A visit to Paris is not complete without a day trip to the town of Versailles. Only 10.6 miles outside of Paris, Versailles was once a bustling medieval village, a common stopping place for those on the road into the city. In 1671, the medieval town, with its narrow alleys and winding street pattern was demolished by King Louis XIV who sought to bring a rebirth to a village still not recovered from decades of plague and the effects of the One Hundred Years War in the 14th century. The King’s plan for the village was to give away land for free to those willing to pay a very small amount of taxes and build a home from the plans set out by the royal architect, or Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi. This brought a resurgence to the village whose population at its lowest point dropped to a mere 100 inhabitants.
Though the small village of Versailles is charming (especially on the weekends when in the summer there is a market), the real reason for the pilgrimage is to see the Palace of Versailles, or Château de Versailles in France. Originally, the palace started off as a smaller hunting lodge built by Louis XIII. His successor Louis XIV built Versailles into the palace we see today with the help of his architect, Louis Le Vau and landscape architect, André Le Nôtre. Subsequent Kings Louis XV and Louis XVI completed the projects associated with the palace left to them by their fathers and making small additions.
One of the more famed stories associated with the Palace is that of Marie Antoinette. The 2006 film, Marie Antoinette directed and written by Sofia Coppola, tells the story of this misunderstood young Austrian queen who is famously misquoted as saying “Let them eat cake.” Coppola’s production was given unprecedented access to the Palace for shooting the movie which was influenced by Wong Kar-wai, Terrence Malick, and Milos Forman. While most of the film focuses on life inside Versailles, the latter part takes place in The Hamlet houses which Marie Antoinette built to live in as a sort of country retreat after the birth of her daughter. The Hamlet also contained a working farm, which had its own farmer and supplied food to the larger palace.
The 2006 Coppola production was not the first to be made about the queen at the Palace. The 1938 movie of the same name was the first ever to be given permission to film at the Palace. With a budget of 2million, it was one of the most expensive films of the 1930s but also one of the most successful, an often forgotten classic.
The Palace is open during the Low Season from November 1 to March 31 everyday, except Mondays, from 9am-5:30pm with the gardens open from 8am – 6pm. During the High Season from April 1 to October 31 everyday except Mondays from 9am-6:30pm with the gardens open everyday from 8am – 6pm. We highly recommend buying tickets online beforehand as the ticket lines can be horrendous during the summer months.
Access: The Palace is most easily access by train from Paris. Take RER C from Paris and arrive at Versailles Rive Gauche station.
Palace of Versailles
Place d’Armes – 78000 Versailles, France
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