MVC00102.JPG (84809 bytes)Palace of Versailles, royal palace southwest of Paris, is probably the most famous in Europe and closely associated with Louis XIV, the Sun King. It is now a national museum.

A royal hunting lodge had existed at Versailles, within easy reach of Paris, in the early years of the 17th century. In 1631 work began on the construction of a château on the site of the present palace. Louis XIV, who ascended the French throne as a boy in 1643, began modifying the château in 1661, with French architect Louis Le Vau as principal designer. A menagerie and an orangery were added as the first stage of a grand entry court. A second building phase that began in 1668 transformed the château into an entirely new building, oriented around the new Royal Court.

A third phase, involving over 30,000 laborers and craftsmen, was initiated in 1678 and continued for a decade. As part of this phase of construction, French architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart built the north and south wings of the palace. In 1682 Louis XIV transferred the seat of the French monarchy from Paris to Versailles. The palace chapel was begun in 1699 but was not consecrated until 1710. Its decoration was completed after the king's death in 1715.

The vast, elaborate gardens and park of Versailles, which focus on the Grand Canal, enclose a large number of monuments, sculptures, and subsidiary buildings, including the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon. The latter dates from 1760 to 1764 and was a favorite residence of Marie-Antoinette, queen consort to Louis XVI. She had an artificial rural village, the Hameau (hamlet), built on its grounds.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, Versailles underwent major restoration work, and some of its original furnishings and decorations were put back in place. Notable interiors include the Salon of Hercules, the bedroom of Marie-Antoinette, and the Hall of Mirrors, where the German Empire was proclaimed in 1871 after France's defeat in the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and where, in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed, ending World War I (1914-1918).

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