(This review was initially published on Reading Treasure.)
[I was provided a review copy of this book by the publisher upon request.]
"May readers understand that, behind the facades and the decors of the most beautiful palace in France, you can still sense the beating hearts of the men and women who once inhabited it and the history that unfolded there.
May they also understand that the palace is neither a dead site nor a placid memorial, but rather a living space which still aims to surprise and amaze visitors and fill them with wonder..."
So ends Jean-Jacques Aillagon's introduction to Secrets of Versailles: The Palace and Beyond by Nicolas Jacquet, a recent publication by Parigramme in partnership with the Chateau de Versailles. True to its title, the book is filled with secrets, surprises and tidbits about the history of Versailles and the people that once lived there.
There are about 200 or so entries in the book. The entries range from buildings to rooms to personal items and effects, such as the library of Madame du Barry, the last staircase ordered to be constructed by Louis XVI, and the "Treaty of Versailles" desk. Each entry also features one or more photographs of the place or item in question, a location for those who wish to visit and an asterisk (or double asterisk) to denote whether or not the entry is available for the public to see. Jacquet's writing is easily accessible in this English translations, and the photographs are well taken and printed nicely.
Some of the entries will be familiar to many, such as an entry for the Queen's village, while others are areas and items only available to those on private tours or not available to the public at all. My favorite entries were those offering those little secrets of life at Versailles, such as a view from the balcony at the Queen's House in the Petit Trianon, and the bathroom of the duchesse d'Angouleme during the Bourbon Restoration. Surprisingly, the book does not limit itself to the chateau of Versailles or its gardens, and extends its surprises to the city of Versailles, revealing many buildings and locations that are often ignored outright in many other books about Versailles. Those who might fear the book focuses solely on Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette need not worry, as the history discussed in the book ranges from Louis XIV all the way to the 20th century.
It's definitely a book I will keep in mind when I take my someday-soon trip to Versailles, and something I recommend for anyone interested in the history of the palace and the city, especially if you might be traveling there. I feel that knowing the history behind any location will make it all the more special. The human history behind locations can so often be lost when you're viewing them behind a computer screen or taking snapshots on a tour, but Secrets of Versailles really brings that history to the forefront, reminding us of the people and events that once passed through the city and palace of Versailles.