Every space that is open to the public in this vast estate of 2000 acres (800 hectares) is the objet of an analysis and reflection on the conditions of access for all. This approach shapes the development of programmes of work aimed at providing best conditions of access for all. However, of all groups of people with disabilities, access for people with mobility difficulties requires the most architectural transformations : thus the immediate surroundings and the inside of the château, the gardens, as well as the Trianon castles have seen changes as part of a comprehensive programme of works.
Principal access interventions :
- the immediate surroundings and the inside of the castle
- the challenges presented by the gardens and the Trianon castles
- the organisation of seamless access journeys, in partnership with local authorities
- Île de France region, 16 km (10 miles) West of Paris
This public institution with castle, museum and the national estate of Versailles occupies a 2000 acres (800 hectares) wide space. It comprises the castle, which is classed a UNESCO World Heritage site, the parc adjacent to the castle, a managed forest and the estate surrounding the Grand and Petit Trianon castles.
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Heritage significance and attractiveness
- the castle is classed a UNESCO World Heritage site
- the castle is classed a national Monuments Historiques
- castle of the Kings of France Louis XIV to Louis XVI, a symbol of the Grand Siècle (17th Century, known as “Grand Century”) and of French art
- tourist attractiveness : 5,9 million visitors (2010)
- the immediate surroundings: uncomfortable, dangerous and inaccessible pavings before the works started
- the Cour d’Honneur (the extensive front court) is not level
- the parc of the Château de Versailles presents significant access challenges with numerous slopes and stairs
- the interior circulations
A holistic approach
A vast programme of restoration and of upgrading of facilities was started in 2003. Accessibility for all publics is a major objective of this project called Grand Versailles (2003-2020).
Important restoration and renovation works have been undertaken which provide access for people with disabilities, in particular for people with mobility difficulties: accessibility is not seen as separate or additional, but as part and parcel of the development plan for the Grand Versailles and access for all publics.
A reversible et evolving project
Most access works undertaken at the public institution of the castle, the museum and the estate of Versailles have reversibility as a main underlying principle, as a response to the requirements of heritage preservation. The fitting of lifts where this proves necessary is a rare exception.
Accessible heritage content
Heritage interpretation programmes and resources have been put in place for several groups of disabled people.
The immediate vicinity and the inside of the castle
Entry to Versailles castle is via the Cour d’Honneur, a courtyard. This is paved with the famous Versailles pavement stones, which are an integral part of the valorisation of the monument. An alley has been created with new pavement stones made of the same matérial, but with less than 0.39 inches (1cm) variation in surface height. This new alley way is today used by the majority of visitors. It has also enabled the creation of an axis which underlines the classical and symmetrical architecture of the castle.
Some access challenges have been resolved by coming back to some historical features. The upper part of the Cour d’Honneur, for example, was restored to its original level. A gain in height of 23.6 inches (60 cm) was achieved and, as a result, the porches of the Dufour and Gabriel pavilions could be removed. There is thus level access to the castle, as was the case at the time of its construction.
The Ministers’ wing – where the reception area starts
These two wings, which are not level, are accessed by wooden ramps at the spots where height difference is lowest. The ramps have a stone colour hue and are reversible : the old stairs have been preserved underneath. Accessible toilet blocks have been installed close by to the ramps.
Gabriel pavilion – the main entry
Pavilion Gabriel, the entry chosen by most visitors with mobility difficulties, has seen many works. The internal lay-out has been entirely altered and a change in height of 25.6 inches (70 cm) became manageable through the installation of a platform lift. This has been specially designed to harmonise optimally with the interior spaces. There is also temporary reception building. This has been fitted with a ramp that provides level access to the Royal Court.
Inside, the two main levels are accessible : the ground floor (which leads to the gardens) and the first floor. The existing lifts leading to these two floors are not always positioned along the visitors’ journey. The installation of new lifts in the immediate vicinity of staircases is an objective of the development plan for the Grand Versailles and will allow a more fluid visit. Works are planned in the North and South wings.
These access improvements are not designed for one visitor group only : they benefit families with push chairs, people wearing high heel shoes and older people. They widen access for the public.
Access challenges presented by the parc and the Trianon castles
It is currently not possible to make the entire parc accessible : there are important differences of height and numerous stairs. It has therefore been considered preferable to focus instead on the creation of accessible walking trails starting at sign-posted accessible parking spaces.
Yet, there is one exception. Thanks to a sponsor, a platform lift has been put in place from which to reach the flowerbeds to the North. It has a unique design which blends perfectly with the park and its heritage surroundings. Accessible pathways designed for access and comfortable discovery have been created in the remainder of the parc, with the objective of making all its copses accessible. Four accessible walks are on offer to date. A system of signage has been created which indicates the level of difficulty presented by the walks.
Motorised transport is also available. A small and accessible train takes visitors up to Marie-Antoinette’s estate. Electrical cars are available for rent.
The Trianon castles
This vast estate comprises two castles, a parc, an English style garden and the Queen’s hamlet. As for the outdoor spaces, the project consists in the creation of several accessible walking trails. These are clearly indicated and visitors with mobility difficulties are sign-posted to easy to use and safe paths.
The Petit and Grand Trianon can be reached via simple, reversible low cost ramps. The apartments of the Grand Trianon are accessible to visitors with mobility difficulties. Owing to conservation requirements only the ground floor of the Petit Trianon is accessible for wheelchair users. With the help of a sponsor, a multi-media space was installed on the ground floor. There, visitors can enjoy a virtual tour of the first floor and general information.
Organising a seamless access journey in partnership with local authorities
The Place d’Armes situated downhill from the castle has seen significant restoration works and has become entirely accessible and affords improved visitor comfort. The pedestrian walkways have been transformed : the gravelled surface has been replaced by a smooth and more comfortable concrete surface. Lateral signage, as well as luminous signage has been installed for visually impaired visitors to compensate for low level lighting. Information panels have been strategically placed along the visitors’ route.
Visitors with disabilities can go by car straight to the Cour d’Honneur, close to the entry for individual visitors. As long as places are available, parking is allowed.
To make sure the visitors’ access journeys are seamless, access works are undertaken in collaboration with the town of Versailles, notably from the Versailles Rive Gauche station, which is the most used by castle’s audiences.
“A accessible user journey presents many challenges. If one obstacle remains, the challenge is not entirely met. It is vital that all players are involved when addressing transportation, in particular the local authority.” Daniel Sancho, Director of heritage and gardens of the castle of Versailles.
Players and processes
- Client: the public institution of the castle, museum and national estate of Versailles
- Project manager : Frédéric Didier, chief architect of the Historic Monuments
- Holistic approach integrated within the development plan of project of the Grand Versailles (2003-2020)
- Historical research and the valorisation of heritage for the benefit of all audiences
- Integration of accessible heritage interpretation as part of visitor services