Now for a completely different country! Yes, I do occasionally visit landmarks in other places than Holland and the UK. In fact, in February I visited Disneyland with Merel, which was of course fabulous (how could it not be). We had some spare time to take a day trip to Paris.
To keep within the Disney theme, we firstly visited the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral. You can go up to the cathedral’s towers for an astonishing view of the city, and to get a close-up look at the gargoyles that were the inspiration for Disney’s Victor, Hugo, and Laverne. These gargoyles used to be brightly coloured, as well as the rest of the building, but the paint has washed off long ago. The cathedral’s construction began in 1163, replacing an older church that had been demolished to make way for the Notre-Dame, and was finished in 1345. The fact that many different architects worked on the cathedral over many decades, can be seen from the different styles employed at each level of the facades.
The rose window at the north end of the cathedral is a beautiful example of the Rayonnant style: characterised by its ‘[repetitive] decorative motifs at different scales’ (wikipedia). This was a big contrast with the previous High Gothic style, which was mostly concerned with large, high spaces.
In line with previous posts, some interesting events took place in the Notre-Dame. In 1431, Henry VI (the ‘Mad King’) of England was crowned King of France here. In 1558, Mary, Queen of Scots was married to the Dauphin Francis in the Notre-Dame (Mary and Francis were only 16 and 14 at the time!). And in 1804, the cathedral was the site of Napoleon‘s coronation. So the cathedral continued to be a very significant place throughout the centuries!
Later the same day, we visited Versailles. For somebody as obsessed with European royal history as me, it’s quite unusual I hadn’t been there before!
Most French monarchs resided in Paris. Louis XIII had a hunting lodge built at Versailles in 1623, which Louis XIV enlarged to a magnificent royal residence during his reign. Louis XIV distrusted Paris, as many anti-monarchical movements originated here. Furthermore, Versailles offered many opportunities for further construction. Architect Louis Le Vau was responsible for the building of the palace and André Le Notre designed its famous gardens. From 1682, Louis’ court and government were officially located here. Versailles became the center of festivities and events organised by the King. Many of the famous plays by writer Moliere and composer Jean-Baptiste Lully originated here. After the French revolution, the palace was turned into a museum.
The palace has too many astounding rooms to discuss here, but I will attempt to talk a bit about what the highlights were for me. Unfortunately, I did not manage to take too many pictures at Versailles, as it was incredibly busy.
The Hercules Room, which you can see above, was used as a ballroom in the 18th century. It is the first room of the King’s Grand Apartment, but was created the last. A chapel used to be here, but the Hercules Room was built when the Royal Chapel was constructed instead. The large painting decorating the room is The Meal at the House of Simon, painted by Veronese in 1570 and offered by the Republic of Venice to Louis XIV in 1664.
The Mercury salon (above) was the King’s Grand Apartment’s bedchamber. This chamber used to be completely decorated in silver furniture, until Louis XIV was forced to have them melted down to pay for the Nine Years’ War.
Above you can see The Hall of Mirrors, by far the most impressive sight at Versailles. This Hall functioned as a hallway and meeting place in the days of Louis XIV when there were about 4,000 people at court! The hall is 73 metres long and is aptly named as it contains 357 mirrors. Note that mirrors were a luxury product at the time; as such this hall was a a very impressive testimony to the prosperity of France. The arch contains paintings by Le Brun which depict Louis XIV many political victories. For you Dutchies reading my blog: the Treaties of Nijmegen are included in the elaborate painted ceiling! Many important events took place in this hall, not only in the 17th and 18th centuries when it was used as a royal residence. In 1919, the Treaty of Versailles, which ended the First World War was signed in this room.
The Battles Gallery was built in 1833-1837 when Versailles became a museum. The gallery shows the biggest victories of France from history through 33 paintings lined along the wall. The gallery also features busts of famous French officers who died in combat.
That was my very short summary of all the magnificent sights at Versailles. To finish, here is a view of Versailles’ gardens.