More Sites near Versailles

Other Sites in the Versailles Area

The Chateau at Versailles is undoubtedly one of the most famous palaces in the world and is well worth a visit on its own merits. The Treaty of Versailles was signed in the Hall of Mirrors on 28 June 1919, thus formally ending the Great War five years to the day after the assassination that started it. France of course used the Treaty to avenge her defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. In 1871 Wilhelm of Prussia was crowned Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany in the very same room.

Five miles south of Versailles between Buc and Toussus-le-Noble is a small airport for light aircraft. Many early members of the Lafayette Squadron received their initial flying training here, no doubt because of its proximity to the "rich and influential'"American community centred in Paris. "Icare," Revue de l'Aviation Francaise no. 158, L'Escadrille Lafayette, contains pictures of trainee pilots at Buc including Hall, Genet, and Lovell as well as some group photos. Anne Morgan, the sister of the American banker and Lafayette patron J. Pierpont Morgan Jr, "periodically motored down from their home in Versailles to the Buc aviation school to entertain American trainees there". Nothing is left of those days, since the hangars are all modern constructions. However, there is a memorial near the gate to the French aviation pioneer Henri Farman who flew from the aerodrome and whose company still exists there. The first commercial flights in France started from here in 1919.

West of Versailles is the small town of St. Cyr l'Ecole. This is where the elite academy for military officers was founded by Napoleon in 1803.  Nowadays much of the academy's activity takes place in Brittany (see Brittany part 2). It is closed to the public, but the visitor can see the fine facade and the roof of the large chapel. Nearby is the communal cemetery, in which can be found several 1914-18 graves of Saint-Cyriens. The cemetery also contains a Monument aux Morts - built in 1902 - for the academy.

East of Versailles and south of Paris, near Palaiseau, is the elite military engineering school that is the most famous of all the Grandes Ecoles, the Ecole Polytechnique. It relocated here from the 5th Arrondissement in the 1960s, but is not open to the public. In the square, or Cour d'Honneur, is the Monument aux Morts. It is flanked by two artillery pieces, both of which were designed and built as prototypes by Polytechniciens. On the right is the first modern steel artillery piece that was bought into service with the French Army. On the left is the 1897 model 75 mm gun.

The walls on either side of the monument are covered in plaques commemorating Polytechniciens who fell in all wars. I couldn't find the total number of 1914-18 dead, though there are three plaques which list all those serving pupils who fell - about 205 in total - mainly from the classes of 1912, 1913 and 1914. In comparison, 339 alumni and pupils fell in World War Two. Overlooking the square is a fine statue of a Polytechnicien which commemorates those who defended Paris in 1814.

Copyright © Charles Fair, June, 1997.

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