As part of a commemorative event of 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s death, The Palace of Versailles relive the event “Napoleon at Versailles”. Experience the glorious times of the Empire et meet one of the most important figures in French history.
The French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed Napoleon’s contribution. Napoleon, a celebrated military genius, became an integral part of France’s legacy. Napoleon gave France its civil code and penal code, established the system of prefects, representatives of the state in each French territory, and lycees, or high schools, among other things.
Although Napoleon had always had plans to live at Versailles, that plan remained unfulfilled until his abdication. The Palace of Versailles was partially destroyed during the French Revolution, thanks to Napoleon’s reconstruction plan, the palace was largely restored during this period.
Château de Versailles Spectacles is joining in the commemorations of the bicentenary of Napoleon’s death and is offering the public three events centred on this major figure in French history. The Trianon Domain, designated by the illustrious emperor as one of his places of residence, is celebrating this Bicentenary with the largest historical re-enactment of the Napoleon commemorations.
The “Napoleon in Versailles -Great Imperial Army Days” weekend allow you to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a military camp ready to attack. The Great Imperial Army, restored for the occasion, introduce you to different military corps as the Infantry or the Cavalry, with the exceptional participation of the Republican Guard. You was able to share the glory of soldiers receiving a medal, join in the military chants or watch typical danses of the time.
Come and spend a memorable evening at the Empire Party, entertained by all the pomp and luxury of the the imperial nights, organized by Napoleon for his distinguished guests. Eventually, enter the Emperor’s intimacy discovering his hidden side as a lover of the arts and italian opera, with the brand-new CD+DVD from the discographic label, Giulietta e Romeo, and with the concert in tribute to Crescentini, Napoleon’s talented castrato, performed by the great Franco Fagioli.
Napoleon and Versailles
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself Emperor of the French, under the title Napoleon I. As the architect of France’s recovery following the Revolution, from the moment he took power, he dreamed of turning Versailles back into the privileged place of power it once was.
Not long after his accession to the throne, Napoleon Bonaparte set about tackling Versailles. He quickly commanded his architects to draw up plans for restoring the Palace, as well as the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon, where he intended to install his mother, Letizia Bonaparte, and his sister, Pauline – Princess Borghese.
From 1804, the Palace of Versailles, like the other former royal residences, became a residence of the Crown once more, under the management of the Emperor’s household, while the various other occupants of the premises were swiftly evicted. In 1810, he had windows installed in the arches of the peristyle at the Grand Trianon, in order to make his passage through it on the way from his apartments to those of the empress more comfortable.
Having enlisted various architects for the major job of reconstructing the Palace and handling the new arrangements, Napoleon hesitated. Pressed for a decision by his architects, he told them: “Just because Louis XV wasted a million pounds, doesn’t mean it’s OK to waste forty!”
1814 marked the end of the First French Empire. The period known as the “Restoration” was initially embodied by Louis XVIII, who wished to reconnect with the hereditary monarchy of his older brother, Louis XVI; but he soon gave up the Palace and abandoned Versailles, which subsequently went into a hibernation from which the king’s cousin, Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, was to retrieve it.
The “Citizen King” tried to distance himself from the monarchy and the Republic. Well aware of the political divisions that had riven France since 1789, Louis-Philippe wished to unite the French around a common cause and history. This is one of the reasons why he decided to transform the Palace – the former residence of the kings of France – into a museum dedicated “to all the glories of France”.
The Gallery of Battles is the perfect example of this: to the military victories of Clovis and Louis XIV were added those of Napoleon, including Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Wagram, etc. It was, in Louis-Philippe’s own words, a “magnificent summary of our military history”.
Among the works illustrating Napoleon’s great military feats were many that were expressly commissioned by Napoleon himself. In fact, the Emperor realised very early on the power of printed words and images in creating his legend. Indeed, official paintings were an excellent way of publicising his military victories.
Louis-Philippe, fascinated by the “iconic” Napoleon, set about creating historical galleries in honour of the former emperor; today, these are known as the Consulate and Empire Rooms.
Consulate and Empire Rooms
The Palace curators of the 20th century organised a long row of rooms, in the attics, in which was displayed, in chronological order, the history of France from the time of the French Revolution. Naturally, the First French Empire and its key figure, Napoleon I, took pride of place.
The Grand Trianon still bears traces of the imperial family’s presence: it’s where you’ll find the Empress’s apartment and the Emperor’s private chamber – Louis XIV’s former chamber, which Napoleon had redecorated to his taste.
Although the Grand Trianon was built for Louis XIV, most of the interior décor that remains is from Napoleon’s time, its living rooms still contain their First Empire furnishings, ordered to replace those of the Ancien Régime, which were sold during the Revolution.
On the ground floor of the South Wing of Palace of Versailles, the Consulate and Empire rooms still contain almost all of the paintings that were commissioned by Napoleon to glorify his own victories and later highlighted by Louis-Philippe.
On the first floor, on exiting the Queen’s Apartments, you come to the Coronation Chamber, and its huge canvases, which include the famous painting “Sacre” (“Coronation”), depicting, in particular, “the coronation of the Empress Josephine”. A few more steps take you into the majestic Gallery of Battles and its thirty-three paintings glorifying France’s military might.
The Palace attics, on the top floor, accommodate the small- and medium-size paintings depicting the history of the Revolution, the Consulate and the Empire.
Napoléon in Versailles – Great Imperial Army Days
For the Napoleon commemorations, the Château de Versailles is organising the largest historical reenactment of this Bicentenary, in the Estate of Trianon, where Napoleon had intended for his residence. Reconstruction of a large military camp extending over three meadows: Infantry, Staff and Cavalry. Representations of scenes from the daily life of a regiment, with military calls, public reading of period correspondence, etc.
400 reenactors in historical costumes, 60 Cavalry horses, the Garde Républicaine in equestrian show formation and in musical battery, bring to life the famous regiments of the Empire: Chasseurs and Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, Line Infantry, Light Infantry, Gendarmerie and Artillery, Cuirassiers, Dragons, Hussars, surrounding Napoleon and Prince Murat in his camp.
Troop reviews, firing of cannons, Infantry and Cavalry parades, the Carrousel of the Republican Guard’s Lances mark the two days in a profusion of colourful uniforms recreated with the greatest precision. Jena, Marengo and Austerlitz was displayed on the flags of the Revolutionary and Imperial armies commanded by Bonaparte.
This event was organised with the collaboration of the Maison Civile et Militaire Joachim Murat. Corps participating in the reenactment include: The Batterie Napoléonienne, the special formation of the 2nd Infantry Regiment of the Garde Républicaine, with drums; The Carrousel des Lances, special formation of the cavalry regiment of the Garde Républicaine. Military riding carousel in full service dress (helmet, sabre) evoking 19th century battles, to old military tunes.
Event highlights include: Military manoeuvres, artillery on horseback, demonstrations of military exercises on horseback, firing of cannon (blank) with more than forty horses; Review of the troops, presentation of medals; Alley of traditional trades and demonstrations of period dancing.
The public coming to the “Napoleon in Versailles” weekend walkaround the Gardens of the Grand Trianon to visit and enjoy unrestricted access to the military camps and historical representations, meeting passionate reenactors, who are highly specialised in the period.