Today, we went to the world famous Palace of Versailles, about a half an hour from Paris. In the time of King Louis XIII, the Palace of Versailles was only very small. But it was his son, King Louis XIV, who made massive additions to the original construction. Louis XIV reigned from 1643 to 1715, and works were still being carried out when he died. Louis XV lived here, as did the tragic figures of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, who famously said 'let them eat cake'.
The first thing we did was take a guided tour in English of the private apartments of Marie Antoinette for 18 euros each (included general entry to palace). Our guide, a very nice French lady, spoke in a very strong French accent. She had trouble pronouncing English words like 'hygiene', 'bacteria' and 'particularly', kept getting 'king' and 'queen' mixed up, and kept excusing herself. She talked about the paintings, the furniture, and a few other tidbits. But she gave us way too much information, and was both amusing and exhausting. One funny anecdote she told was that of when the people of Paris were storming the palace at the time of the French Revolution, Marie Antoinette sought the protection of the King by walking down the 'public' corridor to access the King's bed chamber. Meanwhile, the King thought to rescue his queen by taking the servants' passage way. The King and the Queen missed each other, each ending up in the other's bed chamber. Another amusing tidbit was Marie Antoinette's toilet, which was like a wooden toilet seat set in a wooden bench. In 1984, Margaret Thatcher was the only female representative at some international conference, and Marie Antoinette's loo was the only one on offer.
What I really came to the Palace of Versailles for, a major reason I came to Paris, was to visit the Hall of Mirrors. The Hall of Mirrors is most closely identified with the work of Louis XIV, famous for its mirrors which adorn the length of the interior wall, its magnificent chandeliers, golden statues, and ceiling paintings. But to me, the Hall of Mirrors is among the most important rooms in world history. This is the site of the signing on 28 June 1919 of the Treaty of Versailles, which formalised the ending of the First World War. Under the Treaty, Germany lost significant amounts of territory, and was obliged to pay heavy reparations. Many Germans were outraged, and it demonised the mind of one Adolf Hitler. At the Versailles conference, the Japanese found themselves being treated as second class citizens, and, in later years, both countries adopted programs of intense militarism, which led to the Second World War. At the stroke of a pen, one war ended and another began. The enmity which led to that great conflict was conceived in the very hall we strolled through admiringly today.
After lunch, Jean and I strolled through the Palace gardens under the heat of the summer sun. The fountains were not working, but were undergoing restoration. Otherwise, we admired the greenery, the symmetry, the Royale Allee with its 5 metre high hedges and 'Green Carpet', the Apollo Fountain at the end of the Royale Allee with its statues of wild horses in the middle, the Grand Canal with sailboats on it, the ballroom, the little hidden walkways, and the orangery. Last year, when we went to Dresden, we visited the Zwinger. The Zwinger was modelled on the Palace of Versailles, and, long ago in my great-grandfather's time, there was an orangery in the Zwinger. The orangery there was inspired by the orangery here at Versailles.