If you are prepared to be dazzled by the most luxurious room in all of history, you are ready to enter the Hall of Mirrors at the illustrious Palace of Versailles.
Amongst all the stunningly opulent halls at Versailles, it is the Hall of Mirrors that feels like you have stepped into a fairytale. Forget your humble and pitiful bedroom mirror, this hall boasts not merely one or two mirrors. Rather it is a mind-boggling 357 mirrors, each one gleaming with the reflection of dozens of tourists.
Because this is one of the most visited hotspots in Paris, where despite it all, reality blurs into a whimsical wonderland of glass and glitz.
It is a place where the grandeur of the French monarchy comes to life, while still playing an important role in the Republic of France and attracting visitors from around the world. So let’s explore the facts and history of the Hall of Mirrors, one of the most remarkable grand halls in the world.
So, grab your powdered wigs, dust off your monocles, and get ready to be blinded by the bling of the French monarchy. It’s time to reflect on the fabulous facts of the Hall of Mirrors! Allons-y!
1. The Hall was constructed between 1678-1684.
The Hall of Mirrors, or “Galerie des Glaces” as it is called in French is located in the heart of the Palace of Versailles.
It was designed by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart to create a space that exuded grandeur and showcased the wealth and power of the Sun King Louis XIV. As you can imagine, he liked to look at himself.
The construction of the Hall of Mirrors began in 1678 and was completed in 1684. It was the 3rd phase of construction at the Palace, which had originally started in 1631.
2. It is 73 meters long.
This magnificent room stretches an impressive 73 meters long, and its walls are adorned with a stunning display of seventeen mirrored arches opposite seventeen windows, allowing natural light to flood the space.
There was no electricity at the time, so large mirrors and windows were meant to bounce off the light. All the better to show off those fancy royal outfits!
3. The Mirrors symbolize luxury.
The mirrors that adorn the Hall of Mirrors are not mere decorative elements, but were meant to symbolize luxury. During the 17th century, mirrors were exceptionally valuable and considered a luxury item reserved for the elite.
Louis XIV was known as the Sun King as he associated himself with the sun in the center of it all. He was a monarch who took great pride in his image and the magnificence of his court.
By incorporating mirrors into the design of the Hall, the Sun King aimed to showcase his opulence and reinforce his status as the ultimate arbiter of taste and refinement.
Additionally, the mirrors served a practical purpose. With their strategic placement, they created an illusion of infinity, reflecting the natural light and multiplying the candlelight, thereby illuminating the room in a dazzling display of brilliance.
4. There are 357 mirrors in the Galerie des Glaces.
The Hall of Mirrors itself contains 357 mirrors. Creating the mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors was no small feat. At the time, Venice was renowned for its exceptional mirror production, and French craftsmen sought to replicate their techniques.
A skilled team of French artisans embarked on the challenging task of producing the mirrors, with the wrath of the Sun King hanging over them.
Each mirror pannel was meticulously positioned and fitted into the wooden frames of the arches, creating the symmetrical arrangement we marvel at today.
5. It faces the back gardens of Versailles.
The Hall of Mirrors is located on the first floor of the Palace of Versailles, just footsteps away from the King’s and Queen’s Grand Apartments. Rather than facing the front entrance of Versailles, the Hall of Mirrors faces the back.
The windows on one side of the Hall overlook the stunning Gardens of Versailles with its impressive fountains. This was intentional, providing a picturesque view of the landscaped grounds during events.
6. The ceiling is covered in paintings.
The ceiling of the Hall of Mirrors features 30 magnificent paintings by famed French artist Charles Le Brun, depicting significant events from the reign of Louis XIV.
The central scene is titled “The King rules by Himself”, highlighting the Sun King’s claim to absolute power in defiance of the Holy Roman Empire and Spain who on the opposite side of the same panel.
Other ceiling panels show Louis’s victories crossing the Rhine river and seizing Maastricht. These French victories depicted around the Hall of Mirrors would trigger later German reprisals making the Hall a flashpoint for French-German tensions.
7. The two rooms on either side are known as the War room and Peace room.
The Palace of Versailles was designed in a Baroque style, characterized by its ornate decorations, gilded moldings, and intricate ceiling paintings.
The rooms on either side of the Hall of Mirrors is known as the War room (Salon de Guerre) and Peace room (Salon de Paix). Both were constructed around the same time as the Hall of Mirrors.
8. It became a dance hall for royalty.
The Hall of Mirrors was originally meant to be a type of covered corridor for the Sun King Louis XIV’s visit to the nearby chapel. The king’s bedroom lay behind the middle wall of the gallery, so he regularly traversed this area.
As time passed, the Hall of Mirrors turned into a large hall to host lavish balls, diplomatic receptions, and sumptuous banquets for the French Royals. It was the stage for extravagant celebrations and events that showcased the opulence and prestige of the royal court.
9. The 1783 Treaties of Versailles in which the USA was recognized as an independent nation.
Since its construction, Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors has become a symbol of France as the location of many important events in world history.
One such event was the 1783 Treaties of Versailles where Britain conceded to France and Spain in a series of various treaties that included recognising the United States of America officially an independent nation. A separate treaty (the Peace of Paris) was signed with the United States.
10. It was ransacked during the 1789 French revolution.
During the French Revolution, the Palace of Versailles was ransacked and its treasures looted. The Hall of Mirrors suffered considerable damage, with many of its mirrors smashed and its ornate decorations defaced or destroyed.
The revolutionaries viewed the opulence of Versailles as a stark contrast to the dire conditions experienced by the French population, compared to the lives of Queen Marie-Antoinette and King Louis XVI.
They sought to eradicate these symbols of inequality. In addition to the physical damage, the Hall of Mirrors also became a site of political and revolutionary activity.
11. It became a hall for political discussions, before becoming a museum.
In 1789, the National Assembly, the governing body of the French Revolution, transferred its sessions to the Palace of Versailles. The Hall of Mirrors became a backdrop for intense political debates and discussions that would shape the course of the revolution.
Despite the challenges faced during the French Revolution, the Hall of Mirrors managed to survive. By the time Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor in 1804, the palace was in bad shape. Napoleon made the Château de Fontainebleau his base instead, distancing himself from the excesses of the previous royal house.
When the monarchy was restored in 1830 following Napoleon’s downfall, the new King Louis-Philippe started to restore the Hall of Mirrors and Versailles and turn it into a museum.
12. During the Franco-Prussian War it became a hospital.
The Prussian army turned the Palace of Versailles into its headquarters during the Siege of Paris in 1870, and turned the Hall of Mirrors into a hospital.
13. The 1st revenge: 1871 Treaty of Versailles and birth of the German Empire.
After Napoleon III was captured, Otto van Bismarck opted for an immediate truce rather than go after the French colonies as his primary reason for war was the German unification.
In 1871 the Treaty of Versailles was signed at the Hall of Mirrors in the Versailles Palace. With the victory of the Prussians, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was declared Kaiser of the newly created German empire and the newly annexed Alsace and Lorraine.
The Hall of Mirrors was chosen as Germany’s revenge for the wars and land annexations carried out by French Sun Louis XIV that the painted decorations illustrate.
14. The 2nd revenge: 1919 Treaty of Versailles to end World War I.
Over the centuries, the Hall of Mirrors has witnessed numerous significant historical events that shaped the destiny of nations.
One of the most notable events at the Hall of Mirrors was the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, which marked the end of World War I.
The treaty, signed in the very room that once symbolized the power of the French monarchy, would have far-reaching consequences for the world. France and her Western Allies insisted on the treaty at the site of the previous French humiliation: the Palace of Versailles.
The punitive measures in this Treaty against Germany led to the rise of the far-right movement and Hitler. Hitler would repeatedly use the humiliation at Versailles and the Hall of Mirrors in his campaign of propaganda and revenge.
15. It was boarded up during World War II.
Given its history, the Hall of Mirrors was known to be a target during World War II. As the war approached, Versailles’ curator, Pierre Ladoué took steps to protect the works.
Major artwork and woodwork pieces were removed from Versailles and sent to Sarthe and the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. The access to the Hall of Mirrors was walled up and much of its treasured hidden away.
When the German occupation arrived at the Palace of Versailles, the only personnel who were left in the area were the Chief Curator, his wife, and a disabled firefighter.
Thankfully the eye-for-an-eye cycle did not continue, and the surrender of Germany declaring the end of World War II was signed in Reims in France and not Versailles.
After the war, restoration would begin in earnest. These days the French government allocates an annual budget for continual restoration of the palace and the Hall of Mirrors.
16. It continues to serve as a government building.
Today, the Hall of Mirrors has been meticulously restored to its former glory. It stands as a testament to the grandeur and elegance of the past, while continuing to serve as a government building.
While the Hall of Mirrors is usually open to visitors from around the world, it is also often used for government functions such as state dinners, conferences, and other official events.
So when you step into this wondrous space, take a moment to immerse yourself in its beauty and imagine the scenes that once unfolded here in the Palace of Versailles. One can truly say that the Hall of Mirrors with its history, both glorious and tumultuous, has left an indelible mark on France and the world.
If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read more about the history of Paris. A bientôt!