Administrative centre of the département of Yvelines in northern France, situated 18 km/11 mi southwest of Paris; population (2001 est) 83,900. From 1678 Versailles was the principal residence of the kings of France until 1793, and the seat of government from 1682 to 1789.
Versailles is first mentioned in a charter dated 1038. At this time Versailles was a small village, surrounding a castle and the church of St Julien. It was located in a strategic position, on the road from Paris to Dreux and Normandy. However, the Hundred Years' War took its toll on the relative prosperity of the city and at the end of the 14th century the village had a population of approximately 100. In 1561, the adviser to the king became lord of Versailles, the Gondi family took control of his estate in 1575. Louis XIII bought land in Versailles in 1622, and began work on the chateau. In 1632 he acquired the lordship of Versailles and proceeded to enlarge the chateau in the years 1632–34. At the time of his death in1643, Versailles had a population of approximately 1,000. In 1662, Louis XIV resumed work on the chateau. In order to encourage members of the nobility and royal court to move with him to Versailles he offered land at low and highly favourable rates. The village of Versailles was quickly transformed. Water and sewage systems and road works were paid for by the king, while street lighting and cleaning were the responsibility of the town's inhabitants. The centre of Versailles was separated by a trident of roads and aristocratic mansions were built along them. Despite careful planning, the development outstripped local infrastructure. In 1744 the population increased from 24,000 to 37,000. The royal court departed from Versailles for Paris in 1789. The population dropped from 50,000 in 1790 to 28,000 in 1824. For most of the 19th century Versailles was a tourist location. The town was revived with the arrival of the steam train in 1839. Population increased once again, and in 1870, the French government ruled from Versailles.
The chateau of Versailles was originally designed by the architect Louis Le Vau, much of the interior decoration was the work of baroque artist Charles Le Brun, and the gardens were landscape gardener André Le Nôtre. In 1678 the palace was extended with the construction of north and south wings by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who also built Le Grand Trianon palace. Le Petit Trianon, the favourite residence of Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, was designed by Jacques Gabriel. The palace of Versailles became a national museum under Louis Philippe. The famous halls and salons of Versailles have been the scene of many historic events: Britain's recognition of the independence of the American colonies (1783); the capitulation of Paris (1871) during the Franco-Prussian War; the proclamation of Wilhelm I of Prussia as emperor of a united Germany (1871); and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919) at the end of World War I.
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