Meanderings through France ~ The secret and unusual sides of the Château de Versailles
Besides the well known Galerie des Glaces, the grand Royal Apartments, the Royal Chapel and the other places usually open to the public there are secret rooms seldom accessible to visitors. Of course the Versailles Castle is huge: 700 rooms, 2513 windows, 352 fireplaces, 67 staircases… A total surface of 67.000 square meters! It obviously is impossible to see it all during a one-day visit but most of all most of the rooms are too small or contain too fragile decorations and furniture to welcome numerous visitors.
The European Heritage Days in late September are sometimes an opportunity to discover these hidden places.
One of the most interesting one is Louis XV and Louis XVI bathroom. There are two bathtubs facing each other where it is said that the king and one of his courtier could discuss the kingdom matters while taking a bath. Knowing that French kings were used to have many courtesans we can easily imagine that other uses could be found for them! On the fourth floor another small room was dedicated to Louis XVI ’s hobbies: woodwork, watchmaking and most of all locksmithery. He even had a small forge next to his workshop to make spare parts!
Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette had private cosy apartments far from the splendour of the reception rooms with their high ceiling, silk wall covering, crystal chandeliers… There they were able to get away from the court ceremonial and to enjoy a family life. Madame du Barry was one of Louis XV’s mistress and lived in a private apartment where we can still see the place where the king used to brew his own coffee. Powerful people trying to live an ordinary life!
Among all the luxurious furniture owned by French kings a very rare chest of drawers has recently been returned to the Versailles castle. It was made for Louis XV in 1744 with lacquered panels from a Japanese folding screen. This unique piece of furniture can now be seen in the “China at Versailles” exhibition that takes place in Madame de Maintenon’s apartment (she was one of Louis XIV ‘s mistress). 150 paintings, tapestries, lacquer works, bone china vases and pots show how China arts were fashionable in those days. In 1776 Marie Antoinette created an Anglo-Chinese garden where a merry-go-round had sit made in the shape of peacocks and dragons! It unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. This exhibition will close on October the 26th.
But the gardens are still the place to see works of art. Until November the 2nd, ten monumental sculptures by the Korean artist Lee Ufan are set in the paths of the park: a surprising contrast between the classical beauty of the castle and the sculptures modernity.
There’s always something happening in Versailles. Every weekend there are musical fountains shows going on in the park. There are operas, concerts and ballets in the exceptional settings of the palace such as a Christmas Concert taking place in the Royal Chapel. So even if you feel like you won’t see anything new you might get surprised!
For more information: www.chateauversailles.fr
Text and Photos © Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny