king’s wealth.
As the monarchy headed towards anarchy, the French Revolution began to take shape. After a prolonged struggle, the revolutionaries took control and beheaded the king and queen. Fortunately, the beauty of the palace and its surroundings did not die. The lavish decorations rendered to the palace are still in tact and have acquired a heritage value, which is why it is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Strolling around the palatial structure, I followed a trail that led to the pools and sculptures. Further down, the path leads to gardens and fountains. The Apollo Fountain is a circular pool with an image of Apollo in a chariot drawn by horses. Similarly, the Neptune fountain on the northern side is equally appealing. The wider Grand Canal and the smaller Petit Canal look like ribbons of blue crossing each other. Visitors can take a boat ride here.

To the northwest is the vast enclosure of Marie Antoinette Estate. As the name suggests, it was designed exclusively for her. Among the sights here that I had a glimpse of were the Grand Trianon, the Queen’s Theatre and the Temple of Love. Walking back to the palace alongside some more pools and fountains, the visit to the famed Hall of Mirrors and the Queen’s Bedroom marked the culmination of an enjoyable and relaxing excursion to Versailles.

(Published 16 July 2010, 13:53 IST)

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