I have read a tremendous amount of work on the French Revolution. I could be considered somewhat obsessed, but I have never taken the time to find out information about Versailles. I ran across this short overview that has helped answer a few questions and led me to some interactive tours online. I wanted to share a few things with you in hopes that you may become as obsessed as I am and add a visit to your bucket list. Most importantly you will get a prelude before my review of Where the Light Falls by Allison and Owen Pataki. The novel is set during the French Revolution and the prologue is an instant trip to the guillotine.
Louis XIV wanted to build a palace to preserve his father’s favored hunting cottage. A grand palace and elaborate gardens were commissioned to be built surrounding the current cottage, but the land was a mosquito infested swamp. It took approximately 40,000 laborers working day and night without care for their safety to construct the palace and gardens. The king moved his entire court to live permanently in 1677 and began hosting elaborate celebrations and festivals. After Louis XIV’s death, the seat of government was moved back to Paris until Louis XV, now king, returned to Versailles at the age of 12. Louis XV ignored the advice of his great grandfather and began entering into numerous wars at the expense of the poor of his own country. The aristocracy were not required to pay taxes and the burden fell solely on the lower class. At Louis XV’s death, Louis XVI took control of a kingdom in debt and on the verge of revolution with a wife that enjoyed spending on designer fashion and elaborate parties. It was not a great combination.
Louis XVI was advised to begin taxing nobility. This was obviously not a popular solution and the massive debt reached its peak in 1778 when he agreed to help Americans in the war for their Independence. This decision led to his downfall and the seeds of their own revolution. The French wanted freedom from taxation like the Americans and a republic instead of a monarchy where their voices would be heard. Revolutionaries storm the Bastille and begin the reign of terror known as the French Revolution. Versailles is raided by an angry mob on October 6, 1789. I did not find a detailed account of the amount of damage that occurred, but it would be an interesting topic to research. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are executed in 1793 and France is in a mass upheaval. The bloodshed and terror that occurred are featured in numerous books and movies still being released today.
In 1833, Versailles was turned into a museum that is still open for tours. It is the 39th most popular place in the world and approximately 5.9 million people visit each year. You can tour the different rooms and gardens online at their website: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/. The Hall of Mirrors seems to be the favorite choice amongst guests boasting more than 578 mirrors. It is the site where the Treaty of Versailles was signed in 1919 ending World War One.
Have any of you visited Versailles? Is it on your bucket list? I would love to hear from you!