The vivid story of the creation, renovation, and enduring legacy of the most famous building in France: the palace of Versailles
Nothing represents the glorious and fraught history of France quite like the Palace of Versailles. Made famous by the absolutist king Louis XIV, Versailles became legendary for the splendor of its revels -- but then, after the Revolution of 1789, it fell into disrepute as a reminder of royal excess and abuse of power. Subsequent French governments struggled with how to handle the opulent palace and grounds -- should the site be memorialized, trivialized, rehabilitated, or even destroyed outright?
Drawing on a new wave of recent research, historian Colin Jones masterfully traces the evolution of Versailles as a space of royal politics and aristocratic pleasures, a building of mythic status, and one of the world's great tourist destinations. Accessible and compelling, this book is a must-read for all Francophiles.
Historian Jones (The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth-Century Paris) spins a captivating narrative about a town and building with humble beginnings that became inextricably linked with the sociopolitical trajectory of France. "Since its inception, the Versailles project had been centered on the person of the king; it depended on his playing the role set out by Louis XIV," Jones writes. But from their origins as a hunting lodge near a village windmill in 1623, building and settlement proved as adaptable as the political fates of France. Social mores and favor flowed from Versailles during the Bourbon monarchy (though different monarchs were more and less pleased about this) until the deaths of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution. Afterwards, Versailles became a chameleon, everything from decrepit money pit to national monument and the museum and tourist destination it is today. Particularly fascinating is the fact that each change in function was accompanied by a change in form and fortune for the town. Jones's tale requires the reader to have some knowledge of French history, but for history buffs and Francophiles this is an engaging, accessible look at the layers behind one of the most well-known places in France.