In early July 2010 my daughter, granddaughter and I were holidaying in Paris and chose to spend a day exploring the Palace of Versailles and the amazing gardens. It was warm but wet when we alighted from the train so we donned our ponchos and went first to view the Palace in all of its splendour.
Europe’s quintessential royal residence was the principal home of French kings from Louis XIV to Louis XVI. In 1661, Louis XIV commissioned André Le Nôtre with the design and laying out of the gardens of Versailles which, in his view, were just as important as the Château. The works were undertaken at the same time as those for the palace and took forty years to complete. But André Le Nôtre did not work alone. The laying out of the gardens required enormous work. The King had every detail of the various projects submitted to him and wanted the “details of everything”. Vast amounts of earth had to be shifted to lay out the flower beds, the Orangerie, the fountains and the Canal, where previously there were only woods, grasslands and marshes. The earth was transported in wheelbarrows, the trees were conveyed by cart from all the provinces of France and thousands of men, sometimes whole regiments, took part in this vast enterprise.
In addition to the meticulously manicured lawns, parterres of flowers and sculptures are the fountains which are located throughout the garden. Dating from the time of Louis XIV and still using much of the same network of hydraulics as was used during the Ancien Régime, the fountains contribute to making the gardens of Versailles unique.
In 1979, the gardens along with the château were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, one of thirty-one such designations in France.
Since 1992, the gardens have been gradually replanted, and after the devastating storm of December 1999, the work sped up to such an extent that quite a few sections have been restored to their original appearance.
We explored for hours on foot (one on a rented bicycle for a time). The gardens are expansive, and the lavish residences are beyond what you can imagine. The Chateau, the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Estate are beautiful and full of history. Eight to ten million people walk in the gardens every year.