Friday, December 31, 2010

Supporting Wikipedia

Support Wikipedia
As anyone who has been reading the Compleat Traveller on a regular basis will know, I make extensive use of what I truly believe is the best online resource for researching the historical facts and information which I incorporate into my blog posts.

That resource is Wikipedia.

The fact that this resource is provided free to all is a great testament to the value of the internet in the 21st century. Millions of people around the world visit the Wikipedia site every day to research, browse, read, and just as importantly to add new content to the site.

Personally, I think my blog posts would be far less interesting without the addition of historical information to help put my musings and observations into some sort of context. Without the history, they would merely be the casual ramblings of a traveler passing through a city or landscape noting things of interest without understanding the history behind the construction of a particular building or monument, or why certain events happened when they did.

I enjoy the research, and I especially enjoy learning more about the many places I have visited or I am planning to visit. I also like the challenge of incorporating what I hope are some of the more interesting historical tidbits into my writing. In deed, there is rarely a day when I don’t check the Wikipedia site for information about any number of topics, and it’s an ever rarer day when I have come up short and not been able to find information on what I’ve been looking for.

Started in 2001, the main Wikipedia site is written in English, and currently contains over 3.5 million articles. However other language versions of Wikipedia are available and while they do not yet contain the same number of articles, they provide an incredible resource to non-English speaking users.

Wikipedia is hosted by the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization that also hosts a range of other projects. These include a free media repository (Commons); Wikinews, free-content news; Wiktionary, a Dictionary and thesaurus; Wikiquote, a collection of quotations; Wikibooks, a great resource of free textbooks and manuals, Wikisource, a free-content library; Wikispecies, a directory of species; and Wikiversity, which provides free learning materials and activities.

That’s why have I decided to add one more blog post to the final day of 2010. Because Wikipedia is wrapping up a fundraising drive aimed at raising $16 million to fund the ongoing work of the foundation behind the website, and having just made a AU$100 donation to the foundation, I thought I should bring the fundraising drive to your attention, dear reader.

If you too, have made use of Wikipedia during the year, or if you have enjoyed the historical background information I’ve used in my posts, I would encourage you to head on over to Wikipedia and make a donation of your own. It will be greatly appreciated.

Friday Photos: Tuileries Garden

Image: A grove of trees stripped bare of the summer cover in the Tuileries Garden, Paris

In July 2009 I introduced a regular Friday Photo ‘section’ to the Compleat Traveller, but for reasons I no longer remember, I stopped making regular updates (the last photo appeared in November of that year). However, since I have thousands of photographs waiting to see the light of day, I have decided to reinstitute the Friday Photo section with this post.

Image: Time to ponder

Yesterday, I wrote about the Tuileries Garden in Paris, and thought I’d add some extra photographs here for your viewing pleasure.

Image: Slowly melting ice/snow slips towards the edge of this café tabletop

Image: A murder of crows looking for food

You can see larger versions of these photographs and many others through my Flickr page here… or click here to watch a full screen slide show of all my photographs…

More Information

PS: You can find previous Friday Photos by using the search box at the top left of the page.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jardin des Tuileries, Paris

Image: The Tuileries Garden, Paris: a stark winter landscape of bare trees, and light snow

During my visit to Paris earlier this month, I spent some time walking through parts of the massive Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden).

I say ‘parts of’ deliberately, because like many locations in Paris – the Louvre, Palace of Versailles, Musée d’Orsay, and other popular attractions – you need a lot more than a few hours to explore and appreciate these historic sites. The Tuileries Garden is wonderful to experience on cold winter days, when the snow covers the ground, your breath hangs in the freezing air, and most of the trees in the garden have shed their leaves and their dark, rain soaked trunks and branches stand out starkly against the frigid landscape.

The Tuileries Garden seen from the west- the Fer à cheval (horseshoe), Grand Bassin Octagonal, and the Grande Allée ending at the Louvre [Source: Wikipedia… ]

The Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden), is a public garden located between the Louvre Museum and the Place de la Concorde. Created by Marie de Medicis as the garden of the Tuileries Palace in 1564, it was first opened to the public in 1667, and became a public park after the French Revolution. Since then it has become the place where Parisians come to promenade, meet, celebrate, and relax.

The garden’s name comes from workshops called tuileries, which used to exist on the current site, and which made tiles for the roofs of Paris’s buildings.

Image: Winter colours of the Tuileries Garden, Paris

The Garden of Catherine de Medicis

In July 1559, after the death of her husband, Henry II, Queen Catherine de Medicis decided to move from her residence near the Bastille, to the Louvre Palace, along with her son, the new King, François II. While there she decided to build a new palace for herself, separate from the Louvre, with a garden modeled after the gardens of her native Florence.

The garden of Catherine de Medicis was an enclosed space five hundred meters long and three hundred meters wide, separated from the new chateau by a lane. It was divided into rectangular compartments by six alleys, and the sections were planted with lawns, flower beds, and small clusters of five trees, called Quinconces; and, more practically, with kitchen gardens and vineyards.

The Tuileries was the largest and most beautiful garden in Paris at the time, and Catherine used it for lavish royal festivities honoring ambassadors from the Queen of England, and the marriage of her daughter, Marguerite de Valois, to the future Henry IV.

Tuileries Garden of Le Nôtre in 17th century, looking west toward the future Champs Elysees, Engraving by Perelle. [Source: Wikipedia… ]

And so it went. One Monarch after another overseeing the planting of hedges, hundreds of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants, landscaping and reshaping the grounds, adding sculptures here, water features and fountains there, as well as vast terraces and a Grand Allée – rivaled only by the 1500 metre Grand Allée at the Palace of Versailles.

Following the deaths of Catherine de Medicis and her successors, the Kings, Henry III and IV, responsibility for the upkeep and maintenance of the garden fell to that other great line of kings, King Louis XIII (13th), XIV, XV and then King Louis XVI (16th), until finally the French Revolution of October, 1789 brought a stop to the whole circus – for a while at least.

Image: Evergreen shrubs in the Tuileries Garden, Paris

The French Revolution and Beyond

On October 6, 1789, as the French Revolution began, King Louis XVI was brought from Versailles to the Tuileries Palace. He was subsequently found guilty of high treason for his part in the insurrection of August 10th, 1792, and executed by guillotine in January 1793.

When Napoleon Bonaparte (who was about to become Emperor), moved into the Tuileries Palace in February, 1800, he began making improvements to the gardens and the cycle of building, landscaping, plantings and so on began all over again. Eventually, the long suffering citizens of France and Paris had had enough, and following the fall of Napoleon, and the subsequent reigns of the Kings, Charles X and Louis-Philippe, and the Emperor, Louis Napoleon, the whole imperial edifice of the French Republic was brought to the ground by the uprising of the Paris Commune in 1870.

When the army arrived and fought to recapture the city, the Communards deliberately burned the Tuileries Palace, and tried to burn the Louvre as well. The ruins of the Tuileries Palace were not torn down until 1883, and the empty site of the palace, between the two pavilions of the Louvre, became part of the Tuileries Garden you see today.

Image: Footprints in the snow: Tuileries Garden, Paris

More Information

As always, my indispensable source of historical information continues to be Wikipedia. Read more about the Jardin des Tuileries here…


You can see more of my photographs of the Jardin Des Tuileries via my Flickr page here... Or see all my Flickr images by following this link...

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Virtual Sistine Chapel

Image: The Hand of God giving life to Adam

the Sistine Chapel (Cappella Sistina in Italian) is the best-known chapel in the Apostolic Palace, the official residence of the Pope in Vatican City. The chapel takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who restored the old Cappella Magna between 1477 and 1480. Since the time of Sixtus IV, the chapel has served as a place of both religious and functionary papal activity. Today it is the site of the Papal conclave, the process by which a new Pope is selected. It is also the site of some of the worlds most famous frescoes.

The frescoes of the Sistine Chapel were created by great Renaissance artists of whom Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini, and Sandro Botticelli are the best known. Under the patronage of Pope Julius II, Michelangelo painted 12,000 square feet (1,100 m2) of the chapel ceiling between 1508 and 1512. It is said that he resented the commission, believing his work only served the Pope's need for grandeur. However, today the ceiling, and especially The Last Judgment, are widely believed to be Michelangelo's crowning achievements in painting.

Following a ten year (1984-1994) restoration project the Sistine Chapel and the stunning frescoes adorning its walls and ceilings are one of the major attractions at The Vatican.

Image: Who’s who and what’s where on the Sistine Chapel walls and ceilings. Source: Wikipedia…

I have never actually visited the Sistine Chapel myself, although it is on my ‘bucket list’, but when a friend sent me a link which allowed me to visit the Chapel from the comfort of my Greek island accommodations, I had no hesitation making the instant journey to Italy to exam the frescoes up close without the risk of straining my neck or putting my back out.

And now you too can visit the Sistine Chapel by clicking on this link…

To view every part of Michelangelo's masterpiece just click and drag your arrow in the direction you wish to see. Alternatively, you can also use the four direction keys on your keyboard to look up, down or turn around within the virtual Chapel.

You can also use the Shift key to zoom in closer and the Ctrl key to zoom out.

Use the image plan above to look for specific sections within the frescoes.


More Information:

The Official Vatican website...

Wikipedia: the Sistine Chapel…

Wikipedia: the Sistine Chapel Ceiling…

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Notre-Dame Cathedral

Image: Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Notre-Dame de Paris, also known as Notre-Dame Cathedral, is a Gothic, Catholic cathedral on the eastern half of the Île de la Cité (City Island). Notre-Dame is widely considered one of the finest examples of French Gothic architecture in France and in Europe. The name Notre-Dame means "Our Lady" in French, and is frequently used in the names of Catholic church buildings in French speaking countries.

During my nine day stay in Paris, I went to Notre-Dame Cathedral on four occasions, not because I’m Catholic, and not because I am religious in the usual sense of the word, but because I am fascinated by the design and construction of large structures that in many ways excite my imagination and sense of wonder. And Notre-Dame Cathedral certainly does that, as did the Eiffel Tower.

Construction of Notre-Dame began in 1163, during the reign of Louis VII, under the guidance of Bishop Maurice de Sully, then Bishop of Paris. The cathedral was effectively complete by around 1345 – meaning construction continued for a period of almost 200 years.

Two hundred years! I can’t even imagine a construction project lasting that length of time, and can’t help wondering how many stonemasons, carpenters, architects, designers and other people might have spent their whole working lives engaged in the construction of Notre-Dame.

Image: Choir members take a bow following a Cathedral recital

The position of "head" or "chief" organist at Notre-Dame is considered one of the most prestigious organist posts in France. I don’t know if the current chief organist was at the pedal board during one of my visits to the cathedral but the organs 7,800 pipes (900 of which are classified as historical), were pumping out a sound guaranteed to bring down the walls of any modern Jericho if need be.

Organ recitals are held on a regular basis at Notre-Dame, and I imagine they are well attended. A detailed program of events can be found on the official website for the cathedral, so if you are planning a visit, check the site to see if you can fit in a concert performance of any type. The organ is also used during Mass, so if your visit coincides with one of the numerous services taking place at the cathedral, you may have an opportunity to hear the organ in full ‘voice’ then as well.

Image: Exterior side view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

The cathedral was not as I imagined it to be. From the outside it doesn’t look all that large or dare I say it, spectacular, but once inside it is clear just how high the roof rises above the floor. One can only marvel at the workmanship that went into building Notre-Dame Cathedral, and shake their head in awe at the challenges the builders and designers must have faced during the construction phase.

Notre-Dame de Paris was one of the first Gothic cathedrals, and it was among the first buildings in the world to use the flying buttress (arched exterior supports). The building was not originally designed to include the flying buttresses around the choir and nave, but after construction began and the thinner walls (popularized in the Gothic style) grew ever higher, stress fractures began to occur as the walls pushed outward. In response, the cathedral's architects built supports around the outside walls, and later additions continued the pattern. [Source: Wikipedia… ]

Image: Intricate stone columns helping to support Notre-Dame’s roof

As you might imagine, many historic events have taken place under the roof of Notre-Dame Cathedral over the course of almost 800 years, including the crowning of Henry VI of England as King of France (1431); the marriage’s of James V of Scotland to Madeleine of France (1537): and the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to the Dauphin François in 1558 (later François II of France); and the coronation ceremony of Napoléon I and his wife Joséphine, on 2 December 1804.

The Coronation was the subject of the monumental painting by Jacques-Louis David (1807), now hanging in the Louvre Museum, Paris. A painting I saw (along with several other massive Jacques-Louis David paintings),during my visit to the Louvre.

Image: The Coronation of Napoléon I, now hanging in the Louvre, Paris

One more interesting historical moment of note occurred in 1239, when The Crown of Thorns that was said to have been worn by Jesus, was placed in the cathedral where it is obviously one of Notre-Dame’s most treasured historical artifacts.

Unfortunately, The Crown of Thorns is not on display in The Treasury, a section of the cathedral displaying numerous historical objects and artifacts from the cathedral’s long history. A fee of three euros applies for visitors wanting to enter the Treasury, and while the collection is not exactly awe inspiring, it does give visitors something else to see and do during their visit to the cathedral, apart from just wandering through the main building.

An additional fee of eight euros will get you into the bell tower, where good views of Paris may be had, although to be honest, I didn’t bother joining the long line waiting to climb the several hundred steps required to complete that journey.

Image: Interior view of Notre-Dame Cathedral

Catholic Church First – Tourist Attraction Second

Non-Catholics who visit the Cathedral should at all times remember that Notre-Dame de Paris is a working Catholic church first and foremost, and a tourist attraction second. Therefore, your visit is likely to coincide with one of the numerous daily services that take place Monday to Saturday, and especially during one of at least seven services taking place every Sunday.

Remember too, that even if no Mass is taking place, members of the Catholic church will almost certainly be attending confession during your visit, or trying to spend time in quiet reflection, prayer, meditation or some other aspect of the Catholic faith. It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway), that your visit should be as quiet and as unobtrusive as possible – which may seem like an all but impossible request given the hundreds of visitors passing through the Cathedral’s doors every hour.

Image: Parishioner deep in contemplation at Notre-Dame Cathedral

Because Notre-Dame de Paris is a working church, entry to the building is free, although as noted, there are fees for visiting the Treasury (three euros) and for climbing the bell tower (eight euros). However, I would encourage visitors to make a donation at one of the numerous collection points placed throughout the cathedral to help maintain this magnificent building. I’m sure your donation will be greatly appreciated.

I enjoyed each of my four visits to the cathedral, especially when they coincided with one of the daily services. It was during these visits that I had an opportunity to hear the massive organ, as well as to enjoy the singing of the choir and soloists during Mass. A truly sublime sound, whether or not you are of the Catholic faith, another religion, or even of no religious persuasion.

You can see more of my Notre-Dame Cathedral images here at my Flickr page…

Monday, December 27, 2010

Grecian Blues

Image: Patriotic Blues

I’ve had a long, happy association with the colour blue. From my teen years when I actually looked halfway decent in a pair of blue denim jeans – to the blue t-shirts I still like to wear, the colour blue continues to feature prominently in my wardrobe.

One of the things I’ve been doing on Ikaria and to a lesser extent on the mainland is taking photographs of interesting settings which feature the colour blue. Greece has pretty much laid claim to a particular hue of the colour blue you see on the national flag. The colour is literally everywhere. On buses, door and window frames, and prominent in Greek architecture. For some reason or other, I seem to have noticed the colour a lot more during this trip than on previous visits.

The name I have given to this collection of images – some of which you can see here – is Grecian Blues.

Image: Recycled Blues

The colour seems to be especially popular on prefabricated window shutters and door frames, but I have also seen it used to highlight features on churches, fences, packaging materials and more. I’ve not seen such a wide use of one particular colour anywhere else in the world, although I’ve got no doubts examples exist. The Greeks though seem to have adopted blue as the national colour, if such a thing seems possible.

Image: Church Blues

Etymology and definitions: The modern English word blue comes from Middle English bleu or blewe, which in turn comes from Old French bleu, bleve, blöe, which are themselves of Germanic origin. [Source: Wikipedia... ]

Speaking of etymology, it would seem that Australians are the only nation that refer to red-haired men by the nickname, ‘Bluey’ or ‘Blue’. I’m not sure if there is a definitive answer for why we do this, but I did find one possible explanation online:

The term stems from the Victorian Goldfields in the 1860s. A large number of Irish folk immigrated to try their luck. A fair number of these folk were red headed men who quickly gained a reputation for their fondness of liquor, and fighting. So much so that on the occasion of a red headed Irishman passing by, the comment was often passed, "there goes a blue", i.e. a potential fight. This of course was stretched to "bluey" and also explains why women with red hair are not called ‘Blue’. [Source: Answer Bag… ]

Which only raises another question – why are fights or arguments referred to as ‘blues’? But let’s leave that one for another day, before I become completely sidetracked.

Image: Graffiti Blues

Some common connotations and associations for the color blue: ice, water, sky, sadness, winter, royalty, boys, cold, calm, magic, trueness, conservatism (universally), liberalism (in the USA), and capitalism.

Okay, getting all fetishistic about the colour blue might seem like a strange thing to be doing, given all the other options I have available to me, but I have become quite taken with the colour and its many uses and applications in Greece and on the island. Originally, I was only going to use one shade or hue of blue, but were just too many options and alternatives to that, so I have taken photographs of a wide range of objects and scenery. Even garden water pipes!

Image: Gardeners Blues

In the English language, blue may refer to the feeling of sadness [as in], "He was feeling blue". This is because blue was related to rain, or storms, and in Greek mythology, the god Zeus would make rain when he was sad (crying), and a storm when he was angry. Kyanos was a name used in Ancient Greek to refer to dark blue tile (in English it means blue-green or cyan). The phrase "feeling blue" is linked also to a custom among many old deepwater sailing ships. If the ship lost the captain or any of the officers during its voyage, she would fly blue flags and have a blue band painted along her entire hull when returning to home port. [Source: Wikepedia… ]

Ancient Greek apparently lacked a word for blue and Homer called the colour of the sea "wine dark", except that – as noted above – the word kyanos (cyan) was used for dark blue enamel. Blue is commonly used in the Western hemisphere to symbolize the male gender in contrast to pink which is used for females. And I’m sure most, if not all readers will be aware of the musical genre commonly referred to as the blues.

Image: Parking Blues


Back in 2009, Britain's Daily Telegraph in an article titled, Blue light 'makes you happy', reported on a study which showed that: "Despite the colour's gloomy connotations, exposure to blue light can increase confidence and boost happiness levels..."

The article goes on to say, "Researchers exposed a group of volunteers to a range of colours and lights. They found that blue and green made male subjects feel happier, while blue, purple and orange did the same for women." Also, "Blue and red improved confidence levels among men, while blue and purple were best in this respect for women…"

Interestingly, once I started on the project, I was amazed at just how widely used the colour was. Even garbage bags come in the colour.

Image: Yamaha Blues

Alternative therapies have their own take on the colour blue. In metaphysics blue is the color of truth, serenity and harmony, and helps to soothe the mind. According to the Crystal Links website: "It is good for cooling, calming, reconstructing and protecting." It is also good for "...raising frequency," whatever that means.

Holistically, "Blue is associated with the throat chakra, which deals with willpower and communication." The Holistic Online site also adds that "Blue is a calming color, good for curing insomnia. It can be used for throat problems, asthma, stress, and migraine, and it is good for improving verbal skills."

Image: Bedroom Blues

Shades of blue

Among the 52 types of blue listed on Wikipedia’s List of Colors page are Azure, Baby blue, Bleu de France, Bondi blue, Brandeis blue, Carolina blue, Ceil, Cerulean, Cobalt blue, Deep sky blue, Egyptian blue, Electric blue, Glaucous Han blue, Iceberg, Indigo, Majorelle Blue, Maya blue, Midnight blue, Palatinate blue, Periwinkle, Prussian blue, Sapphire, Sky blue, Steel blue, Teal and Ultramarine.

Oh, and then of course there is just plain, Blue.

Read more about the color blue here… (go on, you know you want to).

Yes, friends, it may be labouring the point, but there are a lot more images like these in my portfolio. If you are interested in checking them out head on over to my Flickr page and take a look. Or click here to launch a slideshow of all the images in my Flickr gallery.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Top of The Tower Views

The Champ de Mars stretches out into the distance from the feet of the Eiffel Tower. The Champ de Mars is a large public green space, located in between the Eiffel Tower to the northwest and the École Militaire (Military School) to the southeast. The park is named after the Campus Martius ("Mars Field") in Rome, a tribute to the Roman god of war. The name also alludes to the fact that the lawns here were formerly used as drilling and marching grounds by the French military. [Source: Wikipedia... ]

Two views of The Trocadéro, and the Palais de Chaillot, an area across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. The hill of the Trocadéro is the hill of Chaillot, a former village. For the Exposition Internationale of 1937, the old Palais du Trocadéro was demolished and replaced by the Palais de Chaillot which now tops the hill. Like the old palais, the palais de Chaillot features two wings shaped to form a wide arc, however, unlike the old palais, the wings are independent buildings and there is no central element to connect them: instead, a wide esplanade leaves an open view from the place du Trocadéro to the Eiffel Tower and beyond. [Source: Wikipedia... ]
Left Bank view. The large building in the middle of the image is Les Invalides at Avenue du Maréchal Gallieni. Officially known as L'Hôtel national des Invalides (The National Residence of the Invalids), Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France, as well as a hospital and a retirement home for war veterans, the building's original purpose. Les Invalides also serves as the burial site for some of France's war heroes, notably Napoleon Bonaparte. [Source: Wikipedia... ]

Eglise du Sacré Coeur (Church of The Sacred Heart), Avenue Paul Vaillant-Couturier, 94250, Gentilly. Standing at a height of over 60 meters, the Church of The Sacred Heart, was built in 1936. Originally, the church was to be part of the City International University which is directly opposite, but it has now been cut off from the University by the A6a highway. Today, the church is mostly frequented by the large Portuguese community who live in the area and who have made Paris their home. [Source: The Evene France website… ]

Not a bad photo considering I took the shot from the top of the Eiffel Tower, and the church is between five and six kilometers from the Tower as the crow flies. If you go back and look at the previous image, the church is the pale triangular smudge at the top right of the skyline!

Another view of the Les Invalides complex.



A couple of general views of Paris in the near vicinity of the Eiffel Tower. Note the dark triangular shadow of the Tower (pointing due East) in the lower left of the photograph immediately above. The late afternoon sun causes the shadow to reach out hundreds of yards across the River Seine.

After more than 30 years of waiting (see previous entry The Eiffel Tower – A Promise Kept). I am delighted to have finally visited this iconic structure and happy too, to have had the chance to see Paris from the unique perspective provided by the Tower. If you ever have the opportunity to make the trip to the top, I can highly recommend the experience – and the views.


Finally, for the technically minded, all photographs were taken with my Canon PowerShot SX20 IS, and enhanced using Photoshop Elements 4.0.

Click here to see these Parisian photographs and other travel images on my Flickr page…

Friday, December 24, 2010

Palace of Versailles Gardens

Image: Plan of the chateau of Versailles and the gardens dating from 1746, by the Abbé Delagrive, geographer of the city of Paris.

The gardens of Versailles cover 800 hectares. I don’t know who has the job of counting them, but according to Wikipedia which uses the official Château de Versailles website as its source, there are 200,000 trees on site, and 210,000 flowers are planted annually, as well as 50 fountains spraying 620 jets of water into the air. The surface area of the Grand Canal covers 23 ha., and if you want to walk the perimeter of the Grand Canal, you should be prepared for a stroll of over 5.5 km.

However, none of these facts and figures really capture the overwhelming size and scope of the grounds surrounding the main Palace building, and as I wrote in my last entry Viva la Revolution, it is while walking around these grounds and gardens that the grandeur of Versailles really overpowers you and hits home.

I spent a couple of hours walking through the grounds on a freezing winter afternoon, with the snow crunching underfoot, and a low mist hanging over the long allies and landscaped gardens. It was hard to believe that the hustle and bustle of metropolitan Paris with its 12 million inhabitants lay sprawling around the site.

The gardens of Versailles occupy part of what was once the Domaine royal de Versailles. Situated to the west of the palace, the gardens cover some 800 hectares of land, much of which is landscaped in the classic French Garden style perfected here by André Le Nôtre. In addition to the meticulous manicured lawns, beds of flowers and sculptures, are the fountains which are located throughout the garden. Dating from the time of Louis XIV and still using much of the same network of hydraulics as was used during the Ancien Régime, the fountains contribute to making the gardens of Versailles unique. In 1979, the gardens along with the château were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List, and are one of the most visited public sites in France, receiving more than six million visitors a year. [Source: Wikipedia...]

Where the main building was packed with a constant stream of visitors filing dutifully through grand halls, past royal bedchambers, and room after room filled with a priceless paintings, sculptures and other objects, the gardens were almost devoid of people or the constant presence of security personnel and other staff. I felt as if I had the whole garden complex to myself, and rarely saw or heard anyone else as I wandered down long allies, exploring side paths and small alcoves, while discovering just a small part of this incredible place.

Image: Bosquet de la Salle de Bal, Versailles

The World English Dictionary defines a bosquet as: (noun) a clump of small trees or bushes; thicket

The Salle de Bal (ballroom?) bosquet was designed and built between 1681–1683. It features a semi-circular cascade that forms the backdrop for this ‘green hall’. Interspersed with gilt lead flares, which supported candelabra for illumination, the Salle de Bal was inaugurated in 1683 by Louis XIV’s son, the Grand Dauphin, with a dance party.

Image: The frozen over Bacchus Fountain in the gardens of Versailles


The Bacchus Fountain (also called the Autumn fountain), is one of four fountains dedicated to the seasons and can be found near the Royal Walk. Bacchus, a figure of Roman mythology is said to have taught the cultivation of the vine throughout the world. He is regarded as the god of wine and drunkenness, and in this sculpture he is surrounded by small satyrs, half child and half goat.

It wasn’t until I reached the Grand Canal that I encountered people in numbers, and even then, there were nowhere near the numbers one might expect to see on a warm summer day at the height of the tourist season.

Image: Allie du Roy (the King’s Alley), one of many that crisscross Palace grounds and gardens

Image: The 1,500 metre long Grand Canal disappears into the distance

It was Louis XIII who began the program to layout the gardens of Versailles in the 1630s, and it was Claude Mollet and Hilaire Masson who designed the gardens, which remained relatively unchanged until the expansion ordered under Louis XIV in the 1660s. With the aid of the architect Louis Le Vau, the painter Le Brun, and landscape architect André Le Nôtre, Louis began an embellishment and expansion program at Versailles that would keep him occupied for the remainder of his reign – as it would successive kings and rulers.

Like many of the most famous locations around Paris, you need at least two days – and preferably three – to explore the Palace of Versailles and surrounding gardens with any type of thoroughness. I was there for less than a day and never saw any of The Grand Trianon or anything of Marie-Antoinette’s estate. I missed most of the copses and groves, fountains and open-air salons, the King’s Garden, the Apollo Baths, the Ornamental Lake of The Dragon, and many other locations large and small as well as dozens of sculptures that had been covered over to protect them from the harsh winter elements.

Image: the statue of Apollo (in the Grand Canal) trying to break out of encroaching ice!

One could of course, make a good argument for leveling the whole site and turning the acreage into cheap public housing for those that need it most, but then people might forget the reasons for the French Revolution: the poverty and hunger; the near financial bankruptcy of the Crown following France’s involvement in the Seven Years War and its participation in the American Revolutionary War; and the perception by many French people that the Royal Court at Versailles was isolated from, and indifferent to the hardships they were facing. These are just a few of the reasons behind the upheaval leading to the revolution of 1789.

As I said in my previous entry on Versailles, I can’t think of any modern political leaders who wouldn’t love to be able to bask in the glory and opulence of a Palace like Versailles. Which is why the Palace of Versailles should be maintained and kept open to the public and visitors from all over the world – to remind them that absolute power, corrupts absolutely. And to remind them that if they are not vigilant the power elite will happily create their own versions of Versailles.

You may be thinking: But they are doing that anyway, and it is true, they are. Saddam Hussein had palaces to spare. The former Shah of Iran had his own grand palaces before he was thrown out by the Iranian revolution of 1979. No doubt, Kim Jong-il of North Korea is happily sheltered from the hungry eyes of ordinary North Koreans in one of his many citadels. President Ferdinand Marcos and his shoe fetishist wife Imelda had their own versions of Versailles amongst the poverty and corruption of the Philippines before Corazon ’Corey’ Aquino led the People Power revolution in the 1980s, that finally brought an end to their indulgences. And so it goes on.

But I say again, that is exactly why the Palace of Versailles should stay. To remind the French and the thousands of people who visit the site, that not only should they remain vigilant, but also to give them hope that together they can challenge the power elites that govern them, and that they can make a difference.

More Information

All of the factual historical information used in this and my previous entry about the Palace of Versailles is drawn from two internet sites; the Official Palace of Versailles website… and numerous pages on Wikipedia (that wonderful and indispensable online knowledge base), including the Gardens of Versailles page…

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