CHAPTER II. THE MAKING OF VERSAILLES
And the miracles were wrought, one after another - all by order of the King. On the site of the park a great terrace was bordered by a parterre in the shape of a half-moon, where a waterfall was later installed. A long promenade, now called the Allee Royale, extended to a vast basin named the Lake of Apollo. Streamlets were diverted to feed fountains. Twelve hundred and fifty orange trees were transported from the fallen estate of Vaux to fill the long arcades of the orangery.
In the midst of the activities of masons, carpenters, gardeners, the King was dominant, directing minute details - the laying of floors, the hanging of draperies, the installation of art works in the chapel. The restive master of the estate was impatient to enjoy his creation, and to invite his Court there to celebrate its completion with fetes both brilliant and costly. Colbert wrote in a letter dated September, 1663, of the beauty of the chateau's adornments - its Chinese filigree of gold and silver.
"Never," he swore, "had China itself seen so many examples of this work together - nor had all Italy seen so many flowers." Colbert suffered, but the King found royal satisfaction. The splendid scene of the Sun King must be set - the people had to pay. It was Colbert's affair to finance it.
The King commanded a series of fetes to be arranged. For eight days every diversion appropriate to the autumn season was enjoyed by the royal family and all the Court. Every day there were balls, ballets, comedies, concerts, promenades, hunts. Moliere and his troupe were commanded to appear in a new piece called "Impromptu de Versailles."
Colbert regretted the absorption of his sovereign in Versailles, "to the neglect of the Louvre - assuredly the most superb palace in the world." Louis tolerantly gave ear and inspected the Louvre, but to the building of Versailles he devoted all his enthusiasm.
The appearance of the villa erected by Louis XIII had been vastly altered as to its roofs, chimneys, facades. In 1665 the court was ornamented by the placing of the pedestals and busts that still surround it. In addition to the main edifice, the King gave orders for the building of small dwellings to be occupied by favorites of his entourage, and by musicians, actors and cooks. Three broad tree-lined avenues were laid out and the highway to Paris - the Cours-la-Reine - commenced. Already Versailles took on a more imposing aspect than ancient Fontainebleau. Workmen were constantly busy with the building of reservoirs, the laying of sod, the planting of labyrinths, hedges, secret paths and bosky retreats, with the setting out of hundreds of trees brought from Normandy, and the seeding of flower gardens of surpassing beauty. Ponds, fountains, grottoes, waterfalls and straying brooks came into being at the command of the ambitious young ruler. At some distance from the chateau courts and cages were constructed to shelter rare birds and animals. It was designed that this should be "the most splendid palace of animals in the world." The King decided the details of building and decoration and supervised the installation of the furred and feathered tenants of the palatial menagerie. This was the enclosure so greatly admired by La Fontaine, Racine and Boileau, during a visit to Versailles in 1668.
The first epoch of the construction of Louis XIV coincided with the first sculptural decoration of Versailles. A great number of works of art were ordered for the adornment of the walks and gardens. Many statues and busts of mythological subjects that were made at Rome to the order of Fouquet, after models by Nicolas Poussin, were removed from Vaux to Versailles. That was a thriving period for sculptors of France and adjacent countries. Records faithfully kept by Colbert detail expenditures of thousands of pounds of the nation's money for bronze vases, stone figures of nymphs and dryads and dancing fauns that were placed among the trees and fountains of Versailles. Much of the ornamental sculpture ordered at this time disappeared from the royal domain, as Louis XIV constantly demanded the work of the newest artists and all the novelties of the moment.
By the year 1668 Versailles apparently approached completion. It had then been seven years in building. But in 1669 the general character of the chateau was again changed. In the embellishments proposed by Le Vau, the architect, the royal domain became the scene of renewed activity, engendered by the King, then just turned thirty years of age, and eager to achieve still greater improvements at Versailles to mark the increasing prosperity of his reign. Half-finished buildings were demolished and begun anew. Immense structures arose, and once again artists flocked to Versailles. Inside the palace and in the park they wrought an elaborate scheme of decoration that made this the most sumptuous dwelling of the monarchy. In the words of Madame Scudery, an annalist of that epoch, Versailles, under the new orders of the King, became "incomparably more beautiful." Another Versailles was born; at the same time there was created a town on the vast acres purchased by the King, in the midst of which three great avenues were built, converging toward the chateau. In addition to the enlargement and improvement of the palace, the King ordered the erection of houses for the use of Colbert, now superintendent of the royal buildings, and for the officers of the Chancellery. From this time he interested himself particularly in the advancement of the infant town; he bought the village of "Old Versailles" and made liberal grants of land to individuals who agreed to build houses there. Opposite the chateau arose the mansions of illustrious nobles of the Court.