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6.7.08

In the King's Grill

As reported in 2006, the curators of the Château de Versailles decided to recast the grille royale, a fence that used to separate the king's part of the courtyard from the common area. Designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, this barrier created a sort of royal clôture, a space set apart. Not surprisingly, for reasons both practical and symbolic, it was removed and melted down during the Revolution. The conclusion of the work was announced for the end of 2007, but it was just completed, as reported in Le Figaro (Versailles retrouve sa grille royale, July 1) by Marie-Douce Albert (my translation):

It required several years of study and two years of work to transform 15 tons of iron and 100,000 gold leaves into fleurs-de-lys, many points, masks of Apollo, and crowns. And let us not forget the scrolling capital L's representing the sign of Louis XIV. This golden lace forms the fence that formerly enclosed the royal courtyard of the château of Versailles. More precisely, the detailed enclosure, whose central gate was unveiled yesterday morning, again separates the different courtyards leading to the residence of the Sun-King. [...]

While some question the decision to recreate it, it was decided to restore this fence, notably to allow the monument to reorganize the flow of its millions of visitors. "And this great work returns all of the symbolic force of that space in front of the château," notes Jean-Jacques Aillagon, the president of the organization. "Versailles was the residence of a king, and the entire arrangement was intended to demonstrate that one was coming near to his sacred person." Adorned with this gold, the royal courtyard thus recovers its rank as a holy of holies.
The financing, some 5 million euros, was partially provided by the company Monnoyeur. The official dedication of the new space is scheduled for July 8. This raises all sorts of questions: do the French really want to bring back Versailles as it was? Isn't this akin to what Viollet-le-Duc did to Notre Dame de Paris and other monuments, destroying the actual building, or what's left of it, to "recreate" a historian's approximation of what it may have -- or even should have -- been at one point in history? Discuss.

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