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Versailles

Versailles (vərsĪˈ, Fr. vĕrsĪˈ) [key], city (1990 pop. 91,029), capital of Yvelines dept., N central France. It was an insignificant rural hamlet when Louis XIII constructed a small retreat there in 1623. The village was soon made famous by Louis XIV, who expanded his father's work and built (mid-17th cent.) the palace and grounds that have become synonymous with the name Versailles. The growth of the town began in 1682, when Louis moved his court there. The huge structure, representing French classical style at its height, was the work of Louis Le Vau, J. H. Mansart, and Charles Le Brun. André Le Nôtre laid out the park and gardens, which are decorated with fountains, reservoirs, and sculptures by such artists as Antoine Coysevox. A huge machine was built at Marly-le-Roi to supply water for the fountains. The park contains two smaller palaces, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, as well as numerous temples, grottoes, and other decorative structures.

The scene of the beginnings of the French Revolution, Versailles never again became a royal residence (the Tuileries in Paris replaced it in this function); under Louis Philippe it became a national monument and museum. The palace was the scene of the proclamation of the German Empire (1871) and of the Third French Republic. Several important treaties were signed at Versailles, most notably the 1919 treaty ending World War I and establishing the League of Nations. Today Versailles is one of the greatest tourist centers in France. The palace serves as a residence for visiting foreign leaders. It was the site of a bombing by separatists in 1978, when one wing was damaged. The city has some industry, such as distilling and market gardening. It is a garrison town, with a military hospital and military schools.

See T. Spawforth, Versailles: A Biography of a Palace (2008).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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