Today, Versailles is a gorgeous estate just outside of Paris. The sprawling Palace holds some 2,300 rooms inside, and outside it’s surrounded by seemingly endless gardens. This Palace today is far from modest, but it began as a simple hunting lodge in what used to be an area of wilderness.
Versailles before the Sun King
That wilderness was full of pheasants and boars, and being so near to Paris made it a convenient hunting ground for royalty. Louis XIII was particularly fond of the area, and in 1623 built a simple lodge there. Eight years later, he laid the grounds that his son would eventually build Versailles from.
His son’s first visit to Versailles was in October of 1641. Little Louis was three years old, and was there to escape a smallpox outbreak back home. Years later, he returned to hunt, and fell in love with the place.
He became king at the age of four, and was nine when civil war broke out. This conflict is known as Le Fronde. The nobles and the Paris Parliament (a powerful court of law) rose against the crown, led by Prime Minister Jules Cardinal Mazarin.
Louis suffered greatly from this rebellion, and never forgave the nobles for their betrayal.
In 1663, Mazarin won power, and took young Louis as his pupil. Louis never disputed Mazarin’s power, and even shared his passion for the arts.
Rise of the Sun King
After Mazarin’s death, Louis XIV seized power. Not just the power of a king, all the power there was to be had. Louis claimed to be God’s representative on Earth, and anyone against him automatically became a sinner. This notion of a divine dictator was his own, and was a break in tradition of monarchs at the time. And with this new style of ruling, he was incredibly successful. He managed every little detail of France, from its courts to its troops. Louis began to call himself the Sun King, because everything in France revolved around him.
He even managed to subdue the nobility with a clever trick. This same nobility had previously been quite unruly. They had started eleven civil wars over the past four decades.
Louis was also a great patron of writers and the arts, and built many monuments throughout France, Versailles among them. Major renovations took place in 1661, and Versailles transformed from a lodge to a grand venue for parties and entertainment. Then in 1682, it became the main residence of the French government and court.
The Sun King has long since reached the height of his power and his inevitable fall, but Versailles still stands in all its glory. It is no longer a center of government, but for a while it stood as a museum to the glory of France, and since 1979, has been listed as a World Heritage site.