PARIS (Reuters) – France’s lavish Palace of Versailles, built in the 17th century by the “Sun King” Louis XIV, reopens to the public on Saturday, but with little certainty that tourists will return as lockdown restrictions are tightened. slowly relaxed.
Workers dusted the Hall of Mirrors and polished its gilded statues on Friday ahead of the reopening, which will require visitors to wear face masks and follow a one-way route through the opulent 2,300-room complex.
The coronavirus crisis has dealt a severe financial blow to the palace and other major cultural attractions in France. Ticket sales to the eight million people who passed through the palace gates in 2019 accounted for 75% of revenue. Four out of five visitors are foreigners.
“This financial model has been devastated. We have to start over,” Catherine Pegard, who heads the palace, told Reuters. “We are not the only ones.”
Louis XIV craved the palace as a symbol of France’s prominence as a European superpower and its perceived divine right to wield absolute power. It remained the principal royal residence until the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy nearly eight decades after his death.
The palace is one of the most visited sites in France, itself the world’s favorite tourist destination.
But as France cautiously emerges from lockdown – its borders remain closed to most foreigners – the palace anticipates only a fifth of the 20,000 visitors it welcomed on peak days. Tickets must be purchased in advance.
A rope walkway will guide visitors through the famous Hall of Mirrors, where Germany and the Allied nations signed the treaty ending World War I, and the ornate King’s Grand Apartment.
“We cleaned mirrors, dusted chandeliers and torches. The conditions are exceptional,” Pegard said.
Written by Richard Lough; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Angus MacSwan