09 August 2018

Versailles


Versailles Palace
 Versailles Palace. The name is synonymous with two disparate things - a luxurious residence of the French kings and nobility and the the hugely lopsided Treaty of Versailles on conclusion of the First World War that ultimately resulted in the Second World War. A visit to Paris is incomplete without a visit to the vast, sprawling, bewitchingly beautiful and luxurious, Versailles Palace. It is over an hour's drive away from Paris. As one alights from the bus in front of the Chateau d Versailles or Versailles Palace, one of the largest squares in the world greets the visitors. The scale of the palace is designed to dominate the observer on a massive scale. Perhaps, one would get the same feeling at the Tiananmen Square or the Kremlin. The scale of the Palace is matched by the immense opulence of the interiors. Our guide is a careful, fast speaking french lady. She has given us radio listening devices so that even in the crowded rooms we can listen to her. It is a bit of hit and miss, mostly, miss. Long serpentine queues have formed in front of the ticketing office. But we are privileged, we have a pre-booked group tour ticket that gives us preferential entrance. 
Graffiti of Louis XIV in the Interpretation Centre
 The insides of the palace is, perhaps the last thing, in medieval luxury. Built by the enigmatic Loius XIV, away from the scheming designs of other pretenders to the throne in Paris, it took 50 years to build. The private chambers of the King and Queen are regal, to say the least. The gold emroidery, ornately painted ceilings, marble statues in roman-gallic style are all meant to subdue the commoner, who chances to enter the chambers. Everywhere the insignia of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, is displayed in overt and subtle ways. Looks almost like a psychological op on his numerous enemies. He was blessed with a unusually long reign and he insisted on his entire retinue of nobles to reside with him at Versailles, away from Paris. 
The ornately painted celing in the Kings private chambers

Beyond his numerous private chambers is the Hall of Mirrors. It has a view of the vast sprawling gardens on one side and gigantic mirrors on the other. There are marble busts of Roman emperors and roman gods. Huge paintings adorn the walls and the ceilings. Everwhere one looks one is greeted with grand opulence. Our guide reminds us that this was enjoyed by a tiny minority of nobles and financed by the tiresome taxes on the working class. Surely, one needn't go farther than Versailles to delve into the reasons for the French Revolution. But that was much later, beyond its heyday. In the reign of Loius XVI and his Queen, the sulking Marie Antoinette. Once, one has seen her prison at the Conciergerie at Paris, the grand chambers of the Queen at Versailles provides a stark contrast. Spartan versus luxurious. The Palace is too huge to be seen in a few hours. One can barely walk through the main parts in three hours. It is a maze of corridors, rooms, staircases and verandahs. 


Hall of Mirrors

Staircase inside the Palace
The massive gardens spread over several acres are visible from the large windows and balconies. All in all, one gets overawed by the extravagant and pompous dimensions of the scale of the Palace and its surroundings. I ask the guide, that why did the Revolutionaries, not destroy this symbol of monarchy and oppression? She answered, "They would have - but they figured that it was costlier to destroy it rather than to keep it standing". Somehow, I could not stomach this. Not only the Palace is impressive but it is remarkably kept in good shape. "This is because it is such a massive tourist attraction", she answered. And then added, "Of course its a part of our history". There was a sense of pride in her answer. She added, "Our history is not as long as yours, but yes, we have been at the forefront of things for the last 500 years! Despite the revolutions and wars, we are doing good. We do have our problems but, touch wood, we are better off than others!"
"Viva la France!" I replied.
"Viva l' Inde!" She smiled back at me.
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