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Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” (composed 8 A.D.) described the palace of the sun, tall-columned and fashioned from precious metals, inside which sat the radiant god Apollo on a throne studded with emeralds. The Roman poet’s description was pure fantasy, but Louis XIV, King of France from 1643-1715, seemed set on turning Ovid’s myth into reality. The palace of the sun would become the king’s official residence of Versailles — and Louis himself, like the radiant Apollo, was named the “Roi Soleil (Sun King).”

The vast scale of what became the Palace of Versailles (its creation began in 1661 as an expansion of Louis XIII’s hunting lodge) was unprecedented in Europe in the 17th century, and by the time of Louis XIV’s death, it would be the seat of a court numbering nearly 5,000 people. More than a magnificent architectural feat, it was deft political strategy on Louis XIV’s part, as it removed the aristocracy from the bickering and political intrigues of Paris and enabled him to reinforce his supremacy as the sovereign of France. The palace at Versailles was an undertaking that would project the absolute rule of the monarch in all things, be they political, societal, or mere matters of taste.

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