An urban inspiration to London, Washington, and St. Petersburg, this French city constitutes to this day one of the highest visited spots in the world.
Erected under the command of King Louis the XIV, the royal city never ceased to ignite the public imagination with its lavish palace and renowned gardens. But there is more to its architectural grandeur than meets the eye.
Here in 1661, a vulnerable monarch turns to architecture to confirm his ultimate power. Stepping away from Paris and its rebellious plotters, Louis the XIV starts his journey on turning a backwoods hunting lodge into the strongest power base the French monarchy ever witnessed.
A great piece of politics in architecture, the city, along with its royal palace and gardens, makes the most noteworthy destination every architect must visit.
Here are 15 places to visit
1. The Hall of Mirrors
One of the most luxurious of the palace, this 73 m long hall was designed in 1678 by Jules Hardouin-Mansartfor royal celebrations and masked balls. Also serving as the waiting foyer for courtiers to see the king, it was designed to showcase the emperor’s grandeur through prominent works of art, gilded walls, and 17 arched mirrors which, at the time, meant fortunes. The delighting balance of light, mirrors of glass inside and mirrors of water outside, created the perfect atmosphere for the biggest historic events, one of which was the treaty of Versailles in 1919.
2. Pavilion DuFour
Chosen as the main reception area of the palace, Pavilion DuFour was refurbished by Dominique Perrault Architects in 2016. The main purpose of the redevelopment was to conceive a convivial and welcoming experience for millions of visitors each year. Thanks to the new layout and the “Perrault staircase”, new connections were made with the gardens and the upper floors. The final result is a delightful contemporary intervention that emphasized the historic values of the palace
3. The Royal Chambers
With everything in the court revolving around the sun king, his bed-chamber was relocated at the center of the palace. As his morning awakening was turned to public matters, witness the king turn his bed-chamber into a performance hall flashing exclusivity and opulence at its best. As for the queen’s chamber, it was located at the end of the Hall of mirrors and also held the Queen’s private audiences, making sure therefore it was ornate enough to welcome the newly born children of the French royalty.
4. The Gallery of Battles
In the nineteenth century, the Palace will finally turn into a museum of French history. A series of small apartments on the upper left wing will all be joined together to form the exquisite gallery commemorating French battles throughout history. Designed as a symbol of reconciliation, the hall showcases the most serene atmosphere through its dramatic skylights and marble finishes.
5. The Grand Chapel
This Chapel was the last construction during the reign of Louis the XIV. Established in 1710, it was as luminous as the heavens itself. A beautiful architectural marvel of gothic and baroque a esthetics, it held the daily King’s mass and the royal wedding of young Marie Antoinette.
6. The Royal Opera
Anges-Jacques Gabriel’s greatest design and structural achievement turned this royal Opera, inaugurated in 1770, into the biggest performance hall in Europe at the time. The oval plan, the staggering levels, and the French-style boxes were all innovations that guaranteed the aptness of this Opera to hold the grandest concerts in Europe to this day.
7. The Gardens of Versailles
Covering 800 hectares of land, the French classical styled gardens, along with the Park, remain the biggest show-stoppers of Versailles. Receiving 6 million visitors each year, the gardens present a scrupulous work of 20 years initiated by the gardener André Le Nôtre. Linking the palace to the Trianons on one side and the city on the other, the park has a lot to offer: from the infamous Grand Perspective over the Grand Canal to the mystical fountains and groves that have been said to witness the fabled love stories of Louis the XIV.
8. The Grand Trianon
One of the most precious works of architecture in Versailles, this pink marbled palace was built in 1687 as a retreat residence for the king. Its architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, heavily influenced by the Italian style, erected the elegant peristyle as the lightest element of transition from the private courtyard to the infamous gardens.
9. The Petit Trianon
This small retreat gripped the heart of various royals who were trying to escape the disrupted life at the palace throughout the French Monarchy. Originally commissioned for Louis XV and his mistress in 1768, the Petit Trianon was refined by the royal architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel as an epitome of the neoclassical style. Marie Antoinette received this residence as a gift from Louis XVI, who knew just well how much his queen will appreciate its privacy.
10. The Queen’s Hamlet
A windmill, a dairy, and inspiration from rustic Normandy, the Queen’s Hamlet is the perfect manifestation of Marie Antoinette’s obsession with rural living. Inaugurated in 1783, this small village-like farm held a special place in the Queen’s heart and daily commutes.
11. The Royal Tennis Court
An emblem of the French revolution of 1789, the Royal tennis court was originally designed as a sports hall for royals to play ‘ jeu de paume”, the father of modern-day tennis. However, one hundred years after its construction, the court finds itself as the symbolic locus from which French democracy was declared.
12. Carrés Saint Louis
As Versailles was booming in the 17th century, this district witnessed the establishment of a unique series of squares enclosed by blocks that originally served as markets and shops. Only twenty years after its construction, they were transformed into residential units accommodating the growing population. Today, this singular urban layout is only to be found in Versailles.
13. Saint-Louis Cathedral
Replacing the small church in Saint Louis district, the Cathedral, designed by Jacques Hardouin-Mansart, overtook 12 years of construction. A true piece of Baroque art, the cathedral incorporates singular art pieces and a preserved historic organ.
14. Notre Dame Church
Dominating the oldest district in Versailles, the church of Notre Dame was commissioned as the parish of the Royal court. The neoclassical church, built in 1686, achieved, through its singular dome lantern, the dramatic atmosphere to glorify baptisms, marriages, and funerals of the Royal family.
15. University of Versailles Science Library
As the only contemporary building on the list, this bold library, designed by Badia Berger Architectes in 2012, presents the perfect closure for the architect’s journey in Versailles. Responding primarily to requirements of low energy buildings, the shape embodies the program in three volumes highlighting the multiple aspects of the site. The series of voids connecting the volumes guarantees a play of light and transparency, but more importantly, another worthy spatial experience of architecture in Versailles.