France’s Versailles palace re-opens after lockdown

France's sumptuous Palace of Versailles, built in the 17th century by the Sun King Louis XIV, threw its doors open to the public again Saturday but with little certainty over when tourists will return as lockdown curbs are slowly eased.

Workers on Friday dusted the Hall of Mirrors and polished its gilded statues ahead of the reopening, which will see visitors required to wear face masks 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 eight million people who passed through the palace gates in 2019 made up 75% of revenues. Four in every five visitors is foreign.

"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 craved the palace as 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 nearly eight decades after his death.

The palace is one of the most visited sites France, itself the world's favourite tourist destination.

But as France emerges cautiously from lockdown - its borders remain closed to most outsiders - the palace anticipates only a fifth of the 20,000 visitors it used to host on peak days. Tickets must be bought in advance.

A roped walkway will guide visitors through the famed Hall of Mirrors, where Germany and the Allied Nations signed the treaty ending World War One, and the ornate King's Grand Apartment.

"We've cleaned the mirrors, dusted the chandeliers and the torches. Conditions are exceptional," Pegard said.

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