Today, we will look at one of the pinnacles of human culture, which has, like a fine wine, stood the test of time. We will visit the birthplace of outstanding works of art, music, literature, and architecture. We will understand the historical influences that set the standard for artistic and human achievement.

The Sun King’s masterpiece

King Louis XIV (1638-1717) reigned as the King of France for 72 years, the longest reign recorded for any European monarch.

Louis-Dieudonné’s childhood as Dauphin (Crown Prince) of France (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}})

His success in establishing the longest and most brilliant dynasty in the history of Europe gave King Louis XIV other names, such as the “Grand Monarch,” “Louis the Great,” or “Le Roi Soleil” (“The Sun King”), implying his absolute political power as well as his contribution to the history of world art. Under the reign of King Louis XIV, France set the standards for Europe and the world with splendid literature, works of artistic genius, and a powerful, centralized monarchy.

King Louis XIV as a child (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}})

King Louis XIV was the son of Louis XIII of France and Queen Anne of Austria. He was born 23 years after the marriage of his parents. His mother had been pregnant four times, but had never successfully delivered a child. He was deemed a gift from God.

King Louis XIII with his wife and son (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}})

The inspiration for young Louis’ love of art and theatre came from his mother, Queen Anne.

Louis loved ballet and frequently danced in court ballets during the early half of his reign, being noted for his grace and elegance.

He also contributed greatly to the flourishing of art  by funding and commissioning various artists, such as Charles Le Brun, Pierre Mignard, Antoine Coysevox, and Hyacinthe Rigaud, whose works became famous throughout Europe. Composers and musicians such as Jean-Baptiste Lully, Jacques Champion de Chambonnières, and François Couperin also thrived under his patronage.

A portrait of Louis XIV on horseback being given a laurel crown by an angel (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}})
A portrait of King Louis XIV which highlights his majesty and military prowess (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old-100}})

King Louis XIV also left the city of Paris with impressive architectural achievements, such as the complex of Les Invalides, Place Vendome, and the Champs-Elysees. But the most renowned work built during his reign was not located in the City of Light. Rather, it was the Palace of Versailles that served as testament to the unlimited power and wealth of King Louis XIV, and, at the same time, his great love for art.

The Palace of Versailles: a symbol of Europe’s power and wealth

Close up of the entrance to the main hall of the palace (Shuttlestock)

Located 20 kilometres southwest of the center of Paris, where French kings had traditionally held court, Versailles was not always a grand structure. The construction that transformed Louis XIII’s hunting lodge into a magnificent royal palace began in 1661, under the supervision of master architect Louis Le Vau, and was not completed until 1682.

The Palace of Versailles stands out in the middle of vast gardens and parkland, without defensive walls or fortifications, suggesting King Louis XIV ‘s intention of showing his tremendous power and influence.

The palace stands out for not having high wall or a deep moat (Adobestock)
Showcasing the sophistication of the Palace of Versailles (Adobestock)

The grand scale of the Palace

Versailles represents a synthesis of the 17th and 18th-century French architectural styles, and Baroque style. The palace consists of 700 rooms with many secondary buildings that are harmoniously incorporated into a single complex. The architecture of the palace strictly adheres to the rules of classicism, such as the symmetry of buildings, the multi-column corridors, and geometrical design. Inside, the large rooms are connected by long corridors leading from the King’s Apartments to the Queen’s Room and the famous Hall of Mirrors.

Architecture on the exterior of the palace (Christian Mueller/Shuttlestock)
The Great Hall of Mirrors (Jose Ignacio Soto/Shuttlestock)

In addition, there are smaller guest quarters, working spaces for officials, and other function rooms. Worthy of the title of one of the most impressive architectural works in the world, Versailles dazzles viewers with its sheer size: it has 700 rooms with 2,513 windows, 352 chimneys, 67 stairs, and 483 mirrors.

Outside the Palace, in the gardens, there are 55 different large and small reservoirs, of which the largest is the Grand Canal, 23 hectares wide with a capacity of 500,000 cubic meters. There are 600 fountains and 35 kilometers of canals running around the palace.

The Queen’s rooms (Wikimedia Commons)
The ceiling of the palace is adorned with magnificent paintings (Adobestock)

The park covers an area of ​​800 hectares, including 300 hectares of forest, 2 landscape gardens (the Petit Parc covering 80 hectares, and the Trianon covering 50 hectares). This park is structured using 20 kilometers of fences, 42 kilometers of trails, and 372 statues.

The Orangery Garden (Wikimedia Commons)
The meticulous design of the exterior space (Adobestock)

The palace of Versailles holds the title of the “world’s largest royal domain,” covering a total area of 87,728,720 square feet (8,150,265 square meters) or 2,014 acres of land and courtyard, including 230 acres of garden. The palace itself has an extraordinary floor area of 721,206 square feet (67,002 square meters).

Decoration beyond compare

Not merely the residence of the king and French aristocracy, the palace of Versailles is also a historical museum that stores and displays 6,123 paintings, 1,500 sketches, 15,034 carvings, and 2,102 sculptures.

The maintenance of such a splendid palace required huge sums of investment and massive manpower (3,600 members of royal staff).  

Painting of Queen Marie Thérèse, the Spanish Princess who Louis XIV married in 1660 (Wikimedia Commons {{PD-old}})
Detail of the Versailles palace inlaid with gold (Adobestock)
The Hall of Mirrors (Myrabella/ Wikimedia Commons)

Huge scale, incomparable splendor

Not only unique in its architectural style and the massive scale of its construction, but Versailles also amazes people with the splendor and luxury of its furnishings and decorations.

Perhaps the best example is the Hall of Mirrors, designed by Lebrun, which was designed to be the largest room of the palace. Its walls are adorned with 17 huge gold-plated mirrors composed of 357 sheets of glass. Meanwhile, the rows of sparkling crystal chandeliers and the golden statues with candle holders make the space even brighter and more spectacular.

In addition, the ceiling of the palace is decorated with colorful paintings in gilded frames. The floors are made of precious woods and are assembled from individual pieces to add to the overall decorative effect.

Delicate gold-plated domes in detail (Adobestock)

The Hall was often used for galas, and the marvelous attire of the nobility under the shimmering crystal light giving it a special air of romance and intrigue.

The Palace is covered in gold and resplendent in the sun (Wikimedia Commons)

Since 1979, the Palace and Park of Versailles has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and brings endless streams of visitors from all over the world to admire its grandeur. Ten million tourists come to see it every single year, making it one of the most visited historic sites in the world.

Under the glory of the Sun King, it seemed that nothing was too ambitious to be realized. The Palace still stands today, the ultimate tribute to its creator: “Louis.”

Signature of King Louis XIV (Photo: Wikimedia Commons 1682 {{PD-old}})

Categories: Art Culture