Versailles: Dull and Ungrateful?


Today I've been working on the Vignette Guide: Versailles a bit and wanted to share one of my favorite vignettes. The whole idea for the guide is that you can read a little or as much as you would like, so each room or part of the tour will have a section of fast facts and a fun vignette or ancedote that somehow relates to the room and helps bring it to life.  

This vignette is the first of the tour and serves as a something of an introduction. 

“Dull” and “ungrateful” are not the words you normally hear associated with Versailles. 

Before it became the magnificent building you see today, the palace began as a relatively small hunting lodge. Although it was worthy of being the king’s hunting lodge, the original plot of land was no place for a court. It was a mixture of swamp and sand. The water was stagnant and unhealthy, which often made workers sick throughout the years of construction.

None of this mattered to Louis XIV. He was The Sun King, after all, and this was his chosen land. It was tamed and moulded to fit his desires, whatever the cost and in spite of anyone else’s opinion. 

As The Duc de Saint-Simon wrote in The Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court, and the Regency :

[. . .]nobody ever approached his magnificence. His buildings, who could number them? At the same time, who was there who did not deplore the pride, the caprice, the bad taste seen in them?[. . .]Saint-Germain, a lovely spot, with a marvelous view, rich forest, terraces, gardens, and water he abandoned for Versailles; the dullest and most ungrateful of all places, without prospect, without wood, without water, without soil; for the ground is all shifting sand or swamp, the air accordingly bad but he liked to subjugate nature by art and treasure.⁠1 

So the will of a king as powerful as the sun created this magnificence at the great cost of money and time, yes, but also of lives. 

 Louis de Rouvroy, Duc de Saint-Simon, Memoirs of Louis XIV, His Court and the Regency, accessed November 17, 2014,

I love this vignette for a couple of reasons. Saint-Simon was not afraid to lampoon the king (or anyone else for that matter) and I love that he pulls back the mask of the  Versailles. I also love it because I think it helps set the stage for understanding just how powerful Louis XIV was and just how unpleasant Versailles could be. Louis XIV not only built one of the most magnificent palaces in history from what many thought was nothing, but he forced his entire court to move there. He took them out of the comfort and bustle of Paris to live in his vision, literally and figuratively. That vision was not always pretty or comfortable for them. 

France Days 3 and 4: Versailles and Villefranche-sur-Mer


We arrived in Villefranche-sue-Mer yesterday, so I'm going to do a bit of a catch-up post. I'm currently laying in bed, swinging wildly between freezing and sweating profusely. My throat hurts and my nose is stuffy and my head hurts. I blame the head-sneezer for getting me sick on the plane.

Head-sneezer, if you are out there, shame on you. Reform your unhygienic ways and become an elbow-sneezer. Please.

If you can't already tell by the ridiculous whining, I hate colds. Anything that clogs my nose turns me into a baby. Strep throat? Ain't no thing. Tiny cold? Nooooooo!

I've staked my claim on the cold medicine and there's a bottle of champagne in the fridge that I could always turn to.

If I end up writing about running around topless on the beach babbling and sneezing on everyone's heads, you'll know I turned to the champagne.

So that's enough of that. Back to Day 3: Versailles

I don't have tons to write about for Versailles.

I originally was going to go alone with the rough draft of my Vignette Guide to test it out. I wanted to see what works, what doesn't, and what could be added or changed. I also wanted to take some more pictures.

It ended up being one of the days that they turn on the fountains so my parents decided to come along.

They ended up being my guinea pigs for the guide, which was great.

For the curious, the guide is a tour of the main chateau (for now, I'd love to do the Trianons and Hamlet eventually).

Each room has a set of facts describing what you're seeing and then a short vignette, an interesting story, that either took place in or relates to that room to go along with it. My goal is to make the place come alive through fun, weird, dramatic, forgotten and/or fascinating true stories that happened there.

It's meant to be as laid back or as comprehensive as you want it to be, so each set of facts and each vignette stands alone. I basically made something that people with curiosity and short attention spans, like me, would probably like.

My parents got the whole shebang and enjoyed it (even though they might be a tad biased).

I'm also feeling extra inspired to finish it and finally release it into the wild.

I had my hands full, quite literally, so I only have a few pictures to share.

We were lucky for a couple of reasons.

Joana Vasconcelos had an exhibit throughout Versailles of pieces that were meant to co-opt, coexist, and fit within the palace. There were some pretty amazing things, like huge, shining high heeled shoes made from pots in the Hall of Mirrors and a helicopter fitted with hot-pink feathers. Her work will be there until September 30th.

We were also lucky, as I mentioned before, to see the fountains on in the gardens. They only have them on for a few hours on special days. You certainly pay for it (€25 instead of the usual €16 for the pass with the most access), but I felt like it was worth it.

Music played as we walked through and it was a very welcome respite from the crowds inside the main chateau.







We were all really tired when we got back to Paris and stumbled onto a nearby restaurant for dinner called La Luge. It was full, people looked happy, and there was fondue and raclette. We figured that you can't really go too wrong when everything is covered in cheese.

We all ended up having a dish made from layers of crepes and various fillings that were baked in small cake-type pans with cheese on top. Mine had mushrooms, lardons, bechamel, and gruyere. My parents had one with potatoes, onion, lardons, and raclette cheese (a raw milk cheese that tastes like heaven when melted and is usually served with meats, potatoes, and tiny pickles and onions. I will have to do a whole post about it later.)

It was all pretty tasty and very, very filling but I was more interested in sleep (ok, and trying to get the crunchy baked cheese part off of my dish. It's the best part.)

Day 4: Paris to the Riviera

We got up early, ate at the hotel, and took a taxi to Orly.

I have to say, I really liked Orly. It was easy to navigate and had some good time-wasters--plenty of foodie stuff like Nespresso, Laduree, and Mariage Freres tea.

Also, I'm just going to say now that the renovations they've done to the washrooms at Charles de Gaulle and Orly are awesome. Going to the bathroom is like chillin at some swank modern club now. It's the best possible welcome after nearly peeing yourself waiting to get off a long-haul flight.

Admit it. Everyone likes a good bathroom.

Where was I?

Oh. So we flew into Nice and checked into our rental in Villefranche-sur-Mer, a quaint yet somewhat-bustling town next to Nice.

For now I'll just share some photos. I have almost two weeks here to regale you with stories about this place and our day trips.

So far I've learned that it is fun to explore the old, hilly walkways and that the main street along the water is gorgeous and incredible for people-watching. The So many characters.

I have a feeling that there is so much for me to discover.


20120924-192905.jpg Yeah. That's a helicopter on a yacht in Nice.

Exploring Villefranche:












History Love: A Yank in Versailles

Part of my research for the Versailles Vignette Guide is searching for public domain photos and paintings to use as illustrations for each vignette.  I found this photograph a few weeks ago in the Library of Congress online archives and found it too beautiful not to share. There's something about the quiet of it and the juxtaposition between the opulence of the Hall of Mirrors and the soldier's stance.  

I wonder what he was thinking at that moment. I wonder what he had gone through before he got to Versailles.

The summary states:

Pvt. Gordon Conrey of Milford, N.H., one of the first Americans to visit Versailles after its liberation, standing in the hall of mirrors.

If I find more interesting photos that don't make it into the guides, I'll be sure to post them.