A gate is a gate is a gate …

Or is it? Not, no, when it’s the gate of Versailles Palace. Three centuries ago – October 1789 – an angry mob of Parisians had torn the Palace’s gate down. Three months earlier, on July 14, they had already burnt down Paris’ Bastille Prison in what was the commencement of La Révolution Française. If you’ve […]

Or is it? Not, no, when it’s the gate of Versailles Palace.

Three centuries ago – October 1789 – an angry mob of Parisians had torn the
Palace’s gate down. Three months earlier, on July 14, they had already burnt down Paris’ Bastille Prison in what was the commencement of La Révolution Française. If you’ve ever been in Paris in summer you will know that if there is one thing a Parisian can’t handle it is a hot day; therefore on that particular July day tempers must have been very very bad. You only have to step on someone’s foot in a Metro train on a hot summer’s day to get a mouthful of merde alors in your face no matter how big your smile and how genuine your apologies are, to know what I mean.

Now, though, as France is preparing to celebrate the 219th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille, Versailles Palace’s gate is back in place. However, through this gate will never again a French monarch step. Only tourists will do so, and three million of these visit the chateau annually. (France is the most visited country in the world with 79.1 million visitors in 2006 – 2007 statistics are not yet available – who’d brought €28 billion ($42.9 billion / ₤22 million) into the state’s coffers.)

(Picture: The New Gate)

The new gate is a replica of the original Baroque-style gate designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in the 1680s. It took two years to construct and many more years had already gone into research and design; the original had disappeared during the Revolution. But, according to Frédéric Didier, Chief Architect of the Historic Monuments Commission, the replica is a fidèle restitution – an exact recreation – of the original. It weighs 15 tons/tonnes and 100,000 sheets of gold leaf were needed to cover the 262 feet (80 meters) of pure iron grills, fleur de lys, letters ‘l’ for Louis, crowns and Apollo masks. What did it cost to make? Only €5 million ($7.9 million / ₤4 million).

The gate is part of a 20-year restoration plan begun in 2003 under President Jacques Chirac and which will cost a total of €400 million ($786 million / ₤397 million). Part of the restoration work will be replacing the current electrical, heating and security systems and replacing the roof. If you think this is a mind-blowing sum of money, then, I’ll tell you that this is no quick redeco job done in a day like on television and the house owners going, “Oh my God! Vow! Oh my God! Vow!” on their return. No, it will take 20 years to do the royal pad up because Versailles Palace has 700 rooms, 2153 windows, 352 chimneys, 32 acres (13 hectares) of roof, 180 acres (800 hectares) of parks and gardens and 26 miles (42 kms) of pathways.

So where will the money for the restoration come from? Fortunately from private donors, many of them Americans.

Why do I say fortunately?

A while back – when I’d only recently arrived in France – I asked a French friend why the French were so proud of their 1789 Revolution. They had, after all, chopped the heads off of their monarch and his wife, not even to mention all the others who had been guillotined during the Terror. I was told that by ending the monarchy, France had given the world democracy.

Today, I think, so France certainly has done! Therefore, for the French state, in other words, the French people, and people who live here and pay their Income Tax here – like me – to have to pay for the work will be a great insult to democracy.

Vive la France! Vive la République!

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

2 Responses

7-6-2008 at 13:38:00

I visited Versailles many years ago, it was the first time I had seen son et lumière which was fascinating. However, I was very disappointed in the lack of furnishings which presumably the revolutionaries stripped at the time. Its a fantastic palace though and well worth preserving. The Russians who also had a revolution are spending millions on restoring their palaces. Not heard that anyone else is contributing.

7-6-2008 at 13:49:00

While I certainly don’t agree that the French gave the world democracy, I’m certainly glad that Versailles is being restored for all the world to share! I’d love to see it but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get to France. You must keep posting lovely pics like this so I can pretend:-)

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Should you wish to contact me you can do so by email: marilyn@marilynztomlins.com