The Palace of Versailles, France
In the heart of the Palace of Versailles – itself one of the grandest buildings ever built by man – is a room which captures the awe of all who see it.
The Hall of Mirrors is the symbol of the great French palace, a long and bright room which welcomes in the sun from one side, disperses it to all corners from another, and holds the twinkling light of magnificent chandeliers from its ceiling.
The Hall of Mirrors has seen emperors proclaimed, empires taken away and empires redistributed. So it’s appropriate that the mirrors themselves reflect the spilled blood and boiling jealousies of the tides of power.
In the 17th century, it was decided that the materials for the construction and decoration of the Palace of Versailles should be a purely French affair. Everything from the tapestries to the mirrors were to be manufactured in France.
The problem was that, in those days, Venice had a virtual monopoly on the manufacture of mirrors. To get around this, the French convinced a number of Venetian artisans to defect and come to make the mirrors for the great hall.
In response, the Venetian government ordered the assassination of the treacherous artisans to keep the techniques of how to make mirrors a secret from the French.
These days there is no need to entice people to come to Versailles – nor is there the threat of assassination. Which is lucky, seeing as it has become the most visited site in the whole country.
To visit the Palace of Versailles is to submit yourself to the gods of crowds and your offering is likely to be a long wait in a queue.
The palace is just a short 20 minute train journey from the centre of Paris and, as you approach it down the main boulevard from the station, the size of the building strikes you. It appears like a city within a city, an enormous compound radiating with splendour.
The swarms of tourists also hit you well before you get to the front gate, as the crowds move between the station, tour buses and cars.
On the summer afternoon I visit, the line to enter winds around itself for hundreds of metres in the outer courtyard and takes about two hours.
At other times of the day, or during particularly busy holidays it can be even longer. I would assume the queues are slightly shorter in the colder months, though.
(I’ve got some options at the end of this story of how to skip the line.)
Even inside it’s impossible to escape the throngs of visitors. As you move between each room, you must jostle your way through doors and to the rope barriers to look at the furniture, decorations, and artwork.
History of Versailles
The first stage of the building of Versailles was in 1624 when King Louis XIII ordered the construction of a hunting lodge. But it was in 1664 that the shape of the palace began to take emerge when it was expanded to accommodate 600 guests who were invited to a great party on the site.
If only the number of guests had been restricted to 600 from that day on, I would not have been crushed on this summer afternoon amongst the heaving mass of tourists trying to take photos, get a better view, or just move further into the palace.
But, then again, the size of the palace was expanded over the coming years until 1710 when it finally looked quite similar to the way we still see it today.
Although there have been more changes since then, they tended to be additions or modifications that didn’t alter basic structure of the compound.
Versailles and the palace’s legacy
The Palace of Versailles has come to represent the tumultuous nature of modern French history as much as it has the incredible design and architecture that makes it one of the most stunning buildings in the world.
For hundreds of years it was used as a political plaything by the rulers and would-be rulers of the country, arguing over the cost, the ownership of its artworks, its role in the public sphere and the funding of restoration.
But despite the sale of precious items to bolster the French treasury and the years of neglect, Versailles has come through wars and revolutions relatively unscathed (albeit, with a lot of rejuvenation work).
It’s not really known how much money has been spent on the palace over the hundreds of years it has existed, but the estimates are astonishing.
The most popular guess is that a figure of about 2 billion dollars (in today’s figures) was spent before the French Revolution. Since then, maybe as much has been spent again.
In 2003, about 150 million dollars was allocated by the country’s government for a seven year restoration project and a further 15 million dollars was put aside just to work on the Hall of Mirrors.
These days, international experts work alongside the French in maintaining this majestic royal seat. In some ways, though, things have not changed too much since the Venetian mirror-makers were enticed to Paris.
The Palace of Versailles is still very much a French affair and a bricks and mortar symbol of a great country that’s influence once stretched across the globe.
Almost four hundred years ago, it was the Venetians who spilled blood to keep their secrets. Now the French are doing an excellent job of sharing theirs.
Although there’s a long line to get into the Palace of Versailles, that’s for people who are visiting independently. Most tour groups have arrangements that let them skip the line – and that makes it worthwhile in itself!
Here are a few options that I would suggest. Not only will you be able to skip the line, you’ll get a great guide to tell you all about the palace!
24 thoughts on “The hall of bloody mirrors”
My visit to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg this summer was very similar to your visit to the Palace of Versailles… just so many people. But – there IS a reason these places are so famous and attract so many visitors.
That is an insane amount of money spent on the palace, wow!
That’s the thing! They’re super busy but they’re popular for a reason. I guess you just have to put up with the crowds to see some of the most beautiful things in the world. Or try to be a bit clever and avoid the peak seasons…
That’s so interesting. We went in late August and there weren’t that many people there. Maybe it was the time of day or the weather.
It’s good to hear it’s not always packed. I guess there can sometimes be good days – but I’m surprised to hear it was like that in August. Perhaps you just got lucky!!
Despite the crazy crowds, you managed to capture beautiful photos! Thanks for sharing.
Happy travels 🙂
Well, despite the crowds, most of the rooms have roped off areas so you can see everything properly. As long as you get the elbows out and get to the front, you can still get some nice shots 🙂
Great pics! Such opulence, I love to imagine what it would’ve been like to walk around places like that when the were in use. My luck though I’d have been a serf only gazing from afar.
From what I’ve read, even the people living in the palace didn’t lead such glamourous lives. There was no plumbing or working toilets, so apparently it stank. And if you weren’t in the top echelons, you get pretty crappy rooms. A lot of the people who ‘lived’ at court actually kept a house nearby for some comfort.
Amazing that you were able to get shots without people in them – Europe in the summertime is tough that way. Glad you persevered!
I had to use a lot of elbow work to get some of these shots! (Others were aided by areas being roped off.)
So opulent! So marvelous! Versailles is a splendor to visit – isn’t it? (Even with the crowds) Though going off-season certainly helps to cut down on the line-ups. We went early May one year, and it wasn’t too bad…
I think off-season is definitely the way to go, if you can. But even so – it’s just so beautiful.
It looks very spectacular and of course it would be better with less people but what can you expect at one of France’s main tourist destinations. It looks great though and being so close to Paris it’s very easy to get to. The history about the hall of mirrors is very interesting who would of thought the Venice mirror trade was something worth killing for! great read.
Yeah, you’re right, you really can’t expect it to be less crowded seeing as it’s such a popular place. It’s just some nice wishful thinking. And that’s a good point about it being close to Paris – it’s so easy to get there by public transport!
The decadence of Versailles’ art & decor remind me of the Vatican. It is amazing, if not surprising, to think that the Venetians went to such lengths to protect their secrets so long ago.
There are some interesting comparisons between Versailles and the Vatican – good call. There’s the crowds, the room after room of opulence, and even a bit of protective murder!! 🙂
Wow. I’ve been to Versailles twice and I never remember it being that crowded. I went to Buckingham Palace last year though and it was SO crowded it was horrible. You couldn’t even walk, it was like being in a mosh pit.
Regardless of the crowds, you got some great photos 🙂
I haven’t done Buckingham Palace but I can imagine it would be just as bad. I don’t imagine it to be quite as grand with the decor, though. I kept thinking, as I walked through Versailles, that the French had managed to do what nobody else could!
We were there in winter time and even though there was a special light show and festival at Marie Antoinette’s Estate, it wasn’t too crowded. There really is something to going to some of these type of tourist sites in the off season!
I actually normally try to avoid popular countries completely during the peak season… sometimes the crowds just make it all not worthwhile. This was a bit of an exception, though, and I don’t really regret it.
I visited the palace in September. Although the waiting line was not so long, there were so many people in the palace. It was so difficult to enjoy it. I prefer Château de Fontainebleau than Versailles – it is also a stunning palace but less crowded.
Yeah, the crowds do make the experience a bit unpleasant unfortunately. I guess that’s why they have lines often, because you couldn’t actually fit more people in!!
I don’t know much about Château de Fontainebleau so thanks for the tip. I’ll have to check it out sometime and maybe someone who reads this story will too!
On placesofvenice.com a family can book a superb place anywhere in Venice, safe and no commission!
I have noticed you don’t monetize timetravelturtle.com, don’t waste
your traffic, you can earn extra bucks every month with new monetization method.
This is the best adsense alternative for any type
of website (they approve all sites), for more details simply search in gooogle: