Palace of Versailles To Welcome King Charles III on Historic State Visit 

The British monarch’s official visit to France will include a banquet at the iconic palace and a visit to Bordeaux.

AP/Christophe Ena, file
Visitors enjoy the Chateau de Versailles gardens, outside Paris, on July 15, 2023. AP/Christophe Ena, file

Vive le roi … d’Angleterre, that is. This week, France will be rolling out the red carpet for King Charles III’s state visit at one of its most magnifique of monuments: the Palace of Versailles, which is being celebrated for its 400th anniversary.

Charles and Queen Camilla’s three-day trip to Paris and Bordeaux, starting Wednesday, will include a grand dinner at Versailles in the presence of more than 150 guests in the Hall of Mirrors.

The visit underscores Britain’s aim to bolster ties with its closest European neighbor after years of sometimes prickly relations strained by Brexit and disagreements over the growing number of migrants crossing the English Channel on small boats.

“The state visit will celebrate Britain’s relationship with France, marking our shared histories, culture and values,” the deputy private secretary to the king, Chris Fitzgerald, said.

It comes as the Palace of Versailles just opened to the public the gallery that retraces its history, from its creation as a modest hunting lodge in 1623 to becoming the site of many of last century’s key diplomatic events — including the visits of Charles’s predecessors.

President Macron’s office said Wednesday’s dinner echoes the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1972, when she was greeted at the Palace by President Pompidou. King Charles liked the idea of following in his mother’s footsteps, according to Mr. Macron’s office.

The new king had intended to make France the scene of his first overseas visit in tribute to his close relationship with Mr. Macron, forged through their shared focus on protecting the environment and fighting climate change. That honor went to Germany when Charles canceled a planned two-nation European tour as protests over Mr. Macron’s plans to raise the retirement age escalated into riots.

Yet officials on both sides of the Channel hope that the delay will make it possible to stage the pomp and ceremony of a state visit in the spirit of celebration rather than siege.

The trip will begin with a service of remembrance and wreath laying at the Arc de Triomphe at Paris to mark “the shared sacrifices of the past and an enduring legacy of cooperation.’’

Later, Charles will meet with members of the national assembly and the French senate, providing a new venue for the king to show off his language skills after he wowed his audience by switching seamlessly between German and English during a speech to Germany’s parliament, the Bundestag, in March.

The trip will also include a black-tie state dinner at the Palace of Versailles and a stop in Bordeaux, home to a large British community. The king will meet emergency workers and communities affected by the 2022 wildfires in the area and visit the Forêt Experimentale, or experimental forest, a project designed to monitor the impact of climate on urban woodlands.

Usually filled with a chaotic crowd of photo-snapping tourists from across the world, the Hall of Mirrors will be closed to visitors Wednesday to get prepared for the royal banquet. 

Charles’s visit will mark one more date in the palace’s long history, starting from King Louis XIII and running through the French revolution and all the way to modern times. It is being presented on its ground floor in the newly opened gallery of the history of the palace.

The gallery has 11 rooms, each thematic and largely chronological, presenting more than 120 works aimed at providing visitors from across the world an immediate understanding of the complex history of the palace.

It brings together recently acquired works alongside paintings and art pieces that for many years had gone unseen as they’d been in reserve and others that are now repositioned and better enhanced.

The director of the National Museum of the Palace of Versailles and Trianon, Laurent Salomé, said the exhibit features a number of masterpieces.

“Our intention was to create a first great moment of pleasure for visitors. First of all, because they’ve traveled a lot. For a long time, they’ve dreamed of Versailles. We didn’t want to give them a boring lesson to start their visit,” he said.

Some pieces of work come from the original version of the palace and its gardens under its great builder Louis XIV, who decided to expand his father’s hunting lodge.

It’s “a history made by not just one monarch, it’s also an enormous team of artists — and the greatest artists. A good thing about absolute monarchy is to be able to gather all the best people at the same place,” Monsieur Salomé stressed.

Today the lavish palace contains 2,300 rooms spread over 679,784 square feet.

In the gallery of history’s last rooms, visitors can see the famous desk where the 1919 Treaty of Versailles was signed that formally ended World War I, as well as photos and video archives of heads of states and royalties honored at the palace during the 20th century.

The New York Sun

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