Versailles Castle was the official residence of the Kings of
France from 1682 until 1790 (French Revolution). It was originally
a hunting lodge, built in 1624, by Louis XIII. It was expanded by
Louis XIV beginning in 1669. He used it as a little lodge as a secret
refuge for his amorous trysts with the lovely Louise de la Valliere
and built a fairy tale park around it. Jules Hardouin Mansart, the
king's principal architect, drew the plans to enlarge what was turning
more and more into a palace from A Thousand and One Nights. The
terrace that overlooked the gardens was removed to make way for
the magnificent Hall of Mirrors, the Galarie de Glaces. It is here
from which the king radiated his power and where the destiny of
Europe was decided over a century. The French classical architecture
was complemented by extensive gardens.
As you approach the château, you pass through the Court des Ministres, paved with cobblestones. Here stands a statue of Louis XVI as he looks at a town which basically only existed to create houses for 20,000 noblemen, their servants and other members of the court who could find no room at the chateau containing 3,000 beds!
The Chateau proposes two itineraries; either a guided tour or not. Apart from the state apartments of the king and queen and the Galerie des Glaces (the Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end World War 1), which you can visit on your own, most of the palace can only be viewed in guided groups, and whose times are much more restricted.
There are over 600 fountains in the gardens, many designed by Le Brun and Mignard. The Seine river, several miles away, had to be diverted to keep water flowing in order to make the fountains work. The water rushed in and filled huge above-ground basins. The gravity pull is what kept the fountains running.
From 1661 and 1700, 250 acres of land were turned into intricate gardens and parks by Le Nôtre. The grounds are a perfect example of classic French formal gardens, (derived from the Italian design theory) adorned with marble, bronze and lead statues and fountains. The geometric flower beds, combined with fountains mix magically with the architecture of the palace. Beyond the formal gardens is the Petit Parc, and the Grand Parc providing an area for strolling or walking.