Palace of Versailles: A web series on the Palace of Versailles during the Second World

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Palace of Versailles: A web series on the Palace of Versailles during the Second World
German soldiers filing through the Palace of Versailles’ Gate of Honour, Summer-Winter 1940 © Palace of Versailles.

PARIS.- From 3 September, the Palace of Versailles is brought to the screen in a documentary series that plunges viewers into a little-known chapter of its history: Occupied Versailles: The Palace of Versailles during World War Two. Four episodes narrated by Comédie Française member Denis Podalydès explore the troubled times that spanned pre-war preparations to the reopening of the museum in 1946 through French, German and American archive material revealed here for the very first time.

A French monument at the heart of European turmoil

A symbol of the Franco-German rivalry that began brewing in the 19th century, the Palace of Versailles was witness to the dawning of the German Empire in 1871, and fuelled Adolf Hitler’s thirst for revenge following the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. As the 1930s drew to a close, tensions were mounting in Europe as the threat of a new war loomed ever larger over the continent. If the Germans succeeded in pushing through to Versailles, would they make the Palace pay for its past?

Episode 1: “May Louis XIV keep watch over Versailles”

By the 1930s, France’s museums were readying themselves for the possibility of a new war. From 1933 on, the Palace’s deputy curator, Charles Mauricheau-Beaupré, drew up a first plan for evacuating Versailles’ collections. By the end of the 1930s, conflict seemed inevitable and the Palace of Versailles arranged for its treasures to be covertly evacuated to a series of secret depot sites. Its “passive defence” plan was under-way. On 25 August 1939, along with the rest of the country’s museums, the Palace closed its doors to the public and dispatched some of its works to the Château de Brissac and Château de Chambord. On 13 June 1940 on the eve of the German troops’ arrival, a mere four men stood watch over a now unrecognisable Versailles.

Citation “We wander the halls by lamplight as the windows are shuttered and the rooms stripped bare, crowned by ceilings of gold”

Pierre Ladoué, the museum’s head curator, describing the protective measures rolled out at the Palace to his predecessor, Gaston Brière.

Episode 2: “Dark days dawn”

In the morning of 14 June 1940, the Germans erupted into Versailles and seized possession of the premises. The next morning, the Nazi flag could be seen fluttering from the Palace’s rooftops. Over the ensuing weeks, German soldiers and officers flooded into the Palace, exploring the site and causing damage along the way. Versailles had fallen to the Third Reich, and the Palace’s future looked uncertain.

Episode 3: “Life goes on”

During the Occupation, the German authorities deplored the way in which the Palace had been stripped and ordered it to be restored. Curators and architects did so to the best of their abilities, while the Palace remained in the grip of the occupying troops. Over on the French side, fears lingered with regard to its fate, especially as the Allies’ bombing began creeping ever closer from 1943 on, and the grounds swarmed with military activity.

Episode 4 : « Versailles is intact: Fountains play again »

25 August 1944: Versailles is liberated by General Leclerc’s troops. As the Allies advanced, the Germans had fled the city the day before. The Palace was alive and well. As the British and American troops poured in, Versailles rose up to meet them, ushering the soldiers into the Hall of Mirrors where the Treaty of Versailles had been signed just twenty-five years earlier. It would take until 1946 for all the artworks and pieces to return home to the museum.

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