Le Château de Versailles




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Most of central Paris is within walking distance. And on the afternoon we arrived, we did just that, walked around the old city – from the Eiffel Tower to the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysées to the Louvre, and back along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower again. Many other attractions are within easy reach.

But the next day, our first full day, we ventured out of the city center to see the fabulous Château de Versailles. This palace and its surrounding gardens are about twenty kilometres from the city center and easily reached by train.

Leaving the train station we walked a block and turned the corner and there it was.

The front of the palace features lot of gilt work.

What started out as a hunting lodge built by Louis XIII in 1624 was greatly expanded by the Sun King, Louis XIV from 1661 to 1678. It was expanded again from 1678 to 1715 when two large wings were added to flank the Royal Courtyard. This phase also saw the replacement of the west facing terrace with what is now the Hall of Mirrors, the most famous and most popular room in the palace.

Versailles became the seat of power in pre-revolutionary France when Louis XIV moved the royal court there in 1682. It wasn’t until the French Revolution of 1789 that the seat of government was moved back to Paris.

Janis and I at the Apollo Fountain with the palace in the background. All the windows facing the gardens are from the Hall of Mirrors and its flanking salons.

Louis XIV liked to do things big and Versailles is probably his crowning achievement. The palace has 2300 rooms. The cost to build it was staggering. Wikipedia gives this description:

“One of the most costly elements in the furnishing of the grands appartements during the early years of the personal reign of Louis XIV was the silver furniture, which can be taken as a standard – with other criteria – for determining a plausible cost for Versailles. The Comptes meticulously list the expenditures on the silver furniture – disbursements to artists, final payments, delivery – as well as descriptions and weight of items purchased. Entries for 1681 and 1682 concerning the silver balustrade used in the salon de Mercure serve as an example:

  • Year 1681
    II. 5 In anticipation: For the silver balustrade for the king’s bedroom: 90,000 livres
  • II. 7 18 November to Sieur du Metz, 43,475 livres 5 sols for delivery to Sr. Lois and to Sr. de Villers for payment of 142,196 livres for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s bedroom and 404 livres for tax: 48,861 livres 5 sol.
  • II. 15 16 June 1681 – 23 January 1682 to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths on account for the silver balustrade that they are making for the king’s use (four payments): 88,457 livres 5 sols.
  • II. 111 25 March – 18 April to Sr. Lois and Sr. de Villers silversmiths who are working on a silver balustrade for the king, for continued work (two payments): 40,000 livres”

Additional figures are given for 1682. There was over a ton of silver in the balustrade alone notes Wikipedia, a “cost in excess of 560,000 livres”. And that was just the silver. All told, one estimate has the expenditures during Louis’s reign at over US $2 billion! So crippling was this expense that in 1689, Louis had all the silver in the palace sent to the mint to be melted down.

Today the palace is a museum, a grand edifice filled with art and historical artifacts.

Tourist map of the Chateau

We started our tour at the southern end of the North Wing. Walking along a vast corridor  we quickly we came across a chapel complete with marble columns, a large pipe organ and a magnificently painted ceiling mural.

The chapel in the North Wing

Continuing along the corridor, we came across numerous works of art including a statue of Joan of Arc. At the end of the wing, we ascended a staircase to the second floor and walked back again. One of the more interesting pieces of statuary was a monkey riding a goat.

Statue of a monkey riding a goat in the 17th Century Galleries at Versailles

The long corridor was flanked by various paintings and sculptures on the left and tall windows on the right. It was through these windows that we caught our first glimpse of the magnificent gardens behind the palace. The garden we saw, the North Parterre, is just a small fraction of the overall gardens.

The North Parterre seen from the North Wing of the Chateau de Versailles

At the end of the passage we came to large room, a corner room that marks the transition into the original Château. The room is called the Salon d’Hercule or Salon of Hercules. It is the first of a series of such Salons that we encounter on our way to the Hall of Mirrors. The size of the room is immense – huge vaulted ceilings all covered in elaborate and colorful murals. The pillars are solid marble. And at one end hangs a huge painting. The video below captures the sheer size and majesty of the room.

From the Hercules Salon we head west, passing through the Abundance Salon, Venus Salon, Diana Salon, Mars Salon, Mercury Salon and Apollo Salon before arriving at the Salon of War which bookends the Hall of Mirrors. These rooms are referred to as the King’s State Apartments and were antechambers to the royal residence where gatherings, parties and amusements were held. Each of these rooms is filled with art and very elaborate decorative work. And each has giant ceiling frescoes as well.

 

The Salon of Mars was originally a bedchamber.

The Hall of Mirrors is one of the main attractions at Versailles. When it was built, mirrors were an expensive commodity and Venice had the monopoly on production. Louis’s Finance Minister Jean-Baptiste Colbert lured a number of Venetian workers to Paris to work in the Royal Glass and Mirror Works. The Venetian government retaliated by sending assassins to kill these workers to protect Venice’s trade secrets.

Nevertheless, the Hall was built. The great corridor runs 239.5 feet from one end to the other and is flanked by the Salon of War and the Salon of Peace. Its width is 34.4 feet and the vaulted ceiling soars 40.4 feet above the floor.

The space occupied by the hall used to be a terrace overlooking the magnificent gardens stretching behind the château. Today large windows overlook the gardens. On the interior wall are seventeen mirror-clad arches.

The Hall of Mirrors

Many fine pieces of sculpture line the hall and it is flanked on both sides by giant candleabras.

One of the many candleabras in the Hall of Mirrors

From the Salon of Peace we made our way to the royal bed chambers. The king himself had a large canopy bed and had a separate room from the queen. Her bedroom had a larger bed than the king.

The Queen’s Bed

Near the King’s Room were several antechambers where the King and his aides could meet to discuss affairs of state. Central to them all is the Bull’s Eye Room or as it is called in French, the Salon l’Oeil de Bouef. This room had exits to the King’s bedroom, the Queen’s Apartments and the Hall of Mirrors. It also had a staircase leading to the Dauphin’s apartments below.

The large window known as the l’oiel de bouef

After passing through various other rooms including the Guard’s Room, we descended to the ground floor where staff and guests stayed, as well as the Dauphin. These guest rooms themselves were very lavish. Paintings and sculptures abound as well as a grand piano and an organ.

A pipe organ in one of the ground floor apartments

The Palace at Versailles is magnificent. It cost an unbelievable amount of money to build and included many pieces of furniture made of solid silver. Many later had to be melted down to pay some of the royal bills. But the grandeur and elegance of the period remains evident today. In my opinion, this is one of the wonders of the modern world, a must-see if you are ever in Paris.

But if you think the Palace is magnificent, prepare to be blown away by our next installment – Les Jardins de Versailles. The entire estate covers over 800 hectares or close to 2000 acres. This includes the Palace, the Gardens, the Park (which is a free public park), and the Trianon Estate (Marie Antoinette’s private estate). The gardens are a work of art – carefully landscaped and tended and abounding with sculptures and fountains, it is as much an attraction as the Palace itself.

Additional links 

Previous Posts on Paris

 




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Photo Gallery: Le Château de Versailles




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to the Palace at Versailles. These were taken with an older camera and if we should be fortunate enough to visit Paris again, I’ll replace them with better pictures taken with my newer camera.

Statue of Louis XIV at the entrance to the courtyard at the Château de Versailles
The lower corridor in the North Wing
Statue of Joan of Arc in the North Wing lower corridor
The windows in the Hercules Salon
Ceiling mural in the Hercules Salon
Another ceiling mural in one of the salons at Versailles
The North Parterre at Versailles seen from the Apollo Salon
Relief portrait of Louis XIV in the Salon of War
Ceiling art in the Hall of Mirrors which extends almost 240 feet from one end to the other.
On one side of the Hall of Mirrors are huge mirrored panels interspersed with the occasional door leading to the King’s chambers.
On the other side are large windows looking over the gardens and fountains. Giant candelabras line the hall.
Large fireplace in the Salon of Peace
The King’s Bed at Versailles
The dining table in the Antechamber Grand Couvert. This antechamber to the Queen’s apartments was where the royal family ate in public.
A large tapestry in the Antechamber Grand Couvert
Some furniture in the lower quarters where employees and guests stayed.




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Malaga: A Tale of Two Castles




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The fourth stop on our 2009 cruise was Malaga, a small Spanish city on the Mediterranean 134 kilometres from Gibraltar. As we did in Cadiz, we decided to explore Malaga on our own rather than take an organized excursion. The city is a short hop by bus from the port.

Malaga is an ancient city with a history spanning 2800 years. It was founded by the Phoenicians in 770 BC.  Like Cadiz, it is also within the autonomous region of Andalusia.


Upon leaving the ship, we took a short bus ride to the city. We were dropped off at the Paseo Parque, a broad boulevard spanned by parks on both sides. These parks are lush with greenery and the occasional statue and fountain.

Statues, fountains and lush foliage abound in the Paseo Parque.
Statues, fountains and lush foliage abound in the Paseo Parque.

We wandered though the Parque de Malaga to a road that took us to the first of two castles, the Alcazaba. The road is flanked by a steep retaining wall which is dotted with little pigeon holes.

The roadway to the Alcazaba. Note the pigeonholes.
The roadway to the Alcazaba. Note the pigeon holes.
A pigeon in a pigeon hole.
A pigeon in a pigeon hole.

Tha Alcazaba is an old fortress built by the Moors from 756 to 780 AD and extensively rebuilt by the Hammudid Dynasty in the 11th Century. It has features of Roman, Moorish and Renaissance architecture.

The Alcazaba, magnificent Moorish fortress.
The Alcazaba, magnificent Moorish fortress.

The roadway took us to an elevator which took us up into the fortress. Inside we found gardens and fountains as well as displays of crockery and other artifacts. There were also stables and drinking troughs for horses. We enjoyed walking around the battlements which command an excellent view of the city.

Some of the gardens inside the Alcazaba
Some of the gardens inside the Alcazaba

While we were there, a teacher dressed as a knight explained the history of the Alcazaba to his students. A colourful and interesting outing for the kids.

A teacher engages his class in a history lesson at the Alcazaba.
A teacher engages his class in a history lesson at the Alcazaba.

But the Alcazaba is just one of two Moorish castles in Malaga. The other is a short walk up the hill – the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The road is fairly steep and we passed fields of cacti.

Lots of cacti grow wild along the slopes of the Gibralfaro hill
Lots of cacti grow wild along the slopes of the Gibralfaro hill

Along the way we got a good view of the Malagueta, Malaga’s bull fighting arena. This 14,000 seat stadium was built in 1874 and bull fights are still staged every year from April through September.

The Malgueta, Malaga's bull fighting arena. Fights run from April through September
The Malgueta, Malaga’s bull fighting arena. Fights run from April through September

Arriving at the Castillo de Gibralfaro, you enter through a museum showing military uniforms through the ages as well as a model of the two fortresses. There is a similar model at the lower fort. from there you can wander at your leisure. The fort is a large one and offers excellent views of the city from its ramparts. We circumnavigated the parapet as we had done with the lower fort.

Janis, Chris and Sheila on the ramparts of the Castillo de Gibrilfaro
Janis, Chris and Sheila on the ramparts of the Castillo de Gibralfaro

At one point there was a sort of small dungeon below the walkway, with a grate above it. My wife and her friend Sheila went to check out the place while I stayed above with the camera. When they entered I shouted down to them, “Look up! Look waaaaaay up!” Someone nearby quickly added, “And I’ll call Rusty!” and we all had a good laugh. A fellow Canadian! The lines come from a popular kid’s show called The Friendly Giant.

Look up! Look waaaaay up!
Look up! Look waaaaay up!

We explore some more of the castle and then made our way back to the street level and a beautiful garden park called the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso.

The Jardines de xxx seen from the Castillo de Gibrilfaro
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso seen from the Castillo de Gibralfaro. The Paseo Parque boulevard runs behind it and all along that road is a series of connected parks, all lush with foliage. The building beside the gardens is Malaga City Hall.

We wandered back to downtown through the park flanking the Paseo Parque and stopped at a restaurant for some paella. Then we wandered through part of the downtown with its marble pedestrian ways and beautiful buildings. The city looked so clean and bright. A gorgeous city.

Janis and I enjoy paella at a sidewalk restaurant.
Janis and I enjoy paella at a sidewalk restaurant.

Along the way we came across some street entertainers. They were living statues. They were dressed in gray costumes and stood absolutely still like statues. If you put a coin in a hat, the statues came alive and posed for pictures and gave you a souvenir coloured pebble.

One of the living statues. Check out the video below.
One of the living statues. Check out the video below.

We wandered back towards the ship and passed a bus, half buried in the sidewalk. It was an ad, an unusual billboard for a movie, Fuga de Cerebros, a romantic comedy about young college students. It was panned by critics but the biggest drawing Spanish movie of the year, later released in English as Brain Drain.

The unusual ad prop for the movie Fuga de Cereberos, top grossing Spanish movie of 2009.
The unusual ad prop for the movie Fuga de Cereberos, top grossing Spanish movie of 2009.

We loved Malaga. It is a beautiful city with two great castles to explore, lush green parks, great restaurants an a colourful and entertaining downtown. Well worth a visit.

We took so many pictures you’ll find a separate photo gallery linked below. Or just keep scrolling if you’re on the home page.



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Photo Gallery: Malaga




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Here are a few additional photos of our visit to Malaga, Spain.

Alongside the Alcazabar
Alongside the Alcazaba. The Castillo de Gibralfaro is at the top of the hill ahead.
Looking up at part of the Alcazabar
Looking up at part of the Alcazaba
Janis in the Alcazabar
Janis by a gate in the Alcazaba
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Along the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the city of Malaga in the background.
Gardens at the Alcazaba
Gardens at the Alcazaba
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba - a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
There are actually two layers of walls at the Alcazaba – a fort within a fort so to speak. The outer wall goes our straight ahead, the inner wall off to the right.
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
The Cathedral of Malaga seen from the Alcazaba
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Another view of the Cathedral of Malaga
Watering hole for the horses of yore
Watering hole for the horses of yore
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Arabic ceiling in one of the rooms in the palace.
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Looking east from the Alcazaba. You can see the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso just below and the Maragueta bull fighting arena behind it.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down.
Looking east. The fortress is on a hillside and follows the terrain up and down. That’s our friend Chris striking a pose.
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
Leaving the Alcazaba behind as we head up hill
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing fig tree.
As we left the Alcazaba and headed up the hill, we saw this amazing tree.
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Alcazaba is far below us now
The Port of Malaga
The Port of Malaga
The Malagueta, Malaga's bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
The Malagueta, Malaga’s bull fighting ring. Fights are held from April to September.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
You can get bull fighting posters in some of the gift shops.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
We find a cannon at the entry to the Castillo.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
One of the displays at the museum before you go into the castle.
Along the castle walls
Along the castle walls
Janis on guard duty!
Janis on guard duty!
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
Looking out on the harbour from the guard hut
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Our ship, the Navigator of the Seas is the one you see head on at the left. Three cruise ships were in port that day.
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We quite liked this townhouse complex with a rooftop pool that we saw looking down from the ramparts.
The Alcazaba below us
The Alcazaba below us
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
Walking around the ramparts of the Castillo de Gabrilfaro
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
After going down and around the ramparts, we head back up the other side
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Much of the interior of the fortress grounds are covered with grass and trees.
Looking back at where we just came from.
Looking back at where we just came from.
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
The city seen through a notch in the battlements
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Almost back to our starting point in circumnavigating the Castillo.
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
Back at street level we see the Alcazaba again
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
The Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso
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A statue in the Jardines de Pedro Luis Alonso. This statue is called El Biznaguero. can’t find a translation for that.

 

We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
We headed west along the Paseo Parque to the downtown.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The streets here are closed to traffic and seem to be made of polished marble.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
The architecture of Malaga is gorgeous.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Some very old buildings but kept in excellent shape.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Janis and one of the living statues.
Chris and one of the living statues
Chris and one of the living statues
She's got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
She’s got on a lot of make-up to make her face look as if made of stone.
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A sidewalk restaurant in Malaga
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Much of this downtown area is pedestrian only.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.
As we headed back to the ship , we saw these horse-drawn carriages. A nice way to get around parts of Malaga.

 




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Old Lisbon




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The second port of call on our 2009 trans-Atlantic cruise was Lisbon, Portugal. While had taken a shore excursion on our first stop, Tenerife in the Canary Islands, we opted to check out Lisbon on our own. Upon disembarking, there were free shuttle buses to transport us to the Baixa and surrounding districts which make up the historic centre of Lisbon, much like the 20 arrondissements make up the historic centre of Paris.

Lisbon has a lot of history behind it. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, predating London, Paris and Rome by centuries. The bus dropped us off at outside the Rua Augusta Arch – the gateway to Old Lisbon.

The Rua Augusta Arch was built to comemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake.
The Rua Augusta Arch was built to commemorate the rebuilding of the city after the 1755 earthquake. The 100 foot high arch is surmounted by a 23 foot tall statue.

We passed through the arch into the downtown area, a warren of narrow streets with shops and apartments, as well as large plazas. The area was bustling with activity. It is largely a pedestrian only area though there are trams running up and down the narrow streets and some cars as well. Lisbon also has three funicular trams as the city lies on a hillside sloping down towards the Tagus River.

Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the arch.
Busy pedestrian mall looking back towards the Rua Augusta Arch.

We noticed a large fortress off to our right so we decided to check it out. The Castelo de Sao Jorge is in the Alfama district, one of the oldest districts in Lisbon and the only one not destroyed by the 1755 earthquake. To get there we strolled up some narrow streets, passing the Lisbon Cathedral along the way.

Lisbon Cathedral
Lisbon Cathedral

The castle itself is Moorish and was captured by Christian forces in 1147 during the Second Crusade. Lisbon became the capital in 1255 and the castle was renovated and extended over the next hundred and twenty -five years.

The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.
The Castelo de Sao Jorge dates from Moorish times.

We spent a good while there exploring the castle and walking along the battlements which command a panoramic view of Lisbon.

On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.
On the castle ramparts with the city in the background.

Then we walked back towards the central part of old Lisbon. Along the way we watched as the trams made their way through the narrow thoroughfares.

Up the hill from the Rua Augusta Arch we came across the San Justa Lift. The Baixa district is flanked by steep hillsides, one leading to the Castelo on the right and another to the Bairro Alto on the left. The San Justa Lift takes passengers from the Baixa up to the Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Construction was started in 1900 and completed in 1902. Originally powered by steam, it converted to electricity in 1907. It stands 45 metres tall (about seven stories) We did not go up the elevator but did take a funicular later in the day.

The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.
The San Justa Lift carries 24 passengers at a time from the streets of the Baixa to Carmo Square.

Further up the road from the lift is the impressive Rossio Square. The square features a large fountain and a statue of Pedro IV (Peter the Fourth). During the Spanish Inquisition, the square was the site of public executions, the notorious auto-da-fé which saw its victims burned at the stake.

Fountain in Rossio Square
Fountain in Rossio Square. You can see some of the inlaid Portuguese pavement below the fountain.

But its most striking feature is the Portuguese pavement. Portuguese pavement is a surface created with inlaid stones of different colours to form intricate patterns.  The Rossio plaza is particularly striking because of the optical illusion it gives of waves and motion. You can see in the video below that my camera did not like it much.


We wandered further up the hill and came across Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe (seems every major city has one!) And across the plaza from the Hard Rock we found the Ascensor da Gloria, one of three funicular trams in the city. This inclined railway dates from 1885. We hopped the tram and later walked back down to the Baixa.

Walking back down we passed a little shop whose door was flanked by two carved wooden figures. These figures seem to be popular in Lisbon. We saw quite a few of them at various places.

Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this establishment.
Carved wooden figures flank the doorway of this restaurant. Such figures are popular in Lisbon.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto.
Strolling back down to the Baixa from the Bairro Alto. You can see the Castelo de Sao Jorge in the distance.

All in all we had a terrific time in Lisbon. A lovely city with many interesting sights.



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Photo Gallery: Lisbon




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Here are some additional photos of our visit to Lisbon.

At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
At a park along the waterfront we found these interesting benches before we went into the city itself.
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The 25 de Abril Bridge and our cruise ship as seen from the ramparts of the Castelo de Sao Jorge
The battlements of the Castelo.
The battlements of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
One of the turrets of the Castelo.
Another turret.
Another turret.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
Flags flying above the Castelo.
The battlements had narrow slits fro snipers to shoot through.
The battlements had narrow slits for snipers to shoot through.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Most of the buildings in Lisbon have red tile roofs.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Streets are narrow in parts of Lisbon.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Heading back to the Baixa district from the Castelo de Sao Jorge.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Statue of Pedro IV in Rossio Square.
Lisbon's Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
Lisbon’s Hard Rock Cafe. Seems every major city has one!
How sixties! The Hippie cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
How Sixties! The Hippie Cafe Convenient Store, its door flanked by two wooden figures
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
The Gloria Funicular Tram.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Looking back down towards the Baixa district.
Another carved figure.
Another carved figure, this one outside a bakery.
Lots of sidewalk cafes in Lisbon.
Lots of sidewalk cafés in Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.
A last panoramic view of Lisbon.




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