Tuesday, 30 June 2009

A photo tour of the Palace of Versailles, and gardens

All the photos in this post can be seen at a larger size by clicking on them.

The very first time I saw the Palace of Versailles was in 1991, on a Saturday morning as I drove one of my sons to a swimming competition. I forget where the competition was held but I'll never forget that first glimpse of the sunlight sparkling on the golden railings. I had no idea where I was but it took my breath away. "Where on earth is that?" I asked, more or less talking to myself. And the reply from the teenager beside me was the statutory "Huh?"

On my visit last weekend, I tried to recreate that first glimpse but I would have had to take my life in my hands by braving the traffic of the Place d'Armes, and even then there were far too many people around. So the shot above is from inside the gates while everyone else was otherwise engaged.....

....standing in a queue waiting to buy tickets, which could take as long as two hours. You can bypass this wait by buying tickets in advance. We bought online.

In an effort to avoid the hottest part of the day sun we toured the palace interior first, along with an amazing number of people. There was no need for a sign showing the direction of the visit - just follow the crowd. To be fair, for the most part, the size of the place allows people to be absorbed quite easily, but I did find many of my photos had to be taken of out of the way corners, at odd angles, or hastily through a suddenly appearing gap.

I don't know how to describe these. To call them "lamps" seems a little inadequate.

This is a corner of the Hall of Mirrors, which is so much hyped, so often featured in various illustrations, that I was fully expecting to be disappointed. I wasn't. It is stunning.

In spite of the crowds.

I am an impatient photographer and rapidly tired of waiting my turn to catch a shot of a room, only to find someone stepping into the frame at the last moment, so I took myself off into the gardens.

The west side of the palace seen from across the water parterre.

The vista from the palace.

The ballroom is in one of the many groves and gardens hidden in the trees and shrubbery. This was taken before the fountains were turned on, before any people arrived.

I wonder did anyone really dance there. Look at the state of the "dance floor".

What the pictures can't show you is that baroque music was playing in the background all the time, making it very easy to conjure up images of Marie Antoinette and friends. However although the music plays all the time and they call it "Les Grandes Eaux Musicales", the fountains don't play continuously and are switched on at particular times, and not always all of them. If you don't know this, you don't know to look for the schedule in advance, and even then it's not easy to find specific variations in the schedule.

If I were to go another time, and I will, I would visit the interior in the winter time when there are fewer people about. The fountains can be seen only in the summer but I imagine during early or late season there would be fewer people about and easier to absorb the atmosphere.

So often these key tourist destinations are a let down and in the past I've wondered what people see, for instance, in Notre Dame. Versailles, though, is not one of them.

I'll leave you with a picture of a newly restored bronze of the Sun King on horseback which is outside the front gates looking down the Avenue de Paris. According to some who know more about these things than I do, it has little artistic merit, but I like the way the king is apparently overlooking his city of Versailles.

If you want to see more of my photos from this visit, there are more on my Flickr account. These are mostly a different selection, and I plan to add to them over the next few days.
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  1. Beautiful! Magnificent! Bravo!

  2. Your photography is always good, in spite of the crowds. The palace has many historical connections, not least the talks in 1919!
    However I am not one for big houses or ostentation, especially when the people were treated shabbily by those who lived there. It was ever thus mind.

    I must spend time in your flicker account!

  3. @Max, thanks! Don't get carried away though. :)

    @Adullamite, I couldn't agree more concerning the buildings in particular. The ostentation of the place is quite incredible, with gold spread all over the place. I do believe it would have made me join the revolution, especially if I'd been living in one of the villages that was swept aside for the great design. Nevertheless, now that we mere mortals are allowed look at it, it is a magnificent sight. The layout of the gardens is incredible and the whole thing is just so beyond normal life. Yes, you do tend to forget that the ordinary people were Louuis' last consideration, if at all. Let them eat cake.

  4. Oh, and there's been another famous (to some) speech there just a week ago, when Sarkozy used the palace for the first time in 100 years to address parliament directly. The thing that seems to have been most remembered is that he said the burka is not acceptable wear in France.

  5. Beautiful. I can see why people without any money would get mad (ie. revolt).

  6. What a beautiful place - thanks for sharing and with the breath taking pics as well as the fascinating history.

  7. You take very nice pictures. I enjoyed looking at all of the moments you captured in the palace. I think I will be forced to add it to my list of places to visit before I croak. I need to get busy as the list is growing quite large...

    I am also grateful for the travel tips you provided. Expect large crowds and order tickets online!

  8. The intricacies in all of these photos is just amazing.

  9. I have always wondered if it was as awesome in person as it appears to be in photos.

    Lots of people waiting in line. I love the fountains.

  10. Lovely to see it through your photos and narration. I have a hard time being patient when I'm taking photos with people crowding around me too. It is really hard to be patient. I try to avoid stepping into anyone's frame but others don't always look.

  11. Beautiful. From my history lessons at school (which I hated by the way), the only thing I can remember about this palace is the 'give them cake' bit supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette.

  12. We had to pick a name for french class at school and I chose Marie Antoinette.. based on the fact that I had just covered the history of the french revolution and I loved the Scarlet Pimpernet by Baroness Emmuska Orczy.

    I visited Versaille as a shallow youth of just 19 but even I was dumbstruck by the impressive palace in the late 1970's and could visualise the court as it could and would have been in those days.

    Beautiful reminders

  13. Thanks for the visit to the palace and the link

  14. Am utterly, utterly jealous. I don't even have a guide book, sob!

  15. amazing photos. i've always thought i would like to live in an elaborate guilt palace like the one pictured but fear i would be afraid to breathe....

  16. The palace looks amazing, both inside and out. I'm pleased to see they allow photos to be taken inside. Most of the stately homes in the U.K. either don't allow photography or charge extra for a permit.

  17. Thanks for the photo-essay, A. Visited years (decades, actually!) ago but am currently more than a thousand miles away from the photos I took during that visit. Also, never made it to that outdoor ballroom... though after seeing your photos, I really wish I had!

  18. Wonderful shots of a magnificent place!! I visited Versailles in Sept 1984, my first trip to Europe, on a tight budget. There wasn't such a crowd, it was a pleasant visit, loved it and love your shots which reminded me of that magical tour!

  19. I really do appreciate all your comments. I'm sorry to be slow in responding but life became a little hectic.

    It is an amazing sight, even the ostentatious wealth obviously enjoyed by Louis. I understand what Alan means about being afraid to breathe. At least these days it can be enjoyed by everyone. Not only is it a piece of history, but it is incredibly beautiful. I don't care for all the gold everywhere, and the very elaborate decorations, but I can still appreciate it.

    To answer John's point about photography - it's allowed, but no flash or other lighting. That seems fair enough.

  20. coll i am doing a scool project and this helped me alot


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