caption=Notre-Dame Church in the town centre of Versailles
mapcaption=Location (in red) within the Paris outer suburbs
canton=Chief town of 3 cantons:
maire=François de Mazières
du Grand Parc
alt moy=132 m
alt mini=103 m
alt maxi=180 m
date-sans=Jan. 1, 2005 estimate)
March 8, 1999census| dens=3,300
Versailles (pronounced|vɛʀsaj in French), formerly "de facto" capital of the kingdom of
France, is now a wealthy suburb of Parisand is still an important administrative and judicial center. The city ("commune") of Versailles, located in the western suburbs of Paris, 17.1 km (10.6 mi) from the center of Paris, is the "préfecture" (capital) of the Yvelines"département". The population of the city according to 2005 estimates was 86,400 inhabitants, down from a peak of 94,145 inhabitants in 1975. Versailles is made world-famous by the "Château de Versailles", from the forecourt of which the city has grown.
A seat of power
Versailles was the unofficial capital city of the kingdom of France from May 1682 (when King Louis XIV moved the court and government permanently to Versailles) until September 1715 (death of Louis XIV and regency, with the regent Philippe d'Orléans returning to
Paris), and then again from June 1722 (when Louis XV returned to Versailles permanently) to October 1789 (when Louis XVI was forced to move back to Paris by the people of Paris). During the entire period, Paris remained the official capital city of France, and the official royal palace was the Palace of the Louvre, but in practice government affairs were conducted from Versailles, and Versailles was regarded as the real capital city.
Versailles became again the unofficial capital city of France from March 1871 (when the French government took refuge in Versailles due to the insurrection of the
Paris Commune) until November 1879 (when the newly elected left-wing republicans relocated the government and parliament to Paris).
Versailles was made the "
préfecture" (capital) of the Seine-et-Oise"département" at its inception in March 1790 (Seine-et-Oise had approximately 100,400 inhabitants at its creation). By the 1960s, with the growth of the Paris suburbs, the Seine-et-Oise "département" had reached almost 3 million inhabitants and was deemed too large and ungovernable, and thus it was split into three "départements" in January 1968. Versailles was made the "préfecture" of the Yvelines"département", the largest chunk of the former Seine-et-Oise "département". At the 1999 census the Yvelines "département" had 1,354,304 inhabitants.
Versailles is the seat of a Roman Catholic
diocese(bishopric) which was created in 1790. The diocese of Versaillesis subordinate to the archdiocese of Paris.
In 1975 Versailles was made the seat of a
Court of Appealwhose jurisdiction covers the western suburbs of Paris.
Since 1972, Versailles has been the seat of one of France's 30 nationwide "académies" (districts) of the Ministry of National Education. The "académie de Versailles", the largest of France's 30 "académies" by its number of pupils and students, is in charge of supervising all the elementary schools and high schools of the western suburbs of Paris.
Versailles is also an important node for the French army, a tradition going back to the monarchy, with for instance the military camp of Satory and other institutions.
Versailles is located 17.1 km (10.6 miles) west-southwest from the center of Paris (as the crow flies). The city sits on an elevated plateau, 130 to 140 meters (425 to 460 ft) above sea-level (whereas the altitude of the center of Paris is only 33 m (108 ft) above sea level), surrounded by wooded hills: in the north the woods of Marly and Fausses-Reposes, and in the south the forests of Satory and
The city of Versailles (commune) has an area of 26.18 km² (10.11 sq mi, or 6,469
acres), which is a quarter of the area of the city of Paris. In 1999, the city of Versailles had a population density of 3,275/km² (8,481/sq mi), whereas the city of Paris had a density of 20,164/km² (52,225/sq mi).
Born out of the will of a king, the city has a rational and symmetrical grid of streets. For the standards of the 18th century, Versailles was a very modern European city. Versailles was used as a model for the building of
Washington DCby Pierre Charles L'Enfant
The name of Versailles appears for the first time in a medieval document dated A.D. 1038. In the feudal system of medieval France, the lords of Versailles came directly under the king of France, with no intermediary overlords between them and the king; yet they were not very important lords. In the end of the 11th century the village curled around a medieval castle and the Saint Julien church. Its farming activity and its location on the road from Paris to
Dreuxand Normandybrought prosperity to the village, culminating in the end of the 13th century, the so-called "century of Saint Louis", famous for the prosperity of northern France and the building of gothic cathedrals. The 14th century brought the Black Plagueand the Hundred Years' War, and with it death and destruction. At the end of the Hundred Years' War in the 15th century, the village started to recover, with a population of only 100 inhabitants.
In 1561, Martial de Loménie, secretary of state for finances under King Charles IX, became lord of Versailles. He obtained permission to establish four annual fairs and a weekly market on Thursdays. The population of Versailles was 500 inhabitants. Martial de Loménie was murdered during the
St. Bartholomew's Day massacre( August 24, 1572). In 1575 Albert de Gondi, a man from Florencewho had come to France along with Catherine de' Medici, bought the seigneury of Versailles.
Henceforth Versailles was the possession of the family of Gondi, a family of wealthy and influential parliamentarians at the "
Parlement" of Paris. Several times during the 1610s, the Gondi invited King Louis XIII to hunt in the large forests of Versailles. In 1622 the king became the owner of a piece of wood in Versailles for his private hunting. In 1624 he bought some land and ordered Philibert Le Roy to build there a small hunting "gentleman's chateau" of stone and red bricks with a slate roof.
This small manor was the site of the famous historical event called the Day of the Dupes, on
November 10, 1630, when the party of the queen mother was defeated and Richelieu was confirmed as prime minister. Eventually, in 1632, the king obtained the seigneury of Versailles altogether from the Gondi. The castle was enlarged between 1632 and 1634. At the death of Louis XIII in 1643 the village had 1,000 inhabitants.
King Louis XIV, his son, was only five years old. It was only 20 years later, in 1661, when Louis XIV commenced his personal reign, that the young king showed interest in Versailles. The idea of leaving Paris, where as a child he had experienced first-hand the insurrection of the
Fronde, had never left him. Louis XIV commissioned his architect Le Vauand his landscape architect Le Nôtre to transform the castle of his father, as well as the park, in order to accommodate the court. In 1678, after the Treaty of Nijmegen, the king decided that the court and the government would be established permanently in Versailles, which happened on May 6, 1682.
At the same time, a new city was emerging from the ground, resulting from an ingenious decree of the king dated
May 22, 1671, whereby the king authorized anyone to acquire a lot in the new city for free. There were only two conditions to acquire a lot: 1- a token tax of 5 shillings ("5 sols") per arpent of land should be paid every year (in 2005 US dollars, that's $0.03 per convert|1000|sqft|m2|abbr=on per year); 2- a house should be built on the lot according to the plans and models established by the "Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi" (architect in chief of the royal demesne). The plans provided for a city built symmetrically with respect to the Avenue de Paris (which starts from the entrance of the castle). The roofs of the buildings and houses of the new city were not to exceed the level of the Marble Courtyard, at the entrance of the castle (built above a hill dominating the city), so that the perspective from the windows of the castle would not be obstructed.
The old village and the Saint Julien church were destroyed to make room for buildings housing the administrative services managing the daily life in the castle. On both sides of the Avenue de Paris were built the Notre-Dame neighborhood and the Saint-Louis neighborhood, with new large churches, markets, aristocratic mansions, buildings all built in very homogeneous style according to the models established by the "Surintendant des Bâtiments du Roi". Versailles was a vast construction site for many years. Little by little came to Versailles all those who needed or desired to live close to the political power. At the death of the Sun King in 1715, the village of Versailles had turned into a city of approximately 30,000 inhabitants.
Louis XV and Louis XVI
When the court of King Louis XV returned to Versailles in 1722, the city had 24,000 inhabitants. With the reign of Louis XV, Versailles grew even further. Versailles was the capital of the most powerful kingdom of Europe, and the whole of Europe admired the new architecture and design trends coming from Versailles. Soon enough, the strict building rules decided under Louis XIV were not respected anymore, real estate speculation flourished, and the lots that had been given for free under Louis XIV were now on the market for hefty prices. By 1744 the population reached 37,000 inhabitants. The cityscape changed considerably under kings Louis XV and Louis XVI. Buildings were now taller. King Louis XV built a Ministry of War, a Ministry of Foreign Affairs (where the
Treaty of Paris (1783)ending the American Revolutionary Warwas signed in 1783 with the United Kingdom), and a Ministry of the Navy. By 1789 the population had reached 60,000 inhabitants, [fr_icon cite web |url=http://gallica.bnf.fr/document?O=N024666|title=Volume 31 (on page 882)|author= La Grande Encyclopédie|date=1902|accessdate=2007-06-20] and Versailles was now the seventh or eighth-largest city of France, and one of the largest cities of Europe.
Seat of the political power, Versailles naturally became the cradle of the
French Revolution. The Estates-General met in Versailles on May 5, 1789. The members of the Third Estatetook the Tennis Court Oathon June 20, 1789, and the National Constituent Assemblyabolished feudalismon August 4, 1789. Eventually, on October 5and 6, 1789, a throng from Paris invaded the castle and forced the royal family to move back to Paris. The National Constituent Assembly followed the king to Paris soon afterwards, and Versailles lost its role of capital city.
From then on, Versailles lost a good deal of its inhabitants. From 60,000, the population declined to 26,974 inhabitants in 1806.fr_icon cite web |url=http://cassini.ehess.fr/cassini/fr/html/fiche.php?select_resultat=39569|title=Versailles - Notice communale|author=Cassini Project|accessdate=2007-06-20] The castle, stripped of its furniture and ornaments during the Revolution, was left abandoned, with only
Napoleonbriefly staying one night there and then leaving the castle for good. King Louis-Philippesaved the castle from total ruin by transforming it into a National Museum dedicated to "all the glories of France" in 1837. Versailles had become a sort of Sleeping Beauty. It was a place of pilgrimage for those nostalgic of the old monarchy.
19th to 21st Century
Franco-Prussian Warof 1870 put Versailles in the limelight again. On January 18, 1871the victorious Germans proclaimed the king of Prussia, Wilhelm I, emperor of Germanyin the very Hall of Mirrors of the castle, in an attempt to take revenge for the conquests of Louis XIV two centuries earlier. Then in March of the same year, following the insurrection of the Paris Communethe French government under Thiersrelocated to Versailles, from where the insurrection was militarily quelled. The government and the French parliament stayed in Versailles after the quelling of the insurrection, and it was even thought for some time that the capital of France would be moved definitely to Versailles in order to avoid the revolutionary mood of Paris in the future.
Restoration of the monarchy was even almost realized in 1873 with
Henri, comte de Chambord. Versailles was again the political center of France, full of buzz and rumors, with its population briefly peaking at 61,686 in 1872, matching the record level of population reached on the eve of the French Revolution 83 years earlier. Eventually, however, as the left-wing republicans won elections after elections, the parties supporting a restoration of the monarchy were defeated and the new majority decided to relocate the government to Paris in November 1879, with Versailles experiencing a new population setback (48,324 inhabitants at the 1881 census). After that, Versailles was never again used as the capital city of France, but the presence of the French Parliament there in the 1870s left a vast hall built in one aisle of the palace which is still used by the French Parliament when it meets in Congress to amend the French Constitution.
It was not until 1911 that Versailles definitely recovered its level of population of 1789, with 60,458 inhabitants at the 1911 census. In 1919, at the end of the
First World War, Versailles was put in the limelight again as the various treaties ending the war were signed in the castle proper and in the Grand Trianon. After 1919, as the suburbs of Paris were ever expanding, Versailles was absorbed by the urban area of Paris and the city experienced a strong demographic and economic growth, turning it into a large suburban city of the metropolitan area of Paris. The role of Versailles as an administrative and judicial center has been reinforced in the 1960s and 1970s, and somehow Versailles has become the main centre of the western suburbs of Paris.
The centre of the town has kept its very bourgeois atmosphere, while more middle-class neighborhoods have developed around the train stations and in the outskirts of the city. Versailles is a chic suburb of Paris well linked with the center of Paris by several train lines. However, the city is extremely compartmented, divided by large avenues inherited from the monarchy which create the impression of several small cities ignoring each other. Versailles was never an industrial city, even though there are a few chemical and food processing plants. Essentially, Versailles is a place of services, such as public administration, tourism, business congresses, and festivals. Versailles is also an important military center, with several units and training schools headquartered at the
Satorycamp, where a military exhibition is organized annually. From 1951 until France's withdrawal from NATO unified command in 1966, nearby Rocquencourt was the site for SHAPE, and the famous 2nd Armored Division was headquartered there until 1999.
Versailles' primary cultural attraction is, of course, the Palace, with its ornately decorated rooms and historic significance. However, the town has other points of cultural notability; in recent times, its position as an affluent suburb of Paris has meant that it forms a part of the Paris artistic scene, and musical groups such as Phoenix, Air and
Daft Punkhave some link to the city Fact|date=June 2007, same for the famous music videos and films director Michel Gondry.
Versailles is served by Versailles – Chantiers station, which is an interchange station on Paris RER line C, on the
Transilien La Défensesuburban rail line, on the Transilien Paris – Montparnassesuburban rail line, and on several national rail lines, including low-frequency TGVservice.
Versailles is also served by two other stations on Paris RER line C: Versailles – Rive Gauche (the closest station to the
Palace of Versailles) and Porchefontaine.
Versailles is also served by two stations on the
Transilien Paris – Saint-Lazaresuburban rail line: Versailles – Rive Droite and Montreuil.
Finally, the Versailles Matelots station is limited to freight and military use.
* [http://www.versailles.fr Official website]
* [http://www.wikimapia.org/#y=48806637&x=2109461&z=13&l=0&m=a Wikimapia satellite view]
* [http://www.mairie-versailles.fr/newspage.php?id=1&pg=21&lg=eng City council website]
* [http://maps.google.com/maps?q=versailles,+france&ll=48.805733,2.118409&spn=0.015757,0.019855&t=k&hl=en Satellite Image of Versailles]
* [http://www.offrench.net/photos/gallery-8_location-84.php Palace of Versailles photos]
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