Versailles

A year to celebrate Le Notre

Throughout 2013, the Palace of Versailles is paying tribute to André Le Notre, the creator of the Versailles gardens.
To mark the 400th anniversary of his birth, the spotlight is placed on Louis XIV's gardener, the exceptional architect and landscaper, but also on the experienced art collector, friend and confidant of the king, and a man whose aesthetic sense continues to inspire creators all over the world. Restoration work, exhibitions and performances will honour the genius of André Le Notre and the gardens of Versailles, his masterpiece.

On July 1 to 3, the International Le Notre Conference will put together the professionals of landscaping and gardening.
Among the most significant projects to celebrate Le Notre in the Palace but in the whole of the town of Versailles, features the reconstitution of an alley designed by the famous gardener on the site of Matelots-Mortemets. The large reconstitution, monitored by historians and architects from the Historic Monuments Agency is 3.2-kms long.

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André Le Nôtre wearing the order of St Michel, by Carlo Maratta, Palace of Versailles.Parterre du Midi (southern patch), gardens of Versailles - ©Georges Puissant
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Prefecture of Yvelines (78)

Population : 90,000
Économy : tourism, administration.
Celebrities : Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Air (rock band)
Labels : UNESCO World heritage

Timeline

  • 1037

    First mention of Versailles. The village grows around a medieval manor and the St Julien church.
  • 1561

    Martial de Lomenie, Finance Secretary of King Charles IX, becomes lord of Versailles. Jailed for alleged Protestantism, he is dispossessed by the Gondi family.
  • 1632

    King Louis XIII buys the lordship of Versailles to Jean-Francois de Gondi, archbishop of Paris to build a castle on the spot.
  • 1671

    King Louis XIV starts the construction of his castle.
  • 1682

    Louis XIV and the Court settle in the Place of Versailles.
  • 1715

    On the death of Louis XIV, Versaille has a population of 30,000.
  • 1759

    Under Louis XV, construction of the Navy and Foreign Affairs Hotel and War Hotel.
  • 1783

    Flight of a Montgolfier in Versailles.
  • 1789

    Reunion of the Estates- General and Tennis Court Oath. A crowd of Parisians force the king to return to Paris.Revolution – The palace is emptied but not destroyed. Napoleon settle in it briefly.
  • 1837

    King Louis-Philippe inaugurates the museum of French history.
  • 1871

    Commune of Paris. The government of Adolphe Thiers settles in Versailles.
  • 1919

    Treaty of Versailles.
  • 1940

    Versailles is occupied by the Germans.
  • 1965

    Versailles becomes the prefecture of Yvelines. 
  • 1966

    Restoration of the Grand Trianon, which becomes the residence of the guests of the Republic.
  • 1982

    G7 summit.
Portrait of Louis XIV by Hyacinthe Rigaud - ©Collections de Louis XIVPalace of Versailles in 1668; oil on canvas, by Pierre Patel
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Prefecture of Yvelines (78)

Population : 90,000
Économy : tourism, administration.
Celebrities : Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Air (rock band)
Labels : UNESCO World heritage

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Versailles and cycling

For a long tome, Versailles was used as a launching pad for the last stage of the Tour de France and the conclusion of the Tour de France. The 100th Tour de France could not overlook this tradition. The last visit of the Tour in 1989 recalls above all the final showdown between Laurent Fignon and Greg LeMond. The final time-trial between Versailles and the Champs-Elysees led to the shortest final time gap in the history of the race – eight seconds for the American.

Beforehand, the Royal town was eight times the start of the final time-trial of the Tour with victories by Jacques Anquetil, Felice Gimondi, Eddy Merckx or Luis Ocana.

Laurent Fignon, stage Versailles/Paris Tour de France 1989 – ©Presse Sports/ClementGreg Lemond rides along the Seine in stage Versailles/Paris of Tour de France 1989 - ©Presse Sports/Boutroux
16 previous stages
Prefecture of Yvelines (78)

Population : 90,000
Économy : tourism, administration.
Celebrities : Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Air (rock band)
Labels : UNESCO World heritage

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Places to see

The palace

The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO's World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII's hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added improvements to make it more beautiful.

The Hall of Mirrors, the King's Grand Apartments, the Museum of the History of France. The Château de Versailles, the seat of power until 1789, has continued to unfurl its splendour over the course of centuries. At first it was just a humble hunting lodge built by Louis XIII. But Louis XIV chose the site to build the palace we know today, the symbol of royal absolutism and embodiment of classical French art.

In the 1670s Louis XIV built the Grand Apartments of the King and Queen, whose most emblematic achievement is the Hall of Mirrors designed by Mansart, where the king put on his most ostentatious display of royal power in order to impress visitors. The Chapel and Opera were built in the next century under Louis XV.

The château lost its standing as the official seat of power in 1789 but acquired a new role in the 19th century as the Museum of the History of France, which was founded at the behest of Louis-Philippe, who ascended to the throne in 1830. That is when many of the château's rooms were taken over to house the new collections, which were added to until the early 20th century, tracing milestones in French history.

Grand Trianon

In 1687 Jules Hardouin Mansart built the Grand Trianon, probably the most refined group of buildings anywhere in the domain of Versailles, on the site of the “Porcelain Trianon”, which Louis XIV had had erected in 1670 to escape the pomp and rigid formality of court life with his mistress Madame de Montespan.

"A little pink marble and porphyry palace with delightful gardens" is how Mansart described it. He closely followed the specifications of Louis XIV, who was deeply involved in the design process. Visitors cannot help falling under the spell of the elegantly proportioned, single-storey palace radiating a sense of cosiness, sweetness and grandeur all at once. Italian architecture heavily influenced the architecture of the building, which stands between a courtyard and garden. A balustrade once graced with vases, statues of groups of children and sculpted figures conceals the flat roof.

The “Marble Trianon” is famous for its orderly, geometrical French-style gardens “filled with all sorts of orange blossoms and green shrubbery” (Félibien). It has always been surrounded by tens of thousands of hardy perennials and tuberoses buried in pots enabling them to be changed every day, putting on a flowering, fragrant show. The plants create a dazzling décor that brilliantly enlivens the architecture, which is entirely open to the gardens.
Louis XIV occupied the Grand Trianon, where he also housed his sister-in-law the Princess Palatine, his son-in-law the duc de Chartres and his daughter the duchesse de Bourbon. It was beloved by Marie Leszczynska, who lived here in summer. Marie-Antoinette gave several performances here but preferred the Petit Trianon, which Louis XVI had given her as a present.

Napoleon Bonaparte had the palace restored before staying here on many occasions with his second wife, Empress Marie-Louise. In 1963 Charles de Gaulle had it restored as a guesthouse for presidents of France and the northern wing, known as “Trianon-sous-bois”, was converted into an official presidential residence.
Visitors might agree with Félibien, who said “graces and cupids form what is most perfect in the most beautiful and most magnificent works of art” at Trianon. The Trianon's original furniture was scattered during the French Revolution; most of the present pieces date from the First Empire. Napoleon had the palace entirely refurnished and sometimes came here with Marie-Louise.

Marie-Antoinette's estate

From the Petit Trianon to the Queen's Gardens, passing by the Hamlet, the Estate, opened in 2006, reveals Marie-Antoinette's private life. Louis XVI's wife loved this place where she could return to the pleasures of simple, rural pursuits, away from the pomp of Versailles. The Petit Trianon and its park are indissociably linked to the memory of Queen Marie-Antoinette. She is the only queen to have imposed her personal taste on Versailles. Sweeping away the old court and its traditions, she insisted on living as she wished.

In her Trianon domain, which Louis XVI gave her in 1774, she found the heaven of privacy that enabled her to escape from the rigours of court etiquette. Nobody could come there without her invitation. The reinstatement of the compound which shows most of the former arrangement: enclosing walls, gates, grills and saut-de-loup [Wolf's jump] – shows the Petit Trianon domain as a guarded, preserved place, centred on its château. This arrangement shows the eclecticism and refinement of Marie-Antoinette, an art of living linked to free thinking, for the spirit of the Enlightenment was far from absent here.

Since 2007, the domain has been accessed from the Maison du Suisse, that is, the Porter, who not only held the keys of the Petit Trianon, but also had the power to allow visits to it in the Queen's absence.

Palace of Versailles – ©Ville de VersaillesGrand Trianon in Palace of Versailles, coté sud-ouest
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Prefecture of Yvelines (78)

Population : 90,000
Économy : tourism, administration.
Celebrities : Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Air (rock band)
Labels : UNESCO World heritage

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The scandal of the Queen's necklace

 Cardinal de Rohan, the Grand Chaplain of France, was in disgrace with the queen since his return from Vienna as ambassador. On the advice of her mother, Marie-Antoinette had evicted him from her entourage for his licentious behaviour. Anxious to win back her trust, the cardinal was ready to do anything. In his own entourage, a certain Mme de La Motte claimed to be a friend of the queen. She was an adventuress who said she was a descendent of the Valois royal house! She promised to bring the cardinal back into the queen's favour.

So on 11 August 1784, she organised a nocturnal pseudo meeting with her in the queen's grove. The false Marie-Antoinette reassured the cardinal about his situation. Rohan was on a cloud !

For several years, the Crown jewellers Böhmer and Bassenge had been trying to sell a sumptuous necklace with 540 diamonds. They offered it to Louis XVI in 1782 but the queen refused it. Its price was indeed astronomical: 1.6 million livres! Mme de La Motte spoke about it to the cardinal. He was ready to give it to the queen if she paid him in four instalments over 2 years. The jewellers were delighted to find a buyer. They handed over the necklace to the cardinal on 1 February 1785, and he gave it to Mme de La Motte. She disappeared with her accomplices.

On 12 July, Böhmer sent the queen a letter that made allusion to the necklace. She did not take the letter seriously and destroyed it. Receiving no reply, the jeweller returned to the subject in August. He expressed his surprise to Mme Campan, her chambermaid, that he had not received the total payment for the necklace. When the queen was told this, she demanded an explanation. The hoax was discovered. On 15 August, before celebrating mass in the royal chapel, Rohan was summoned into the king's presence. When he left his rooms he was arrested in the Hall of Mirrors before the stunned eyes of the courtiers. The scandal was out !

The cardinal was judged before the Parliament of Paris in May 1786. Completely unexpectedly, he was acquitted. Mme de La Motte and her accomplices were arrested and judged. She was sentenced to be branded with the letter V (for “voleuse”, thief) with a red-hot iron. Although innocent, the queen was seen to be a guilty party. She was the scandal! She had wanted to ruin the cardinal whom she detested. Her unpopularity plummeted to new depths.

The Queen necklace scandal, reconstitution in zircon, Castle of Breteuil, France - ©Jebulon
16 previous stages
Prefecture of Yvelines (78)

Population : 90,000
Économy : tourism, administration.
Celebrities : Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette, Air (rock band)
Labels : UNESCO World heritage

Internet-Webseiten

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