The Palace of Versailles, a famous world heritage site listed by UNESCO since 1979, is at the same time a royal residence, a museum of the history of France created by Louis-Philippe and a national palace that has played host to the French Parliament in Congress. Besides its three historic residences - the Palace, the Grand Trianon and the Petit Trianon - the estate of Versailles boasts a large Baroque garden designed by André Le Nôtre with groves and fountains, the gardens of Trianon and Marie-Antoinette’s Hamlet, a wooded park located beyond the Grand Canal, and more recently the estate of Marly since 2009. Stretching out over more than 800 hectares, the estate of Versailles welcomes over 10 million French and foreign visitors each year who all come to admire the collections composed of over 60,000 works including paintings, furniture, ancient books, drawings, sculptures, prints, objets d’art and coaches. The former royal residence is a textbook in its own right of the history of France from the 17th century to the present day, and is a symbol of French art de vivre and the taste and skills of excellence. Forever anchored in the present thanks to the importance it places on creation (programme of shows, contemporary art exhibitions, promoting artistic craftsmen and women etc.), the Palace of Versailles’s reputation continues to spread across the world.
During the French Ancien régime, the royal stables were organised into two sections: the King's Great and Small stables. Gems of classical French architecture, this pair of buildings was built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart between 1679 and 1682, prior to the move of the French Court and government to Versailles. It was the largest royal construction project ever undertaken for housing horses. Their exceptional location alone, opposite the Palace, shows the role of horses in the representation of power during the Ancien Régime.
The buildings are laid out in an original horse-shoe design, organised around five courtyards: the side wings were given over to personnel, while the central part with its huge vaulted galleries was for horses. At the heart of each set of buildings lay the arena, which was rectangular at the Great Stables and circular at the Small Stables.
The names of the buildings come not from their size, but from their use. To the north, the Great Stables were under the authority of the Grand Equerry of France, referred to as 'Monsieur le Grand', and housed the perfectly trained steeds for hunting and warfare. To the South, the Small Stables were headed by the First Equerry, referred to as 'Monsieur le Premier', and were home to the horses for ordinary uses and coach horses. In principle,the Grand Equerry commanded all the stables and stud farms, but the First Equerry always had difficulty accepting this subordination. Between these two eminent figures there was never ending rivalry.
The stables were one of the most important departments of the Maison du Roi. They were a constant hive of activity with almost 1,000 men working there: squires, coachmen, masters of hounds, postilions, footmen, lads, stablemen, blacksmiths, chaplains, musicians, horse surgeons, the pages' school…
The galleries housed hundred of horses from all over the world, ordered by breed and coat colour. Spanish, Arabian and Persian horses were used for parades and carrousels, English horses for hunting, while the coach horses came from Poland, Denmark or Prussia. The stables of Versailles amazed visitors by the height of their vaults, the thickness of the walls and their stone paving. The horses were stabled in a single row in the Great Stables and in a double row in the Small Stables, separated only by wooden rails to allow a magnificent, unobstructed view along the building and for the well being of the horses themselves.
The King’s Great Stables, where the Jumping will take place, houses today the gallery of coaches and the national equestrian Academy of Versailles, created and leaded by Bartabas, two institutions which embody the equestrian history of the palace of Versailles.
Created in 2003 by Bartabas within the Royal Stables of Versailles’ Palace, the National Equestrian Academy of Versailles is a unique “corps de ballet” in the world. Based on the transmission as much as the arts of performance the daily teachings associate “Haute Ecole dressage” with varied artist disciplines such as fencing, dancing, singing or Kyudo, a traditional Japanese archery. Thus, the equerries develop a real artistic sensitivity, thanks to a very regular repertory, fully dedicated to the audience.
It has been almost fifteen years now that the National Equestrian Academy of Versailles has become a reference which performs in Versailles, in the arena built for the occasion, but also in other French and international stages in Bartabas’ creations and in collaboration with great artists such as Carolyn Carlson or Marc Minkowski. Equerries and horses from this exceptional company make a commitment to preserve the French riding of lightness while reinventing the art of the cavalier choreographies.
Restored and presented in a new setting, the gallery of coaches enables to the visitors to discover the coaches’ collection of the château de Versailles, which is one of the most important in Europe, but always very unknown.
Designed to be noticed, the coaches of Versailles are veritable artistic masterpieces. Ostentatiously luxurious and extravagantly decorated with gold and sculpted detail, they were produced by the best artists of the French Court. Visitors discover these magnificent vehicles up close, including the Berlin coaches from the marriage of Napoleon I, the coronation coach for Charles X and the funeral hearse of Louis XVIII, as well as finely decorated harnesses with gilded bronze, sedan chairs, the small coaches belonging to Marie-Antoinette's children, and an incredible collection of fantastical sledges.
Besides its artistic quality, the collection is also a sort of 'Vehicle exhibition from the 18th and 19th centuries', and contains the finest prototypes and cutting-edge advances in French coachmaking in terms of comfort, level of performance and technique including traction, steering and suspension, as well as the first Broughams and convertibles. In addition, each coach tells a bit of French history through dynastic or political events such as christenings, marriages, coronations or funeral ceremonies. Above all else, the collection is a living testimony to life in the French Court and sumptuousness during the Ancien Régime, the French Empire and the Restoration.
Since its re-opening in march 2016, the gallery of coaches has already welcomed more than 120 000 visitors.