The Palace of Versailles once served as the centre of government and former French royal residence; however now it serves mainly as a national landmark. Located in the city of Versailles, France, the palace is located 16 km southwest of Paris. Versailles was once the centre of the French court, serving as one of the grandest theatres of European absolutism.
Built from around 1631 to 1634, the original residence was used primarily as a private retreat and hunting lodge for Louis XIII and his family. Under the guidance of Louis XIV, the private retreat was transformed during 1661-1710 into a massive and extravagant complex. The complex was surrounded by French and English stylized gardens, with numerous details that were designed to glorify the king.
Architects Robert de Cotte, Louis La Vau, and Jules Hardouin-Mansart were commissioned with the design of the additions, while the interior design was handled by Charles Le Brun. Andre Le Notre, was the landscape artist that designed the symmetrical French gardens, which included ornate fountains featuring “magically” still water. The ornate fountains represented the sweeping power of the king over nature and the power of humanity over nature.
The Galerie des Glaces or Hall of Mirrors and other Grand Apartments or State Rooms are among the most famous rooms in the palace. The Galerie des Glaces features 17 wide arcaded mirrors that oppose 17 windows and ornately painted ceilings, which support glass chandeliers. In addition there are many gilded statues. Located on either side of the Galerie is the equally striking Salon de la Guerre or Salon of War or the Salon de la Paix or Salon of Peace. The Treaty of Versailles was signed by the Allies and Germany in 1919, inside the Galerie des Glaces.
Other important sites on the palace complex include the Grand Trianon, which was finished in 1688 and the Petit Trianon, completed nearly a 100 years later. These served as the private residences for the royal family and their guests.
During a period of restoration, Louis-Phillipe oversaw the construction of the Museum of French History, which was founded in 1837. The museum was dedicated “to all the glories of France,” though much of the 2,000 sculptures and 6,000 paintings remain sequestered away from the public.
In 1979, UNESCO designated the gardens and the palace complex a World Heritage Site. The French Government initiated a wide-ranging renovation and repair of the site following a devastating winter storm in 1989. This storm destroyed more than 1,000 trees on the palace grounds. Some 10,000 trees were lost after a severe windstorm in 1999, including many trees that were planted by Napoleon Bonaparte and Marie Antoinette. The windstorm also damaged the chateau.
It is estimated that nearly 6 million patrons visit the palace every year.