1902 Encyclopedia > Versailles, France


VERSAILLES, a town of France, chef-lieu of the department of Seine-et-Oise and an episcopal see, lies 11 miles west-south-west of Paris, with which it is connected by railways on both banks of the Seine and by a tramway. The town owes its existence to the palace (460 feet above the sea) built by Louis XIV. The -fresh healthy air and the nearness of the town to Paris have attracted many residents, and the interest attaching to the place draws crowds of visitors. The population in 1881 was 48,012 ; in 1886 it was 49,514 (commune 49,852), including about 10,000 military.

The three avenues of St Cloud, Paris, and Sceaux converge in the Place d'Armes. Between them stand the former stables of the palace, now occupied by the artillery and engineers. To the south lies the quarter of Satory, the oldest part of Versailles, with the cathedral of St Louis, and to the north the new quarter, with the church of Notre Dame. To the west a gilded iron gate and a stone balustrade shut off the great court of the palace from the Place d'Arincs. On either side are allegorical groups, besides statues of the statesmen Suger, Sully, Richelieu, and Colbert, the soldiers Duffueselin, Bayard, Turenne, and Conde, the sailors Duqnesne, Tourville, Duguay-Trouin, and SufTreu, and the marshals Jourdan, Massena, Lannes, and Mootier. At the highest point of the court there is an equestrian statue in bronze of Louis XIV., and to the right and left of this stretch the long wings of the palace, while behind it stand the central buildings one behind the other as far as the Marble Court. Here all the lines of construction meet, and here were the rooms of Louis XIV. To the north the Chapel Court and to the south the Princes Court, with vaulted passages leading to the gardens, separate the side from the central buildings. On the latter is the inscription " A tontes les gloires de la France," which Louis Philippe justified by forming a collection of five thousand works of art (valued at £1,000,000), commemorating the great events and persons of French history. The palace chapel (1696-1710), the roof of which can be seen from afar rising above the rest of the building, was the last work of Mansard.

Opposite the altar is the king's gallery, which communicates with the rooms on the first floor of the palace. The ground-lloor of the north wing on the garden side contains eleven halls of historical pictures from Clovis to Louis XIV., and on the side of the interior courts a gallery of tombs, statues, busts of kings and celebrities of France for the same period. The Halls of the Crusades open off this gallery, and are decorated with the arms of crusaders, kings, princes, lords, and knights, and with those of the grand-masters and knights of the military religious orders. On the first floor of the north wing on the garden side are ten halls of pictures commemorating historical events from 1795 to 1855; on the court side is the gallery of sculpture which contains the Joan of Arc of the Princess Marie of Orleans; and there are seven halls chiefly devoted to French campaigns and generals in Africa, Italy, the Crimea, and Mexico, with some famous war pictures by Horace Vernet. The second story has a portrait gallery. In the north wing is also the theatre built under Louis XV. by Gabriel, which was first used on the 16th of May 1770 on the marriage of the dauphin (afterwards Louis XVI.) and Marie Antoinette. Here, on 2d October 1789, the celebrated banquet was given to the Gardes du Corps, the toasts at which provoked the riots that drove the royal family from Versailles ; and here the national assembly met from 10th March 1871 till the proclamation of the constitution in 1875, and the senate from 8th March 1876 till the return of the two chambers to Paris in 1879. The central buildings of the palace project into the garden. On the ground floor are the halls of celebrated warriors (once the anteroom of Madame he Pompadour), marshals, constables, and admirals. The Great Dauphin (son of Louis XIV.), the duke and duchess of Berri, the dauphin (son of Louis XV.), Madame de Montespan, Madame de Pompadour, and the daughters of Louis XV. all lived in this part of the palace. The gallery of Louis XIII., decorated with historical pictures of his and Louis XIV.'s time, leads to the halls surrounding the Marble Court. One of these contains many plans of battles, and at its door Louis XV. was wounded by Damiens in 1757. The lobbies of the ground floor are full of busts, statues, and tombs of kings and celebrated men. The famous state rooms are on the first floor. On the garden side, facing the north, are a series of seven halls, - among them that of Hercules, till 1710 the upper half of the old chapel, where the dukes of Chartres, Maine, and Burgundy were married, and Bossuet, Massillon, and Bourdalone preached ; the Hall of Mercury, where the coffin of Louis X1V. stood for eight clays after his death ; and the Hall of Apollo, or throne room. To the front of the palace, facing the west, are the Galleries of War and Peace, with allegorical pictures, and the Glass Gallery, built by Mansard in 1678 (240 feet long, 34 wide, and 43 high), having 34 arches, 17 of which are filled with windows looking on the gardens and 17 with large mirrors. The gallery is overloaded with ornament, and the pictures by Lebrun, the trophies and figures of children by Coysevox, and the inscriptions attributed to Boileau and Racine all glorify Louis XIV. This gallery was used by him as a throne room on state occasions. Here the king of Prussia was proclaimed emperor of Germany on 16th January 1871. Connected with the Gallery of Peace is the queen's room, occupied successively by Marie Therese, Marie Leczinska, and Marie Antoinette, where the duchess of Angouleme was born, the duchess of Burgundy died, and Marie Antoinette was almost assassinated on 6th October 1789. The Coronation Hall is so called from David's picture of Napoleon's coronation, which is regarded as the artist's masterpiece. This hall opens on the marble, or queen's, staircase. Behind the Glass Gallery on the side of the court are the rooms of Louis XIV. The CEil de Bceuf, named from its oval window, was the anteroom where the courtiers waited till the king rose. In it is a picture representing Louis XIV. and his family as Olympian deities ; and it leads to the bedroom in which Louis XIV. died, after using it from 1701, and which Louis XV. occupied from 1722 to 1738. To the north of the Marble Court are the "petits appartements " of Louis XV. and to the south those of Marie Antoinette. Among the former is the Porcelain Gallery, where every year under Louis XVI. the best work made at Sevres was displayed. On the second floor of the buildings surrounding the Stags Court Madame du Barry lived, and Louis XVI. afterwards worked at lockmaking. Marie Therese and Marie Leczinska, had previously used the "petits appartements " of Marie Antoinette, one of the rooms of which is ornamented with woodwork of her time. In this part of the palace Madame de Maintenon and the duke of Burgundy had rooms, those of the latter being afterwards occupied by Cardinal de Fleury and the duke of Penthievre. In the south wing of the palace, on the ground floor, arc the Imperial Galleries (the first rooms of which were used by the duke and duchess of Bourbon under Louis XIV.) and the rooms occupied by the president of congress when the two legislative bodies meet together at Versailles. A sculpture gallery contains busts of celebrated scholars, artists, generals, and public men from the time of Louis XVI. onwards. In the south wing is also the room where the chamber of deputies met from 1876 till 1879, and where the congress lies since sat to revise the constitution of 1875 and to elect the president of the republic. The first floor is almost entirely oecnpied by the Battle Gallery (394 feet long and 43 wide), opened in 1836 on the site of rooms used by Monsieur the brother of Louis XIV. and the duke and duchess of Chartres. It is lighted from above, and the walls are hung with pictures of French victories. In the window openings are the names of soldiers killed while fighting for France, with the names of the battles in which they fell, and there are more than eighty busts of princes, admirals, constables, marshals, and celebrated warriors who met a similar death. Another room is given up to the events of 1830 and the accession of Louis Philippe, and a gallery contains the statues and busts of kings and celebrities from Philip VI. to Louis XVI. In the rooms of the second story are portraits (mostly modern), sea-pieces, pictures of royal residences, and some historical pictures of the time of Louis Philippe.

The gardens of Versailles were planned by Le Nffire. The best view is obtained from a balcony of the Glass Gallery. The ground falls away on every side from a terrace adorned with ornamental basins, statues, and bronze groups. Westwards from the palace extends a broad avenue, planted with large trees, and having along its centre the grass of the " Tapis Vert " ; it is continued by the Grand Canal, 200 feet wide and 1 mile long. On the south two splendid staircases of 103 steps, 66 feet wide, lead past the Orangery to the Swiss Lake, 1312 feet long and 460 wide, beyond which is the wood of Satory. On the north an avenue, with twenty-two groups of three children, each group holding a marble basin, from which a jet of water rises, slopes gently down to the Basin of Neptune, remarkable for its fine sculptures and abundant water. The Orangery (built in 1685 by Mansard) is the finest piece of architecture at Versailles ; the central gallery is 508 feet long and 42 wide, and each of the side galleries is 375 feet long. There are twelve hundred orange-trees, one of which is said to be 465 years old, and three hundred other kinds of trees. The alleys of the parks are ornamented with statues, vases, and regularly-cut yews, and bordered by hedges surrounding the shrubberies. Between the central terrace and the Tapis Vert is the Basin of Latona or the Frogs, with a white marble group of Latona with Apollo and Diana. Beyond the Tapis Vert is the large Basin of Apollo, who is represented in his chariot drawn by four horses ; there are three jets of water, one 60, the others 50 feet in height. The Grand Canal is still used for nautical displays ; under Louis XIV. it was covered with Venetian gondolas and other boats, and the evening entertainments usually ended with a display of fireworks. Around the Tapis Vert are numerous groves, the most remarkable being the Ballroom or Rockery, with a waterfall ; the Queen's Shrubbery, the scene of the intrigue of the diamond necklace ; that of the Colonnade, with thirty-two marble columns and a group of Pluto carrying off Proserpine, by Girardon ; the King's Shrubbery, laid out in the English style by Louis Philippe ; the beautiful Grove of Apollo, with a group of that god and the nymphs, by Girardon ; and the Basin of Enceladus, with a jet of water 75 feet high. Among the chief attractions of Versailles are the fountains and waterworks made by Louis XIV. in imitation of those he had seen at Fouquet's chateau of Vaux. Owing to the scarcity of water at Versailles, the works at MARLY-LE-ROI (q.v.) were constructed in order to bring water from the Seine ; but part of the supply thus obtained was diverted to the newly-erected chiltean of Marly. Vast sums of money were spent and many lives lost in an attempt to bring water from the Eure, but the work was stopped by the war of 1688. At last the waters of the plateau between Versailles and Ramhouillet were collected and led by channels (total length 98 mike) to the gardens, the soil of which covers innumerable pipes, vaults, and aqueducts. The total volume of water annually brought to Versailles is about 175,000,000 cubic feet, of which two-fifths supply the town and the rest the park.

Beyond the present park, but within that of Louis XIV., are the two Trianons. The Grand Trianon was originally erected as a retreat for Louis XIV. in 1670, but in 1687 Mansard built a new palace on its site. Louis XV., after establishing a botanic garden, made Gabriel build in 1766 the small pavilion of the Petit Trianon, where the machinery is still shown by which his supper-table came up through the floor. It was a favourite residence of Mario Antoinette, who had a garden laid out in the English style, and lived an imaginary peasant-life. The Grand .Trianon is a one-storied building with two wings, and has been occupied by Monsieur (Louis XIV.'s brother), by the Great Dauphin, the duke of Burgundy, the duchess of Orleans, Napoleon I., and Louis Philippe and his court. The duke and duchess of Orleans lived in the Petit Trianon. The gardens of the Grand Trianon are in the same style as those of Versailles, and there is a museum with a curious collection of state carriages, old harness, &c.

Apart from the palace, there are no buildings of interest in Versailles, the church of Notre Dame, built .)3( Mansard, the cathedral of St Louis, built by his grandson, the Protestant church, and the English chapel being in no way remarkable. The celebrated tennis-court is now used as a museum. The large and sumptuous palace of the prefecture was built during the second empire, and was a residence of the president of the republic from 1871 to 1879. The library consists of 60,000 volumes ; and the military hospital formerly accommodated 2000 people in the service of the palace. There are a statue of General Hoche and one of Abbe de I' Epee in the town. A school of horticulture was founded in 1874, attached to an excellent garden, near the Swiss Lake.

Versailles is the seat of a school of artillery and of a school for non-commissioned officers of the artillery and engineers.

History. - Louis XIII. often hunted in the woods of Versailles, and built a small pavilion at the corner of what is now the Rue de La Pompe and the avenue of St Cloud. In 1627 he entrusted Lemercier with the plan of a château, and in 1632 bought the land from Francois de Gondi, first archbishop of Paris, for £2640. In 1661 Levan made some additions, and in 1682 Louis XIV. took up his residence at Versailles, and gave Mansard orders to erect the great palace in which the original buildings disappeared. Fabulous sums were spent on the palace, gardens, and works of art, the accounts for which were destroyed by the king. Till his time the town was represented by a few houses to the south of the present Place d'Armes ; but land was given to the lords of the court and new houses sprang up, chiefly in the north quarter. Under Louis XV. the parish of St Louis was formed to the south for the increasing population, and new streets were built to the north on the meadows of Clagny, where in 1674 Mansard had built at Louis XIV.'s orders a château for Madame de Montespan, which was now pulled down. Under Louis XVI. the town extended to the east and received a municipality ; in 1802 it gave its name to a bishopric. In 1783 the peace by which England recognized the independence of the United States was signed at Versailles. The states-general met here on 5th May 1789, and on 20th June took the solemn oath by which they bound themselves never to separate till they had given France a constitution, and which led to the riots of 5th and 6th October. Napoleon, Louis XVIII., and Charles X. merely kept up Versailles, but Louis Philippe restored its ancient splendour at the cost of £1,000,000. In 1870 and 1871 the town was the headquarters of the German army besieging Paris. After the peace Versailles was the seat of the French national assembly while the commune was triumphant in Paris, and of the two chambers till 1879, being declared the official capital of France. Versailles was the birthplace of Iloche, Abbe de l'Epee, Philip V. of Spain, Louis XV., Louis XVI., Louis XVIII., Charles X., Count de Maurepas, Prince de Polignac, Marshal Berthier (Prince of Wagram), Houdon the sculptor, Ducis the poet, Callet the mathematician, and Ferdinand de Lesseps. (G. ME.)

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