Palace of Versailles

By: Jerry Camarillo Dunn, Jr

The Palace of Versailles: The world's most opu­lent playground for royalty! A chateau larg­e enough­ to house 6,000 courtiers! A palace fit for a king!

And not just any king, but Louis XIV, the "Sun King," who reigned for 72 years and whose self-glorification knew no bounds. Starting in 1661, he transformed a humble hunting lodge into a glittering palace. He drained swamps and moved whole forests to create 250 acres of formal gardens, tree-lined paths, flowerbeds, lakes, and fountains. And this filled only a small portion of the grounds -- the entire estate covered 2,000 acres.

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Versailles served as France's political capital and the focal point of the court from 1682 until 1789. It was Louis XIV's motive to remove himself (and his scheming nobles) from the political intrigues of Paris, so he created a place where the court could live under his watchful eye. The palace's size and opulence exhibited his supreme wealth and trumpeted his power as an absolute monarch.

Building Versailles required some 30,000 laborers and was so costly that it nearly wiped out the coffers of France. The main building contains grand halls and bedrooms that interior designer Charles LeBrun decorated with every ostentatious adornment imaginable.

The Grands Appartements of the palace are lavish showplaces filled with murals, paintings, sculptures, velvet draperies, Savonnerie carpets, gilded bronze, and tinted marble. These salons are dedicated to Greek deities such as Hercules and Mercury. Louis XIV chose the Salon of Apollo, the sun god, to serve as the throne room for the Sun King.

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    Jerry Camarillo Dunn Jr., has worked with the National Geographic Society for more than 20 years, starting as a staff editor, writer, and columnist at Traveler magazine, then writing travel guides. His latest work is National Geographic Traveler: San Francisco. Dunn’s Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: The Rocky Mountain States has sold more than 100,000 copies. His travel pieces appear in newspapers such as the Chicago Tribune and The Boston Globe. Jerry Dunn's stories have won three Lowell Thomas Awards from the Society of American Travel Writers -- the highest honor in the field. He also wrote and hosted a pilot episode for a travel show produced by WGBH, Boston's public television station.­