How much did it cost to build Versailles?

The Palace of Versailles, France’s extravagant former royal residence and centre of government, was one of the most expensive building projects in history.

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. (Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

It didn’t start that way, however, as all King Louis XIII wanted was a hunting lodge for his family when building began in 1623. It was his son, Louis XIV – the Sun King, famous for his bling – who made things bigger and more lavish throughout the second half of the 17th century.

Ministers originally tried to minimise costs by taking the building materials from within France, even going so far as nationalising a tapestry factory. But expenses continued to rocket and initial estimates ended up a fraction of the eventual price tag.

It didn’t start that way, however, as all King Louis XIII wanted was a hunting lodge for his family when building began in 1623. It was his son, Louis XIV – the Sun King, famous for his bling – who made things bigger and more lavish throughout the second half of the 17th century.

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Ministers originally tried to minimise costs by taking the building materials from within France, even going so far as nationalising a tapestry factory. But expenses continued to rocket and initial estimates ended up a fraction of the eventual price tag.

Due to a lack of data, and historical currency conversion being arcane at the best of times, calculating the cost is tricky. In 1994, American TV company PBS concluded that the French palace could have cost anywhere between $2-300 billion in today’s money.

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This article was first published in the February 2016 issue of BBC History Revealed magazine