France’s Versailles Palace re-opens after Covid-19 lockdown
France's Palace of Versailles, built in the 17th century by the "Sun King" Louis XIV, opened to the public again on Saturday but with little certainty over when tourists will return in force as France pursues a gradual easing of Covid-19 lockdown measures.
Workers dusted the Hall of Mirrors and polished its gilded statues ahead of the reopening, which will see visitors required to purchase tickets in advance, wear face masks inside the palace and follow a one-way route through the opulent 2,300-room complex.
The coronavirus crisis has dealt a heavy financial blow to the palace and France's other leading cultural attractions. Ticket sales to the 8 million people who passed through the palace gates in 2019 made up 75% of revenues, with four of every five visitors arriving from abroad.
"This financial model has been devastated. We have to start again," Catherine Pegard, who runs the palace, told Reuters. "We're not the only ones."
Louis XIV made the palace a symbol of France’s prominence as a European superpower and his perceived divine right to wield absolute power. It remained the principle royal residence until the French Revolution and the overthrow of the monarchy in 1789.
The palace is one of the most visited sites in France, which is itself the world's premier tourist destination.
But as France emerges cautiously from lockdown – its borders remain closed to non-EU countries – the palace anticipates only a fifth of the 20,000 visitors it used to host on peak days.
A roped walkway will guide visitors through the famed Hall of Mirrors, where Germany and the Allied Nations signed the treaty ending World War I, and the ornate King's Grand Apartment.
"We've cleaned the mirrors, dusted the chandeliers and the torches. Conditions are exceptional," Pegard said.
But only a few people are around to enjoy them.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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