In the 19th century, when the republican regime was still hesitant – France was not yet safe from an attempt to restore the monarchy – Versailles was chosen to host the new National Assembly elected in 1871. The young Republic took over this seat of power filled with décor glorifying the Sun King.
After the defeat of Sedan which provoked the fall of the Second Empire of Napoléon III, the National Assembly was elected in 1871 and met in Bordeaux. Composed mostly of monarchists, it wished to set up its parliament close to the capital but not in it, as the bloody memory of the recent Commune uprising was still too vivid. After hesitating between Orléans and Fontainebleau, the Assembly finally chose Versailles for its deliberations, in the Royal Opera built by Gabriel. But this room turned out to be too impractical to receive 722 elected representatives. Dictated by necessity, the National Assembly became the Chamber of Deputies (MPs) and sought a large hemicycle for its deliberations, while the Senate moved definitively into Gabriel’s opera.
The South Wing of the Château, built between 1679 and 1681 to accommodate the royal children and princes of royal blood and then radically transformed in 1837 to house the Museum of the History of France, was once again refurbished in 1875 by Edmond Joly to host the Parliament and more particularly the National Assembly. The room for the parliamentary sessions, a gigantic hemicycle with dark red seats, was then used by the deputies until 1879, before moving to the Palais Bourbon in Paris. From this year on, this room decorated with allegorical paintings evoking war, agriculture, trade, industry and peace, was the setting for the election of the presidents of the 3rd and 4th Republics. Above the central podium hung a large painting after Couder depicted the meeting of the Estates General in 1789, symbolising progress. During the 5th Republic, it was used for the combined meetings of the deputies and senators coming together in a Congress to adopt constitutional revisions. Since the constitutional reform of 2008, this room has also been used to receive the “addresses” of the President of the Republic to the two houses of parliament (Senate and National Assembly).