An American Teen at Versailles

The delegations signing the Treaty of Versaill...

The delegations signing the Treaty of Versailles in the Hall of Mirrors. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

More on the “Blood and Guts” tour:

Modern times - ceiling in Hall of Mirrors

Another site that is high on the bucket list of Parisian must-see places is the Palace of Versailles. While visiting an enormous building filled with paintings and gilt furniture might not seem related to the theme of our family trip, it is the site of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which included the draconian reparations assessments against the Kaiser‘s Germany. The punishing terms of the treaties imposed on Germany at the close of World War I caused hyperinflation and severe economic hardships in Germany, which paved the way for Hitler’s rise to power. Indeed, overturning or ignoring the treaties was one of his main campaign promises. Since Travis, especially, is interested in World War II history, I thought this would be of interest.

The parts of the palace open to the public include rooms that the sovereigns used to meet their court, petitioners, foreign ministers, and other people who needed to see the monarchs in their administration of the government. The rooms are not decorated as they were during the years the palace was in use: during the French Revolution, peasants invaded and sacked the palace, carrying off furniture, paintings, curtains, and pretty much anything not permanently attached. The pieces now on display are either items that were eventually recovered, or items that are contemporary with the period of the Sun King. There are so many resources on the Web that describe the history and beauty of Versailles – I recommend you read up if you plan to visit, or if you are interested in European history.

Being teenaged boys, my kids found some of the trivia more interesting than the actual tour. For instance, this huge palace was built with no indoor sanitation facilities. Reports from the time speak of the intense stench of the combined sweat and bodily wastes of the 10,000+ people who would be on the grounds on any given day, especially during the hot Parisian summers. The stairwells were frequently used as toilets.

Richard and Travis give the Versailles Gardens a thumbs-up

Versailles is a nice day trip out of France. You can book a tour, usually a single person from a tour company that will drive a small group to the Palace, grab your tickets (the lines can be quite long during peak times), and perhaps secure you a set of headphones for the guided tour. However, it’s quite easy to get there on your own via the Metro and an RER train ride, and much cheaper.

The gardens of Versailles are spectacular. Forty years in the making, they stretch into the horizon and offer a great opportunity for walking, talking, thinking, and enjoying the beauty (something teens are interested in, either). I like to view the sculptures scattered throughout. Who carved these? How long did it take to make each piece?

More shots of the gardens:

My friends, on a later trip to Versailles (photo by GG 2009

Categories: Art, Family, Travel

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