The Palace of Versailles is a royal chateau located 20 kilometers (12 miles) outside of Paris, France. Construction of a fairly pedestrian hunting cabin began on the property in 1623, under the reign of King Louis XIII. The luxurious palace, as it exists today, was built during an expansion of the property by King Louis XIV, known largely for his maintenance of absolute power and obsession with vanity. For most of us, Versailles signifies the height of the French monarchy, decked in opulence and luxury.
While the luxurious atmosphere was not lost to me when touring the palace (I get around in a power wheelchair), I was also reminded of its contribution to the French Revolution, and the deposition of France's last monarch, King Louis XVI. I used my half-day tour of Versailles to entertain my historical curiosity, and to admire the beautiful art and sculptures which adorn the many rooms.
In this post, I'll take you along with me on the tour - showing pictures from my visit of Versailles, and offering some tips on the best (and cheapest) way to get there, as either an able-bodied traveler or wheelchair user.
If you have a disability or use a wheelchair, you get in free (along with 1 companion)! Sorry to say, but able-bodied visitors have to pay the admission fee of € 15,00 to € 30,00, depending on how many days and the type of ticket you buy. Detailed ticket information is available here.
Wheelchair users should enter through Gate H, which is to the right of the palace's central golden gate. The cobblestones in this area are incredibly bumpy, but you'll only be on them for a short time.
Once you're in, the best place to start is with the self-guided tour of the palace interior. You'll get to see famous rooms, including the King's Bedchamber and the shimmering Hall of Mirrors. Pick up an audio guide, and you'll get to choose which rooms and art pieces to hear more about.
Alternatively, you can go on one of the guided tours and hear about the palace from the perspective of your guide. I personally prefer going at my own pace (a read-everything pace), and was still able to listen in on the tour groups that passed by.
The Palace of Versailles has 700 rooms, more than 2,000 windows, and over 60 staircases. It is a massive structure, with each room as immaculate as the last. The palace's rooms are grand in their appointments, and feature original artwork which appeared during the reigns of the French kings who resided there. I'll share some photos I took of the interior, and will identify those that I remember from my tour.
The Venus Drawing Room or Venus Salon, named after the planet (and the mythological goddess of love), was one of two rooms from which to access the King's Grand Apartment at Versailles.
The King's Bedchamber was luxurious, with the bed set behind a golden railing and surrounded by drapes that extend from the ceiling. I wish my bedroom looked like that!
The Queen's Bedchamber was equally luxurious. It had a similar golden railing in front of the bed. Floral drapes hung from the ceiling, and could be used to surround the bed in its entirety. The wall was decorated with an elegant floral coloring trimmed with-you guessed it-gold!
Not pictured here is a magnificent chandelier hanging in front of the bed, and an ornate design (with more gold and floral patterns) covering the ceiling.
The War Room was another of my favorites. It is situated as the last room in the King's Grand Apartment, and leads into the Hall of Mirrors. King Louis XIV is depicted on horseback in a large relief (pictured above). The room celebrates French victories against Germain, Spain and Holland, while glorifying the monarch whom the room was created to serve.
The most popular room in the entire palace is the Hall of Mirrors. This space is the ultimate in luxury, with mirrors running down one side of the hall, opposite windows on the other. Magnificent chandeliers hang from the arched ceiling. It was difficult for me to take great photos here, due to the mass of people who were hovering over me in my wheelchair.
The room was used as a space for courtiers, and for petitioners to wait for the official they were at the palace to meet with.
The Battles Gallery was my favorite space within the entire palace. The massive hall measures almost 400 feet in length, and has a truly beautiful architectural design. The gallery was opened in 1837, in a space that held apartments in the 17th and 18th centuries. 118 paintings and busts line the hall, highlighting the military battles that took place in the course of French history.
Sculpture is one of my favorite art mediums, and I was able to get a substantial dose of that at Versailles. The palace is adorned with statues and busts everywhere, most notably in a hall that few people visited. In the photo above, you'll see that it was totally empty, whereas the rest of the palace was filled to the brim with tourists.
Here a few of my favorite statues and busts:
Rene Descartes, depicted in the bust pictured above, was a famous French philosopher who lived from 1596-1650. In the famous Discourse on Method, he coined the phrase "I think, therefore I am."
Voltaire was a great thinker, writer, historian and philosopher of the French Enlightenment. He has always been a figure whom I have respected, because he was one of the fathers of historiography. From an article he wrote in Diderot's Encyclopedie:
One demands of modern historians more details, better ascertained facts, precise dates, more attention to customs, laws, mores, commerce, finance, agriculture, population.
My Master's thesis was itself a historiography, which reconsiders previous historical conclusions based on new techniques of analysis and understanding, information, societal custom, etc. Historiography is, in a sense, a debate between historians about what the truth in history actually is, and how the process of studying the past should be carried out.
I had to include this statue of Napoleon Bonaparte, who served as Emperor of France from 1804-1814, and again in 1815 during a period known as the Hundred Days. Bonaparte led France to the height of continental power, before his empire collapsed in 1814.
Once you've had enough of touring the palace interior, return your audio guide and head outside into the fresh air. The exit, pictured above, is located just beyond the A nice ramp makes the path wheelchair accessible, and will lead you out into a courtyard. You can venture off in many directions, and I recommend you take in as much of the beauty as possible. Here are a few photographs I snapped while touring the gardens myself:
The gardens are wheelchair accessible, and the pathways are primarily a hard and composed of dirt with some gravel mixed in. Some of the pathways are inclined, so manual wheelchair users may need a push back up the hills. The gardens include all manner of flowers and shrubbery, plus fountains and ponds. It is truly a beautiful stroll on a nice day, and well worth your time.
If you are visiting in the summer months and plan to spend time outside in the gardens, be sure to pack some sunscreen!
Getting to/from Versailles
Travelers staying in Paris can reach Chateau Versailles by taxi or train. Taxi fares from downtown Paris will typically cost € 40,00 to € 60,00, depending on time of day and traffic conditions. Wheelchair accessible taxis are readily available, and I used one to get to the palace myself. More information on accessible cabs in Paris and the surrounding area is available here.
To save money, use public transportation. The RER train, line L offers service from the Paris-St. Lazare Train Station to the Versailles-Rive Droite station. Both stations are wheelchair accessible, but wheelchair users will need to request a ramp. This can be done at the station information desks. Rive Droite station is approximately 1.5 km from the palace's main gate. This is certainly roll-able, but visitors should understand that there is a great deal of distance that can be covered inside of the palace and its gardens. Keep an eye on your power wheelchair's battery life!
More information on using the Paris public transportation system as a wheelchair user can be found here.
I encountered Versailles often in my studies as a student, both at university and also in grade school. It was great to finally see it firsthand. I was afraid that it would not live up to the hype it received from my teachers and history books.
As you can see from the photographs here - it did. I was especially pleased that the property was so wheelchair accessible. Elevators allowed me to access the different levels, and the only obstacle was the crowds. A visit to this historic chateau is definitely worth your time - regardless of your level of physical ability. I had a wonderful time, was able to "nerd out" a bit, and will be hard-pressed to find a more luxurious palace tour anywhere in the world.
For more information and to prepare for your tour, visit the palace website at www.chateauversailles.fr.