Thursday, 1/8/09

The Hall of Mirrors inside the Castle:


We went to the Château de Versailles- the home of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI. We met Sophie at an RER station. This is similar to the Metro- with both underground and above ground stops, but it goes to the banlieues- the suburbs and outer sections of Paris. Although we all had passes navigos which are good for the metro and the bus, we needed separate tickets for the RER. Sophie told us that the line we were on, to go to Versailles, usually has only tourists on it. It was a somewhat long ride, so Sophie read us her favorite fable- about a French king (lion) whose wife died. All the animals in the kingdom were crying with the king except one- because the queen had been mean to this animal. So when the king found out, he asked why the animal was not crying and the animal told the king to be strong and to continue to grieve is not strong. So the animal quickly rose to be an advisor and friend of the king, but the king did not know that the animal was not really a friend.

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When we got to the castle, Sophie described to us how it would have been in the time that the kings lived there. She said instead of tourists, there would be thousands of courtisans who adored the king and wanted to be in his presence- like the animals in the fable. There were also many people selling Eiffel Towers and postcards and she told us this was also like in the time of the kings because many vendors sold hats and scarfs on the road up to the castle. We started with a tour of the jardins. There was a big balloon sculpture by Jeff Koons in front of the castle. This was part of an exhibition of contemporary art. There were sculptures by Koons in about every room. Sophie explained that this caused a huge controversy in France because people did not think this art should be on display at such a prestigious and important monument. However, they decided to have the display because Louis loved art and at his time, the art that people saw when they visited his castle was indeed contemporary.

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Louis XIV moved to Versailles because he did not want to be at the Louvre so he added to the already existing Versailles. Much of the decor was for show- to show the public how much power he had. The plants are all cut in geometric shapes- to show power over nature. In the back of the castle there is an enormous amount of land- designed to be like a mini Venice with a canal. From the castle, it is supposed to look like an infinite amount of property. The castle was also designed so that sun would shine in the front windows when it rose, and in the back windows when it set. The mirrors and the canal were designed to reflect and light up the room.


The room where the king would meet his advisors:


Elaborately decorated with marble and gold, the rooms inside Versailles were the king’s way of showing his wealth and power. And clearly he was very wealthy! The halls were filled with marble pilasters, the walls covered with gilded sculptures, the ceilings beautifully painted with scenes from Greek mythology. All the rooms sparkled with glamour! But the king and queen considered some rooms to be more glamorous than others. They had their grand public bedrooms, where they performed the ceremony of going to sleep. As soon as their retinue left, however, they would move to their more modest private bedrooms. “More modest” in this case means the rooms did not have their ceilings painted and were slightly smaller (I think at least ten MIT dorm rooms would still fit inside).


The queen's bedroom:


My favorite room was the famous Hall of Mirrors, which was built by Louis XIV. The room has 17 large mirrors on one side perfectly matched by 17 windows on the other side. When we were there, the sun was not visible on that side of the palace, and it was still very beautiful, but during sunset the hall must look breathtaking!

The Hall of Mirrors:


After you see Versailles, I recommend visiting the palaces in St. Petersburg. Russian tsars built their palaces with the intention of outdoing the French kings. Go look at the Winter Palace, Peterhof, and Pushkin to see the result, which is no less impressive than Versailles. But remember that Versailles was the original and preceded them by more than a hundred years!