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Historical town of Versailles

2013-08-08

versailles-1.jpgWho was in Paris and have not visited the Versailles caste, knows that he has to come back. Let’s go to Versailles, but this time not with the crowds of tourists. On the summer Sunday morning let’s opt for a better plan – calm streets of the old town, where except people heading for a Sunday church service, the streets are empty and with the facades of their buildings reveal the message of history.

At the beginning there was a castle, thanks to which Versailles became the capital of the French kingdom (although the historians argue if Versailles can be considered really as a capital) and in the 17th and 18th century the surroundings of the caste started to be covered by a town, the charm and history of which can be felt on each step. We discover the secrets and curiosities of history thanks to the professional explanations of our guide Marouane Ouled Amor, who is full of passion for history and inexhaustible source of knowledge.

Versailles town has two main parts. The old part St Louis with its welle preserved 18th century architecture and the newer part Notre-Dame built mainly in the 19th century. The king Louis XIV (1638-1715) had all the forest by the castle cut down so that the St Louis part of the town can be developed.versailles-2.jpg

Thanks to our guide, on each step we identify the characteristic feature of Versailles, the architectonic style of its houses. No building could not be higher than the castle (except the slim tower of the St Louis Cathedral). Part of the architectural rules, set in the 17th century by Louis XIV, was that the castle was constructed from the white stone and all the houses had to be built from bricks and stone. However, the problem was that the bricks were very expensive. A square constructed from the bricks cost a huge amount of money and that’s why often some fake methods were used. The houses were built from the millstone, then the walls were plastered and after painted with the imitation of bricks.

In the 18th century the window shutters were installed from the inside of the houses. Typical wood shutters as we know them today, started to be installed in the 19th century.
 
Historical pride of the St Louis part of the town is its old marker, known also as "les versailles-3.jpgcarrés de St Louis" ("the squares of St Louis"). This crossing of the streets rues Royale and d'Anjou is probably the most charming place of the old town of Versailles. Tiny houses, four ground buildings were built in 1737 with the purpose to give some more space to the merchants, in order to complete the shops of the Notre-Dame part. This market never got really developed. 20 years later the houses were used for living, an additional floor was constructed. Even today the houses have maintained their original aspect. In the past there were artists and merchants in these houses and even nowadays the town of Versailles orders that the ground floor of these historical dwellings have to be used for shops.
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Our sight is attracted by an impressive St Louis Cathedral with its architectural features typical for Central and Eastern Europe. Dome of the cathedral reminds the Central European architecture in honour of Maria Leszynska, wife of the king Louis XV. Cathedral from 1754, built in Jesuite style, for France quite baroque, soars up on the rectangular square, surrounded by the soft and fasades of the charming houses. Besides the charm of the whole square we find here two curiosities. A fontain from the 18th century and a statue of an abbot l’Abbé de l’Epée, who invented the first alphabet for earless and speechless and was a first teacher these people in Versailles. Under the rule of Louis XIV appeared the initial attempt of the Braille writing and first schools for blind were introduced.
 
Our steps on the pavement of the old Versailles are spiced up by the anecdotes of our guide. In his words even the Sun King becomes a common immortal, with his weaknesses. He had a professional taster who was responsible for tasting the food one hour before the king’s meal to be sure that it is not poisoned. However, it was not very attractive to look at the eating king. Since his teeth were very bad, they had to pull them out and since at that time the practice was quite rough, together with the teeth the “dentist” pulleversailles-5.jpgd out a piece of gum. Then they wanted to paste it with a hot coal and the result was the hole in the king’s mouth and when he was eating the food was getting out of his nose.
 
Louis XV was known to like women and in spite of the fact that he married the Polish Maria Leszczynska, whom he loved, the proof of this love were 9 children in 10 years, she got exhausted after all those deliveries and so the king started to look for mistresses. Among his mistresses was also Madame de Pompadour, who became his confident friend, and even more friend than a mistress. Madame de Pompadour tolerated him other women, if they were not too smart and intelligent. Louis XV is said to have been father of 65 children and he started in the family in which all four sisters were his mistresses.
 
By a soft ascent we approach slowly the castle by the street "rue de l’Indépendence Américaine". Louis XV and Louis XIV almost never visited Paris, and that’s why the ministries were built close to the castle. It is almost absurd to compare this small brick building of the former Ministry of Finances with the present Bercy complex in Paris. Almost hard to imagine that the finances of the richest kingdom in Europe were handled here. Today the plan is to use this historical building for a four starts luxury hotel. In the former building of the Ministry of Culture there was a huge collection of art, thousands of paintings that were not shown to the public and so the project came up to build Louvre. The Mona Lisa painting was for example the part of the François I’s bathroom. In the former building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs today there is a public library of Versailles, to which you enter by an amazing beautifully decorated gate. At this place was signed in 1783 the Versailles Treaty, approving the independence of thversailles-6.jpge United States of America and that’s why the name of the street is "rue de l’Indépendence américaine". We walk along the building of the Archives of the Ministry of War. The architect Berthier received a task to build two ministries, without a piece of a wood, so that they cannot be damaged by fire. When the king Louis XIV came to look at the construction, the architect on purpose put a fire on the roof. In spite of the fact that he risked the life of the king, the king was satisfied because the ministry did not burn, the fire did not spread out from the roof. The building was not damaged even during the revolution and today it still belongs to the army. In the small street the guide draws our attention to the building of the Ministry of the Post, from where the king’s messages were sent. After the reign of Louis XV a decision was taken that the king will live in Paris, that if the king is in Paris, there will be enough bread in Paris.
 
Our mind is full of history and past centuries and all of a sudden we find ourselves in a modern space with luversailles-7.jpgxury shops, in the square "La Cour des Senteurs" (Court of the Smells) and it is here that the guide reminds us that under the reign of Louis XIV the bath and wated were considered unhealthy and so the parfumes, creams and balms were flourishing. And right at this place, with the shop proposing the special Versailles parfume and Lenôtre macarons we learn that emptying the king’s potty was a big privilege and the potties were emptied by the window directly to the streets accompanyied by shouting "gare à l’eau" (attention on water!).
 
After the stroll in the quiet historical streets we are in front of the castle, which is located a bit higher than the rest of the Versailles town. We find out that the room of Louis XIV had the view on Paris, towards East, since he was the Sun King and the living of his horversailles-8.jpgses was more comfortable and luxurious than the living of many European kings. In front of the castlre there were two stables buildings, one big for horses used for hunting and one smaller for horses used for carriages. Anyone could enter the castle, provided that he was equipped with a hat and a sword. Hats and swords could be hired at the castle entrance.
 
Our Sunday morning comes to its end by a walk in the newer part of Versailles, the Notre-Dame part from the 19th century. A dominating point of this part is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, much smaller than the St Louis Cathedral, respecting the rule of the Versailles architecture, that it cannot be higher than the castle. Here all the royal births and marriages were registered.
 
The sightseeing of the hidden jewels of old Versailles ends at the busy market, reknown for the quality and freshness of its products, and also for its ambiance. Even many Parisians use to come here to "faire leur marché" (do their market shopping). The mversailles-9.jpgarket square is surrounded by numerous coffee plades and restaurants, each of them having its unique mood and meals offer. We stop by the year "cour de l'ancien Bailliage" - the past seat of the town administration and Justice palace, where was also a prison. At that time the prisoners had to pay for their cell, the poorest were in the cellar and had to pay for the straw on which they slept.
 
"When we understand beauty, we can enjoy and appreciate it even more", says our guide, who already as a 10 years old boy visited museums while his mother was taking a coffee and waiting for him. The beauty of Versailles, the historical town with 90 000 inhabitants, is a whole, when we understand more and more from its history, when we understand that the charm of its present mood and atmosphere has the roots in the times when Versailles was a capital of the Frenh Kingdom.
 
Versailles in the old French language meant "ground on which the bad weeds were taken out". Quite modest denomination for the town that even today reflects the glory of history and fame.
 
MDD, Paristep
 
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