The Palace of Versailles Opens Its Digital Doors, A Rare Free Tour of Everything
"It's not a palace, it's an entire city. Superb in its size, superb in its matter." -- Charles Perrault, 1687
the Palace of Versailles
Here's my guide to taking a virtual tour of the Palace of Versailles, the most ornate and famous royal chateau in France. Once behind closed doors, the palace is now yours for digital viewing at home from your couch or computer screen.
Versailles is honestly one of my least favorite places in France to visit in real life. The lines are spectacularly long. It's spectacularly crowded. It's hard to really admire the royal handiwork with the crush of people.
But in this time of global uncertainly and angst -- a time of canceled vacations and missed travel opportunities -- the Palace of Versailleshas generously opened its digital doors, at least temporarily. The palace is offering an unprecedented free virtual tour to experience from home. Everything can be seen; nothing is omitted.
Short History of the Palace of Versailles
The UNESCO-listed Palace of Versailles was once the center and cultural heartbeat of Europe, until the French Revolution. The Sun King Louis XIV transformed his father’s hunting lodge into a monumental palace in the mid 17th century. The palace was France's political capital and royal seat from 1682 to 1789. The royal court had 3,000 residents.
The Palace of Versailles is ornately decorated, to say the least. It's massive, flashy, and very, very gold. The opulence is overwhelming. Even the bathrooms are gold plated.
As exemplifies the Baroque style, the palace was decorated with gilding, stucco, arabesques, frescoed vaulted ceilings, mirrors, and tromp l'oeil effects. The king's apartments were in the center, because the world revolved around him.
Marie Antoinette's royal bedroom in Versailles
But the palace itself wasn't enough for the king who ruled by divine right. In 1687, Louis XIV built the Grand Trianon. This swishy pad is where Louis XIV escaped the viper pit of court life and pursued his affair with Madame de Montespan. The architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, described the refined structure as "a little palace of pink marble and porphyry, with marvelous gardens."
Aside from Louis XIV, Versailles' most famous occupant was Marie Antoinette. The queen made major changes to the palace's decor in the 18th century. With the exception of the Hall of Mirrors, the interior is more Louis XVI style than Louis XIV style.
Marie Antoinette also adored the Petit Trianon, a little Neo-Classical palace on the grounds. When Louis XVI inherited it, he gifted it to his queen, saying "This pleasure house is yours." The Petit Trianon bears her distinctive decor and ornamentation -- ornate floral motifs run amok in cornflower blue, lilac, and green, without the glitz of the main palace.
the Neoclassical limestone facade of the Petit Trianon at Versailles
Not content with just the Petit Trianon, Marie Antoinette hired two architects to create a pastoral fantasy for her, the Hameau de la Reine. On the surface, the Queen's Hamlet appeared as a rural village of crackled tumbledown cottages and wisteria vines. (The countryside was fashionable at the time.) But inside, the cottages were decked out.
Designed by Andre Le Notre, the gardens of the Palace of Versailles are also a vast showstopper. Louis XIV wanted a verdant display to demonstrate his power and to entertain VIPs. It's one of the most influential landscape designs in French history -- with a series of geometric gardens, groves, fountains, and parks.
the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles
Virtual Tour of the Palace of Versailles
The palace has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to present its virtual exhibits online. Google takes users on a journey of the palace's rich decor and art collection of over 22,000 pieces.
You can also take an amazing virtual tour on the Palace of Versailles' website. Nothing is left out! For example, you can stroll through:
1. The famed Hall of Mirrors (one of the most famous rooms in the world). You
And there are plenty of online virtual exhibitions and stories to whet your appetite or feed your soul. This is the perfect opportunity to discover the secrets behind the fashions of Versailles, how Louis XIV honed his political image, thejewelry worn at Versailles, or the gossip about Louis XIV's long reigning mistress Madame de Montespan.
Versailles 3D, created by Google, also gives you an impressive 3D tour of Versailles. For the latest photos and stories, you can check out the Palace of Versailles' Facebook page. If you've watched the BBC's Versailles TV series, you visit the filming locations via my guide.