The decadence of Versailles

Versailles Travel Blog

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Monday we caught the train out to Château de Versailles. Versailles was spectacular. Beyond spectacular it was actually disgustingly decadent (it is estimated that the upkeep of Versailles before the Revolution consumed 25% of France’s annual income). Most of it was built by the Sun King Louis XIV (which now strikes me as a very odd phrase to use for someone who never actually did anything productive in their life, but was rather born into a position where they could force others to build what they wanted), and was even more decadent than you would expect from someone who, at the age of four, owned a set of silver soldiers and miniature gold cannons drawn by fleas made specifically for him by a famous goldsmith.

We explored the first gardens for hours, only later noticing that they were actually on the roof-top of one of the mansions and that the gardens stretched out as far as we could see. We walked on further and further and only found more gardens, each with exquisite sculptures, and more mansions. Each statue was a piece of art in itself, but there was simply too much to take in.

The fountains, each with an individual story book theme, pumped the water vigorously into the sky. Ironically enough, Louis XIV’s passion for large spurts to impress his friends lead to one of the only benefits he gave the French people - he commissioned Arnold de Ville and Rennequin Sualem in 1684 to design water pumps to push the Versailles fountains even higher, significantly (and inadvertently) advancing hydraulics.

We had a picnic by the Grand Canal. It struck me as similar to the srahs and barays of the Khmer God Kings, enormous bodies of water with the dead straight edge and right angles, except even the God Kings built barays to control the agricultural water flow, while the monarchs of France used it as a play ground.

How odd to consider the decadence of Paris considering it is now a city that constantly struck us as being moderate. We were always given small servings of excellent food, beer or wine is served with every meal, but no one drinks more than one. The city is designed around walking and the metro, giving an egalitarian feel of small boutiques and markets. And yet this is a city that in the Second Empire had a newspaper, the Naiade, printed on rubber so that the rich could read in their bathtub.

We finished our day back in Paris by walking around Palais de la Decouverte, having a secret walk through Place de I’Institut, seeing St Michel’s Fountains, and on a misguided quest to have a picnic. We went out at night to see the Eiffel Tower lit up, then back to well deserved napping.

We got up early the next morning to look out over the bridges on the Seine for one last glimpse of the tower, before flying to Finland for a relaxing evening watching people casually strolling around with smiles on their faces in the delightful Scandinavian summer night.
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photo by: EmyG