Bonjour Nos Amis,
Versailles. The name itself evokes visions of the glory of the French Monarchy, extravagant fetes, Royal conquests, luxury and the beginning of the French Revolution.
Started by Louis XIII as a small hunting lodge, it was taken over by his son Louis XIV upon his ascension to the throne who then began the lifelong task of expanding it and ultimately moving the Court there permanently. At one time it is said to have housed over 20,000 people including the Monarch, his Royal Family, the Court and all those who supported them in their daily lives.
As we walked toward the Chateau, I took two pictures which do not capture its grandeur at all. Today our goal was not the main chateau since we had seen much of it during our two previous visits. This time, our goal was Le Petit Trianon, most famously known as the private retreat of Queen Marie Antoinette. Our plan was to enter the Jardins directly, thus avoiding the long lines of people purchasing tickets for the main Chateau, walk directly through the Jardins and make our way to the Petit Trianon. Once there, we were able to purchase tickets to see the Petit Trianon including the Queen’s Hamlet, private Jardin’s and the Queen’s Theatre, without waiting in long lines. Success was ours. We were 5th and 6th in line and missed all the crowds who were still clamoring in line back at the main Chateau.
There are not words enough to describe the Petit Trianon so we have opted to include many more pictures than usual to try to create the experience. The Petit Trianon has a rich history beginning with its construction by Louis XV for his then favorite, Mdm Pompadour. Unfortunately she died before it was complete so the King’s next favorite, Mdm du Barry enjoyed it until the King’s death. Louis XVI gave it to Marie Antoinette as a gift who then began major renovations to not only the Petit Trianon but to the grounds as well. She had the Queen’s Theatre built so she could put on plays and operas for her closest of friends. She also ordered the building of a Hamlet, which was a working replica of a peasant village where she could live as a common farmer thus getting a break from the stress of daily Court life. After several hours seeing the Petit Trianon and walking the grounds, we ran into an sweet mother and daughter from Japan who asked us where the Queen’s Theatre was. At the time we had no idea that there was any such place so we checked our map and sure enough there it was. So we showed them where it was and then made a b-line for it ourselves. Sealed off by a glass door we could only press our noses to get a glimpse of what seemed a spectacular venue. I asked the docent if there were any tours and she said there are but are always sold out weeks in advance. I love a challenge. We went back to the ticket booth where in my best French I asked the lady if there were any tours for the Queen’s Theatre. She said there were but they were all sold out. I just looked at her with my best puppy dog eyes, with Mitch looking on longingly over my shoulder. She asked for my name and told us to come back in 5 minutes. When we returned she had secured two tickets for us at the 3:30 tour which was only in French. Success! We, and 5 other people, were guided through the Petit Trianon again which also included visiting the entire 3rd and 4th floors, which are off limits to the general public. These floors were for the Queen’s most intimate of friends including her Lady in Waiting and First Chamber Maid along with quarters for the King when he would visit and other members of the Royal Family. Each room door had a number indicating where each person would stay. On the wall of the First Chamber Maid was an Almanac from 1786 which listed all the Queen’s staff along with the Royal Children’s teachers and private tutors. These Almanacs were printed each year.
The finalé was the private tour of the Queen’s Theatre. We got to enter the theatre and sit in the seats as the guide told us all about the theatre and its history in French. Mitch and I nodded and smiled like we understood while taking in the magnificent sights. On the stage was an original set for a 1780 production of the King and the Farmer performed the Queen and her friends. It was breathtaking to just be in that space. Below are a few links for more information on the Queen’s Theatre, The Hamlet and the Petit Trianon:
By the time it was all over, we had spent almost 7 hours just at the Petit Trianon and it Jardins et al. It was fabulous.
As we made our way back through the main Chateau Jardins, we took two photos. One of the Main Chateau in the distance and one from the same place but in the opposite direction looking down the Grand Canal.
Due to the photo heaviness of this issue meal photos have been omitted.