Versailles: Beyond the château and gardens

La Galerie des Sculptures et des Moulages (The Gallery of Sculptures and Casts). It’s hard to believe the spectacular venue was a stable and arena for horses!

[I’m still committed to blogging our three-weeks in New Zealand (Fall 2022), but decided that I wouldn’t let that stop me from posting about our current year in Paris when the mood hits me.]

The town of Versailles is an easy Métro/RER ride from our apartment and we love heading out there just to wander the extensive château gardens, especially on days when the château is closed so that the crowds are thinned. Recently, though, we headed to Versailles on a Sunday to the Galerie des Carrosses (Gallery of Carriages), a place I’d been wanting to visit, but that is only open on weekends. Housed in former royal stables known as La Grande Ecurie, the Grande Ecurie along with nearby La Petite Ecurie were built for Louis XIV between 1679-1682. Located just across from the main entrance to the palace of Versailles, they comprised the largest, most extravagant stables ever built. Since the Galerie des Carrosses is only open on weekends, we got a chance to check out the masses of tourists at the château across the way. Wow. And no thank you. I’ve visited the château many times over the years so feel lucky not to have to brave a mob like that. Still, it is one of the top tourist sites in the world and absolutely worth a visit, even in a crowd. But, back to Versailles beyond the château :

The Galerie des Carrosses houses a free exhibit of elaborate carriages, coaches, sleds and chair sedans from the 18th and 19th centuries. A line of carriages running the length of the first long hall were originally built for the coronation of Napoleon I in 1804, but remodeled over the years for various events including his marriage to Empress Marie-Louise, the marriage of Napoleon III and finally, in 1856, the baptism of Napoleon III’s son. The carriages are elaborate, some even sporting life-like teams of horses in full equestrian regalia. It was interesting to see how the carriages were cherished and updated over decades. The interiors are lavish and well-preserved.

From top left, clockwise: The Grand Ecurie from the outside, the berline-style carriage
used for the baptism of the Duc de Bordeaux, the funeral hearse of Louis XVIII,
and the interior of the above berline

The gem of the collection is a wildly ornate golden carriage weighing four tons and originally commissioned by Louis XVIII. Once again, it was remodeled over the years and bears eagles and a large “N” evidencing its later use under Napoleon III.

Near the golden carriage is a collection of whimsical royal sleds used during the reigns of Louis XIV through Louis XVI. The elaborately-decorated sleds are in varying fantastical shapes including a leopard, a mermaid and a tortoise. The final treasure of the Galerie des Carrosses is the funeral hearse of Louis XVIII. This hearse is the only royal carriage of its kind still in existence in France.

Since the château gardens of Versailles were not free on this gorgeous April day due to the start of the seasonal fountain and musical shows there, we headed to yet another free exhibit, La Galerie des Sculptures et des Moulages (The Gallery of Sculptures and Casts) housed in Le Petit Ecurie (The Small Stable). The Gallery of Sculptures and Casts is an overwhelming treasure of marble sculptures from the palace of Versailles and plaster casts from the Louvre of sculptures ranging throughout antiquity. The setting is magnificent, with the central domed former equestrian arena now housing soaring columns and enormous statuary [see lead photo above].

La Galerie des Sculptures et des Moulages (The Gallery of Sculptures and Casts)

Finally on sculpture overload, it was time to check out the Versailles Market. We found it bustling on a sunny Sunday. Occupying L-shaped buildings and the wide Notre-Dame Plaza in between, the market is the second largest in France and dates to the time of Louis XIV (17th century). The buildings that comprise the Marché Notre-Dame house mostly meats, fish and prepared foods (not at all aligned with the old signs above the arched doorways) while the open-air market boasts a wide array of produce, spices, foodstuffs, clothing and more.

The Versailles Market

The indoor Marché Notre-Dame is open 7am-7:30pm every day but Monday (closing at 2pm on Sunday) while the open-air market takes place Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 7am-2pm. The market sits in the middle of old Versailles surrounded by charming narrow streets dotted with restaurants, bars, cafés and shops. We couldn’t resist a sunny table and an afternoon snack of cold Belgian beer and a plate of fries before making the short walk to the RER train station for the 30+-minute ride back to Paris.

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