A Treaty for the Eyes
When Louis XIV – the "Sun King" – built his royal palace in Versailles, it was a full day's journey from Paris to bring him and his Court by horse-drawn coach. While seemingly not as regal (but far less odorous, if you know what we mean), you'll be here from the City of Light in just 40 minutes thanks to the RER train, accessible with the Paris Visite Card.
Exit the station on Versailles Rive-Gauche and you are within walking distance from the Chateau de Versailles. The path to the most famous chateau in the world is like a stroll down the 18th century. In fact, the entire city of Versailles was built around the palace and it became the "de facto" new capital of France. The city architecture blends so well with the Chateau that the grid of streets, the buildings and even shops and restaurants look like they came from the original blue print.
Palace of Versailles holds the title of "world's largest royal domain," with a total square footage including the gardens is a monstrous 87,728,720 square feet. It is larger than the Forbidden City in Beijing. Only about half of the palace is open to visitors, but really, would you even have the time to tour the entire thing? Highlights include the Appartement du Roi, a suite of rooms set aside for the private use of the king. The Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors) may be the most celebrated room, and the most recognized thanks to its appearance in numerous films. Used as the setting for many French Court ceremonies, the room has inspired numerous renditions around the world.
One would believe that Versailles was only an expansive and expensive castle. There's much more to this wealthy Parisian suburb. The St. Louis District has been in existence since the late 17th century. In 1737, Louis XV granted permission to two businessmen to build a group of "sheds" for housing a new market. Laid out in squares around the crossroads of rues Royale and d'Anjou, the market never gained ground. The sheds were turned into dwellings some 20 years later. Though threatened under Napoleon II, they were rescued and now constitute a remarkable 18th century urban complex. Today, the cottages contain businesses on their ground floors, adding to the charm.
Versailles has been home to historical treaties like the Treaty of Paris, which in 1783 ended the American Revolutionary War, and the Treaty of Versailles that ended World War I. Can you imagine a more perfect setting to set down arms?
Versailles is more than just a mind-shattering château – it's a symbol of the absolute monarchy of the Ancien Regime, overthrown thanks to the French Revolution. The palace was once reviled for its excessive opulence and symbol of megalomania. Today it's a revered tourist attraction with over three million annual visitors. Commoners in the palace? The Sun King is setting.
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Contributed by: Frederick, a manager at Rail Europe, born and raised in Europe and has traveled extensively on the continent.