Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Versailles: gilt-y as charged

Sunday morning, four of us and our Paris coordinator hopped the Metro to Versailles just southwest of Paris. First, some quick backstory. Although the village (now city) has been around since 1000 AD, it's relevance to the French monarchy begin in the early 1600s when King Louis XIII built a hunting lodge on what was then wooded farmland far from the main castle in Paris. Today, Versailles is a city in the suburbs of Paris.

Louis's successor, Louis XIV undertook a major upgrade and renovation of the chateau in 1661. If you've ever struggled through a home renovation with sliding deadlines, you'll appreciate this: it took 21 years to complete the palace at Versailles. But oh what a project. If I had to describe Versailles in two words, I'd go with gilt and gi-normous (as in gigantic and enormous).
Keep in mind, all the marble stone, floor to ceiling windows, stairwells, wings, EVERYTHING, was built centuries before mechanized construction equipment, computer-aided drafting, and OSHA rules.
Imagine what it was like for the laborers and the precursor to our general contractors. "What do you mean you lost a hand moving a 1/4 ton marble slab for the queen's dressing room? Tough. Try not to block the courtyard with your begging. By the way, the marble wasn't damaged, was it?"
As impressive as this place is, I can't help but wonder how many people died or were maimed in its construction. The royals were not similarly burdened with such thoughts. They saw the largesse as a birthright. In fact, Louis XIV built it out in the sticks away from Paris because he wanted a site that fit his view of an absolute monarchy. A place where he could organize and completely control tne government of France by absolute personal rule. Over the years, he would expand it into the largest palace in the world. It worked great for him and his progeny until the people got a little peeved and started a little dust up called the french revolution in 1789.

But leaving all that aside, the place is mind boggling in its opulence, especially for that time period. After a couple hours of listening to an audio guide describe each room and walking marble corridor after marble corridor of gilt mirrors, hand-stitched, minutely detailed fabric wall coverings, ornate decorations, larger than life size statues and 40-foot ceiling frescoes, my mind just shut down. Oh look, another opulent chamber, like the other six before it.
We barely explored the grounds, which were a whole other expanse of incredible landscape design.

It was definitely worth the trek though.

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