Sunday, March 15, 2015

A visit to the spectacular gardens of the Palace of Versailles.

If you are regular readers of "Our House in Provence," you know we love Bruno Bordeaux, the charming proprietor of Café des Sports in Sablet. One day last spring, shortly before we were leaving for a sojourn in Sablet, we got an email from Sylvie, Bruno's sweet wife, saying they had something important to discuss with us.

A few days later we were sitting outside Café des Sports with Bruno and Sylvie and they told us their niece Mathilde, who was an engineering student, needed to spend 30 days doing volunteer work in an English speaking country. They wondered if we might be able to help her find a position and host her at our home.

Flash forward to October and we were back in Sablet. Mathilde spent the month of July with us doing volunteer work in the activities department including teaching a French class to the residents of Chancellor Place of Windsor, an assisted living community located a short distance from our home.

Since we were planning to return to California by way of Paris. Mathilde's parents graciously invited us to visit them at their home just outside of Paris in Versailles. As we were planning our rendezvous, they asked if we had any interest in visiting the Palace of Versailles. So as agreed, they picked us up at our hotel and headed out to their home and to the Palace of Versailles and gardens.

The Palace of Versailles is a royal château in Versailles in the Île-de-France region of France. When the palace was built, Versailles was a country village; today, however, it is a wealthy suburb of Paris, some 20 kilometers southwest of the French capital.

The court of Versailles was the center of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until the royal family was forced to return to the capital in October 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.

View of the Palace of Versailles from the City of Versailles

The Royal Stables were reopened as the Academy of Equestrian Arts in 2003. The huge stables were once home to 600 of the king’s horses. This equestrian school combines instruction of equestrian knowledge and practice of other disciplines such as fencing, dance, singing and Kyudo (traditional Japanese archery).

Academy of Equestrian Arts

In 1816 Louis XVIII commissioned an equestrian statue of Louis XV for Place de la Concord in Paris. The horse was sculpted by Pierre Cartellier. In the end Louis XIV was seated on the horse, sculpted by Louis Petitot, Cartellier’s son-in-law, and set in front of the Palace of Versailles. The proportions of the statues of horse and the king are slightly different.

Equestrian statue of Louis XIV in front of the Palace of Versailles

The Versailles palace and surrounding gardens were commissioned by King Louis XIV and took almost 50 years to construct. At one time, almost 2200 men were employed on the project. By 1682, construction was finished and Louis XIV moved the royal court to Versailles, where all French monarchs lived until the revolution, and the city of Versailles became the unofficial capital of the Kingdom of France.

Visitor entrance to Palace of Versailles

The Grand Canal is the most original creation of André Le Nôtre who transformed the east-west perspective into a long light-filled sheet of water. The work took eleven years, from 1668 to 1679. The Grand Canal which is 5479 feet long, was the setting for numerous nautical spectacles and many types of craft were sailed on it.

In 1669, Louis XIV ordered rowing boats and reduced models of ships. In 1674, the Republic of Venice sent the King two gondolas and four gondoliers who lodged in a suite of buildings at the head of the Canal, since then known as Little Venice. In the summer the King’s fleet sailed along it, while skates and sleighs whizzed over the frozen water of the Grand Canal in winter.

The Grand Canal

The Pièce d’Eau des Suisses is named for the Swiss Guard who excavated the lake in 1678 in an area filled with marshes and ponds, some of which had been used to supply water for the fountains in the garden. This water feature, with a surface area of more than 37 acres, is the second largest, after the Grand Canal, at Versailles.

The Orangerie in the gardens of the Palace of Versailles with the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses in the background

The Orangerie was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart between 1684 and 1686 to replace the small orangerie built by Le Vau in 1663, it consists of a central vaulted gallery 150 meters long, prolonged by two side galleries located under the stairways of the Cent-Marches. The building is lit by large windows.

The Orangerie and Parterre

The Orangerie Parterre covers more than 7 acres. In the reign of Louis XIV it was decorated with sculptures now housed in the Louvre Museum. Consisting of six sections of lawn and a circular pool, in the summer it features 1,055 trees in boxes, including palm trees, oleanders, pomegranate trees, eugenias and orange trees that spend the winter inside the building.

The Orangerie and Parterre

The arch and the Palace of Versailles

As you can see below, you can rent golf carts to visit the gardens if you don't wish to walk. We didn't think we needed the carts but as you will see later, we changed our minds.

Palace of Versailles

The Queen's Grove replaced the Labyrinth with illustrations of thirty-nine Aesop fables with lead animals in fountains painted in natural colors. Built in 1669 after an idea of the tale-teller Charles Perrault, it was destroyed during the replanting of the gardens in 1775-1776, and replaced by the Queen’s Grove. The present sculpted plantings was installed in the late 19th century.

The Queen's Grove

The Temple of Love, which the queen could see from her room in Petit Trianon, was erected by Richard Mique in 1778 in neo-classical style. Built entirely out of marble, this building is especially notable for the quality of the sculptures by Deschamps which adorn its Corinthian capitals, its friezes and the inside of its dome.

"Temple of Love" in the garden of the Petit Trianon

This exceptional quality is due to the fact that it was supposed to house a recognized masterpiece of French sculpture, Cupid cutting his bow from the Club of Hercules by Bouchardon whose original, now on display at the Louvre, was replaced by a replica by Mouchy, another 18th century sculptor.

Shirley and I at the Temple of Love

Although Madame de Pompadour, who wished to “relieve the king’s boredom”, was the instigator of this small palace that Gabriel built in the 1760s, it is the memory of Marie-Antoinette that hangs over Petit Trianon. In 1774, Louis XVI offered the Trianon estate to the Queen who was able to live away – too far away for some – from the Court.

Petit Trianon

Marie-Antoinette, seeking to flee the Court of Versailles, ordered the construction of her hamlet in 1783. There, she regularly found the charms of country life, surrounded by her lady's companions. It became a veritable farm, directed by a farmer, whose products supplied the kitchens of the Palace.

No sooner had the garden around Petit Trianon been finished than Marie-Antoinette began thinking about creating another, as an extension towards Saint-Anthony’s gate. Between 1783 and 1787, the Hamlet was created in the spirit of a true Norman village, with eleven houses spread out around the Big lake. Five of them were reserved for the use of the Queen and her guests: the Queen’s House, Billiard Room, Boudoir, Mill and Refreshments Dairy.

Hamlet of Marie-Antoinette

The Queen's House is the most important building of the Hamlet. In fact, it is composed of two separate buildings joined by a wooden gallery, decorated with white and blue earthenware flowerpots with Marie-Antoinette’s monogram. On the right, the Queen’s House itself, the ground floor comprised of a dining room and a games room, while the first floor was made up of a large living room, a small living room and a Chinese room.

On the left, the Billiard Room, the ground floor comprised of a billiard room, and a private apartment on the first floor. From the top of the gallery, the lady of Trianon, wearing a simple white muslin dress and a straw hat, could oversee the work being done in the fields.

The Queen's House

Built at the edge of the lake and on a forebay, the Mill and its wheel were used to grind the grain, and also had a washing-place. It was intended for the use of the village.

The Mill

With its roof of reeds, dormer window, its lean-to and old stone staircase, the Queen’s Small House, known as the boudoir, is made up of a living room and a wardrobe and is surrounded by a closed garden.

The Boudoir

The Grand Canal

A fountain was built here in 1636, under the reign of Louis XIII, which Louis XIV decorated with an impressive and celebrated group in gilded lead representing Apollo on his chariot. The work of Tuby, after a drawing by Le Brun, it is inspired by the legend of Apollo, the Sun God and emblem of the king. Tuby produced this monumental group between 1668 and 1670 at tapestry factory in Paris, and it was then transported to Versailles and installed and gilded the following year.

The Apollo Fountain with the Palace of Versailles in the background

King Louis XIV of France used fountains in the Gardens of Versailles to illustrate his power over nature. There were so many fountains at Versailles that it was impossible to have them all running at once; when Louis XIV made his promenades, his fountain-tenders turned on the fountains ahead of him and turned off those behind him.

Louis built an enormous pumping station, the Machine de Marly, with fourteen water wheels and 253 pumps to raise the water three hundred feet from the River Seine, and even attempted to divert the River Eure to provide water for his fountains, but the water supply was never enough.

The royal golden gate of the Palace of Versailles was finally restored in 2008, after being demolished during the French Revolution in 1789. It took over two years to replicate the original 260-ft. long gilded wrought iron fence and gate. 100,000 sheets of gold leaf were crafted onto fleur-de-lys designs, crowns, masks of Apollo, cornucopias and the crossed capital Ls representing the Sun King, Louis XIV.

The Royal Fence in front of the Palace of Versailles

We will have to return to Versailles some day to visit the interior of the palace. We spent the entire afternoon walking around the gardens. By the end of the day, we were exhausted from walking and Mathilde's father spotted a golf cart sitting unattended so we hijacked it and rode back to the palace and returned it to keepers of the golf carts.

Have a great week. Chat soon.


  1. Waw, nice to read all of this. How great the world works...encounters with lovely people lead to these lovely trips!

  2. Hello Fetes des Gamins. How nice of you to drop in to check out my blog. Thanks for leaving a comment, I appreciate this very much. Yes, we are fortunate to encounter people who have stayed friends across the distance and time. I hope you will be back often.