Loire, France: Chateau de Chambord

Loire, France: Chateau de Chambord

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More info about travel to the Loire: https://www.ricksteves.com/europe/france/loire With its huge scale and prickly silhouette, Château de Chambord is the most “must-see” of all of France's Loire Valley châteaux. If you hate crowds, you’ll like Chambord.

At http://www.ricksteves.com, you'll find money-saving travel tips, small-group tours, guidebooks, TV shows, radio programs, podcasts, and more on this destination.

French formal gardens

Francis I’s primary concern when Chambord was constructed was taming the Cosson, the river that crosses the estate from east to west. The Cosson’s meandering waters created a hostile, marshy environment around the château that “in no way echoed the magnificence of the château” (Jacques Androuet du Cerceau, 1576). The king considered regulating the flow of the river across the entire estate and diverting some of the water from the Loire, just a few miles away from the site, to the château. These projects, however, never came to pass. There is therefore no [known] project for creating a Renaissance garden at Chambord during the time of Francis I.

However, illustrations show the existence of a small garden enclosed with a palisade close to the monument off the Chapel wing. It was likely an erstwhile vegetable garden, belonging to the former château of the Counts of Blois or an old priory. Finally, a 17 th -century diagram shows traces of a previous, larger garden on the northeast side whose design and purpose are difficult to determine.

Chateaux of the Loire Valley

Angelokastro is a Byzantine castle on the island of Corfu. It is located at the top of the highest peak of the island"s shoreline in the northwest coast near Palaiokastritsa and built on particularly precipitous and rocky terrain. It stands 305 m on a steep cliff above the sea and surveys the City of Corfu and the mountains of mainland Greece to the southeast and a wide area of Corfu toward the northeast and northwest.

Angelokastro is one of the most important fortified complexes of Corfu. It was an acropolis which surveyed the region all the way to the southern Adriatic and presented a formidable strategic vantage point to the occupant of the castle.

Angelokastro formed a defensive triangle with the castles of Gardiki and Kassiopi, which covered Corfu"s defences to the south, northwest and northeast.

The castle never fell, despite frequent sieges and attempts at conquering it through the centuries, and played a decisive role in defending the island against pirate incursions and during three sieges of Corfu by the Ottomans, significantly contributing to their defeat.

During invasions it helped shelter the local peasant population. The villagers also fought against the invaders playing an active role in the defence of the castle.

The exact period of the building of the castle is not known, but it has often been attributed to the reigns of Michael I Komnenos and his son Michael II Komnenos. The first documentary evidence for the fortress dates to 1272, when Giordano di San Felice took possession of it for Charles of Anjou, who had seized Corfu from Manfred, King of Sicily in 1267.

From 1387 to the end of the 16th century, Angelokastro was the official capital of Corfu and the seat of the Provveditore Generale del Levante, governor of the Ionian islands and commander of the Venetian fleet, which was stationed in Corfu.

The governor of the castle (the castellan) was normally appointed by the City council of Corfu and was chosen amongst the noblemen of the island.

Angelokastro is considered one of the most imposing architectural remains in the Ionian Islands.

Our Guide to the Best Châteaux of the Loire Valley

For a personal selection of the best châteaux to visit in Loire Valley, take a look at our list of the top 10.

1. Château de Chambord

The Château de Chambord may just hold the crown as the best château in Loire Valley! As the biggest château in France, and the most magnificent, it was constructed by King Francois I in 1519 as a purpose-built hunting lodge (and to impress foreign dignitaries).

A place of rich history and culture, each structural sector is included on a HistoPad, which will automatically use immersive Virtual Reality to give a visual suggestion of how the room would have looked when someone lived there.

Don’t miss out on the chance to discover the unbelievable architecture of the castle, which is distinctive of the French Renaissance style. One of the castle’s most memorable features is the intricate double-helix staircase, where you can ascend on the one side and never meet the eyes of someone on the other side until you reach the next floor.

From the 800 crowned salamander sigils carved into the stone ceiling, to intricately woven tapestries that document kings hunting expeditions, enjoy a glimpse into history at one of the most famous castles in France. Discover the history of how the salamander became a symbol of King Francois I, along with the motto, “I eat the good fire, I put out the bad”.

While the interior is spectacular, the rooftop holds its own! It was designed to look like the skyline of Constantinople with a collection of impressive spires and chimneys. Take in a panoramic view of this incredible castle from the château’s immaculate gardens where you can take a carriage ride across the lawns just like a royal!

The Château de Chambord is our favorite castle, and possibly the best château in the Loire Valley. We’re sure it will impress every single one of you!

Grab more information about this castle in our Chambord Castle Travel Guide.

2. Château de Chenonceau

If you plan to awaken your inner history buff, why not make your way to one of the most fascinating mixes of Renaissance and Gothic architecture?

Built in the early 1500s by Thomas Bohier, the château is now a historical site, which greets its visitors every day with floral arrangements from the castles onsite floral workshop. The château spans the River Cher on an iconic bridge, which makes for an unbelievable photo.

What will attract you the most is the guards' room, with its 16th-century fireplace, decorated by 16th-century tapestries, and a showing of exposed ceiling joists bearing the mark of ‘C’ for Catherine de Medici. Subtle touches like this give a glimpse into the castle’s history as the ‘ladies château’ where prominent women have shaped, restored and protected the historic building for years.

With a vast history, exquisite artwork and tapestries, as well as gardens that will take your breath away, the château is truly spectacular!

Make sure to enjoy the audio tour inside the castle if you want to learn more about its fascinating history. If you plan on visiting this beautiful castle, you may find our Château de Chenonceau travel guide useful.

3. Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire

The stunning Château de Chaumont truly looks like a castle on the hill, where it’s surrounded by a lush park.

Rebuilt a few years after Louis XI had the château burned and razed to the ground in 1465, the restored chateau is now famous for its yearly garden festival. The renowned festival is a colorful showcase of garden art and contemporary landscape design.

With a breathtaking view of the Loire from the once ‘north wing’, the Château de Chaumont also hosts works of incredible architecture. The art gallery in the loft shows what the non-accessible areas look like, and the pepperpot riding school is a stunning piece of engineering for its time.

You can also pay a visit to the castle's fascinating model farm, which completes the truly dreamy atmosphere. The château is also home to France’s finest collection of Jean-Baptiste Nini’s ‘one-off’ medallions. This grand home, which once served up banquets for the crowned heads of Europe, is now a museum where you can explore every inch of the incredible estate.

We absolutely LOVE the fairytale feel of this castle with its glinting turrets, but if you are strapped for time, it’s still a beautiful spot if you don't get around to seeing the inside of the château.

4. Château de Cheverny

A visit to this palatial château is definitely a must on your trip to France. The exquisite building just outside of Blois looks like it comes straight out of a painting, and you can explore storied rooms that have been virtually unchanged for generations.

Built by the architect Jacques Bougier between 1620 and 1640, it was a pioneer of the French style that had developed during the reign of Louis XIV (or the Sun King). As one of the first châteaux to become open to the public, the castle is renowned for its unmissable collection of furniture, tapestries, and objects d’art.

Also known as French classicism, the style of Louis XIV developed over three distinct periods coinciding with stages of his life, which were marked by mythology and influenced by flora and fauna. The château’s interior is also a 3D depiction of famous stories including the Chambre du Roi, which is adorned with 5 tapestries portraying the story of Ulysses. The immaculate dining room also features 34 wooden panels which tell the tale of Don Quixote.

The mesmerizing parks and gardens enclose one of the Estate’s unique features, the kennels. It raises numerous French Poitevin and English Foxhound crossbreed dogs, as it is still practice to hunt with the hounds.

5. Château of Amboise

This stunning château looks out over the River Loire, reflecting its enchanting silhouette onto the water.

Built as a strategic viewpoint as early as the Neolithic period (the last period of the Stone Age), the Château of Amboise only saw prominence in the 6th century when King Clovis of France took up arms against the Visigoths.

The castle’s own past of rises and falls follows the history of France as the château went from fortress to royal home, to the remarkable figure it is along the French landscape.

If you ever visit the château, you can still see its restoration work continuing to this date, which began in the 19th century. But that doesn't mean that your trip here will disappoint.

Every summer they hold a spectacular show of sound and light called “The Prophecy of Amboise”, a multi-sensory show, which brings the court of Charles VIII back to life.

The garden itself almost forms part of the castle itself, and you can pay a visit to the remarkable 3D re-creation in the Orangery where you can discover more of the château’s past. The quaint ruins of the Chapel of St Florentine is another memorable feature on the grounds, which has become famous as the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.

Make sure to set some time aside to enjoy the town of Amboise whilst you are there and stop in to visit the famous château of Leonardo de Vinci (more on this castle below).

6. Château de Sully-sur-Loire

This iconic château rises like an island out of the River Loire, where it sits on a collection of 3 small outcrops.

It is quite remarkable to comprehend how the Château de Sully-sur-Loire is still standing strong today, after being demolished and reconstructed on innumerable occasions since the 18th century. The Keep, or Grand Château, is the oldest preserved feature at the château as it dates back to the 14th century.

The castle has had a long and remarkable history filled with changes of ownership, war, fires, and was even occupied by German soldiers during WWII. It was also the home of a prominent French family, the Sullys, and the first Duke of Sully is represented by a large marble statue in the Outer Courtyard.

Once a defense outpost on the left bank of the Loire in the 12th century, it presently guards some historical treasures.

The most noteworthy of which includes the chemin de ronde (patrol route), the Tenture de Psyché tapestry, the château’s 14th-century barrel-vaulted ceiling, as well as the grave of the Sully himself.

The visitor route is well maintained, and it will guide you past an array of historic paintings and tapestries, amidst period furnishings in opulent rooms that once housed French aristocracy.

7. Château de Villandry

Hailed as the most family-orientated chateau within the Loire Valley, the Château de Villandry is world renowned for its exceptional gardens, including the spectacular Renaissance Gardens.

The incredible manicured lawns are like an artwork in themselves with exquisite ornamental flower gardens carved into patterns by neat box hedges, a water garden, and orangeries.

The grounds also include a play area for children, vegetable gardens and terraces for a perfect view of the château. Built by Jean Le Briton, one of Francoise I’s finance ministers in 1536, the château and gardens you see today make for a spectacular sight.

Apart from the well-appointed rooms, the more noteworthy features that might appeal to you are the oriental drawing room and an artwork display in the gallery. There is also an intricate Louis XV staircase, which has the initials of Michel-Ange de Castellane intertwined into the banisters. But what will really sweep you off your feet is the climb to the top of the tower!

The mark of each new owner can be seen in the castle’s interior, each of whom helped make the château one of the most beautiful in Loire Valley. The dining room has become a ‘must-see’ with the special touches that have made it the historic monument it is.

8. Château de Blois

This particularly amazing château takes visitors on a unique tour through the history of French architecture. The Château de Blois acts as a beautiful illustration of French building styles from the middle ages to the 17th century.

Begin your journey as you walk through the entrance to the château, which is watched over by the oh-so-regal statue of a king on horseback. Then, experience the breathtaking Stateroom, a riot of color and intricate designs. You can also enjoy a fascinating walk through the Architecture Rooms which house different examples of original sculptures from across the château grounds.

Special care has been taken in restoring this chateau to its former beauty, with a particular emphasis on returning the floor tiles to their original self. Four architectural styles collide within the castle walls, from a 13th-century medieval fortress to Gaston of Orlean’s Classical Wing.

As a unique feature, late on summer evenings you may even get a chance to attend the château’s own featured ‘son et lumière,’ which is a melodramatic historical narrative with a light show, and accompanied by classical music.

9. Château d'Azay le Rideau

A hybrid of classical French tradition and Italian décor, the Château d'Azay le Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River. This truly regal château rises like a sentinel out of the water, leaving a shimmering mirror image below.

Under the patronage of King Francois, the château was built on the site of an ancient fortress, but remained incomplete, leaving it with a remarkable but accidental L-shaped exterior. The castle is a place of war and deep historical significance, which can be seen in the name itself.

Enough to capture your heart and please your eyes, under the care of the French Centre for National Monuments, the château was lovingly restored with a mesmerizing interior and facades, wrapped in tuffeau stone and beautifully ornamented.

The château is also home to the Escalier d’Honneur, the oldest surviving staircase of its kind in France. In a true nod to its history, you can also admire a number of artworks depicting French royals along the castle walls.

The incredibly picturesque Château d'Azay le Rideau is an exceptional piece of heritage, that has monumental worth in the field of French historical archiving.

10. Château du Clos Lucé

This pink-bricked chateau is straight of a storybook, overlooking lush green lawns. It is famous for being the official residence of Leonardo da Vinci, where he spent his final years creating and building. Today, the château is a museum that houses 40 models of machines designed by da Vinci.

Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years here (1516 -1519), and the site of the manor dates back to the 12th century when it was surrounded by fortifications, of which only the watchtower remains.

Massive restorations have been made since the 1960s to bring it back to its former glory. You can now catch a glimpse of da Vinci’s private life as you visit his bedroom, kitchen and study, as well as the small chapel displaying frescos by his admirers. You can also explore da Vinci’s artist’s studio where an audiovisual production brings the space to life.

Finish off your visit to this gorgeous château with a stroll around the grounds where a stunning pond lies surrounded by centuries-old pines and, of course, the famous Mona Lisa rose.

Loire, France: Chateau de Chambord - History

At the heart of a great forest stands Château de Chambord, which was built by King Francis I who was both a medieval knight and Renaissance philosopher. Built as a royal hunting lodge, workers began clearing the area for construction of the structure in 1519. The castle resides near the fertile valley of the Loire River in the heart of France, both geographically and spiritually. Specifically, it was this region where a century of war with England occurred and the idea of France as a nation took shape. Eventually, the enemy was turned back at this location and kings and queens of France would build the most beautiful castles in the world.

In 1515, Francis succeeded his cousin to the throne. Shortly after his coronation, he left to regain the Duchy of Milan territory within the Holy Roman Empire previously lost by his family. Today, this region comprises part of northern Italy. Francis succeeded and during his stay in Milan saw firsthand the works of various Renaissance artists and architects. He even persuaded the aging Leonardo de Vinci to accompany him to France along with his famous painting La Gioconda better known as the Mona Lisa.

Several years later, King Francis was captured and held captive by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in Milan from 1524 to 1526. As a result, construction at Chambord was halted during this period. Following his release in 1526, he continued expansion of the castle by adding wings to each side of the keep. The East Wing to house royal apartments and West Wing the Chapel. In 1535, the Donjon or central keep was completed. A primary historical meeting occurred at Chambord in 1539. During a truce between Francis and his rival, Charles V, who was invited to visit Chambord. During the week-long celebration, Charles was so impressed he declared Chambord and all its trimmings “a synthesis of all that human effort can achieve.”

Construction of the Royal Wing was completed in 1547, the same year of King Francis' death that marked the end of the golden age of the Loire Valley. Although, the royal family relocated to Paris thereafter, the king's son, Henry II, continued construction on the castle as it was used occasionally as a Royal Hunting Lodge. Henry's legacy remains in the form of his monogram “H” on various columns within the Chapel. Thereafter, Château de Chambord remained predominantly vacant for the next 400 years.

For a brief time in the 17th century when King Louis XIV reigned France, he stayed at Chambord more often than any other French monarch. It was Louis who completed the Chapel Wing in 1685 upon adding the roof and vault. He also built the King’s Bedchamber within the central keep. Today, craftsmen and stone masons continue restoration work on the castle.

Castle Highlights

Château de Chambord represents one of the most widely recognized Chateaux in France due to its distinctive French Renaissance architecture, which combines French medieval and Italian Renaissance features. With its many turrets, dormers and towers, the château has been likened to both an overcrowded chessboard and woman whose long hair was blown loose by the wind.

Architecture within Château de Chambord bears the marks of Leonardo de Vinci. The large spiral staircase in the center of the Donjon or keep is actually two staircases wrapped around one another. A person can ascend while another descends without ever passing each other. The original plans included four intertwined staircases but builders simplified them to include only two. Unique terraces along the rooftop were constructed so ladies of the court could watch hunts in the nearby forest and admire the gallantry of their lords.

Francis’ chosen emblem was the salamander as it constituted a symbol of devotion and integrity. It is depicted no less than 800 times within Château de Chambord. Due to its vast size, Château de Chambord, in conjunction with unoccupied status for long periods of time, furnishings therein are sparse with most rooms empty. Furnishings were usually brought with the Royal court during visits and removed upon their returning to Paris. However, there are some furnishings including the bedchamber from Louis XIV, which still includes the bed and tapestries.

Château de Chambord exists as the largest castle in the Loire Valley with 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces. The castle and grounds can take an entire day to visit, especially if walking the grounds. However, if only half a day is spent touring the castle, Château de Chenonceau is close enough to visit the same day.

The incredible Chateau de Chambord Loire Valley France

The Chateaux in the Loire were created to be second homes and visual symbols of power and wealth.

Those who owned chateaux didn’t usually live in them permanently, there are some exceptions, but on the whole, owners visited them rarely, taking their possessions with them. Unlike today when owners furnish their holiday homes, in the old days, people carried their belonging from home to home. Beds, chairs, cutlery, dishes, tapestries etc were expensive and even the royal family seldom decked out their chateaux with permanent collections.

Ostentatious, flamboyant and fabulous Chateau de Chambord

Take Chambord. Built by Francis 1, the flamboyant King of France (born 1494). He began work on the castle in 1519, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci (who died that year) and who had been working for the King for the last three years. Immense, architecturally stunning with a double helix staircase whose design may well be by da Vinci, it cost a fortune. And yet Francis spent only 40 nights there in total.

Chambord is dazzling and unlike any other Chateau. The great French writer Victor Hugo said of it “All magic… all madness is represented in the bizarreness of this palace of fairy kings and queens”. And, he’s right, this really does look like a magical castle, with an ethereal air, almost delicate but over powering at the same time. Teeming with turrets and towers, gleaming white stone contrasts with its pointy black slate roof, it is a magnificent display of power and taste.

Chambord’s dramatic past

Francis I never saw the chateau finished. Six years after work started, the king was taken prisoner by Charles V after a battle in Italy. To secure his freedom, he gave up Flanders and Burgundy and his two sons as a ransom. But, obsessed with Chambord, he kept pouring money into it, leaving him nothing to pay for his sons return. It took until 1539 for the chateau to be deemed habitable, though not finished, and between then and his death, Francis stayed there only 40 nights.

Subsequent kings and queens loved Chambord, especially Louis XIV, though when his own Versailles was complete, Chambord fell out of his favour. After the French Revolution Chambord was looted and pretty much neglected. No one wanted it and it was too expensive to pull down as was considered. Eventually a massive restoration programme was put in place thankfully ensuring that we can see this incredible monument today.

What to see at the Chateau de Chambord Loire Valley

The chateau has 426 rooms and 282 fireplaces, which on chilly days you’ll find some are lit. It’s lovely to see the embers glowing and the rooms scented with the smell of a wood fire, just as they would have been when it was inhabited. Some rooms are furnished with tapestries, paintings and furniture, many are empty, just as they would have been. It doesn’t matter, this place is so huge there’s plenty to see.

There are a stunning 83 staircases here including that special double spiral staircase. Climb the stairs to the roof top and look out over the extraordinary newly renovated gardens. A donation of 3.5 m euros from an American benefactor have transformed the vast area in front of the chateau

Don’t miss a trip to shops, restaurants, maison des vins and the lovely biscuiterie in the tiny town-like estate at the foot of the chateau. I had to be dragged out of the biscuit shop and away from the utterly delicious cherry fancies!

Here you can also do a free wine tasting and buy Chambord, a sweet French liqueur that’s very more-ish. Made from honey, vanilla and raspberries, drink it neat, with white wine or Champagne or even splashed over ice cream. It’s notoriously difficult to get hold of overseas and even in France – this really is an exclusive sip.

Stay in the area at La Maison d’a Cote www.lamaisondacote.fr it’s a gorgeous boutique hotel with beautifully decorated rooms in a tranquil town in the countryside. The chef/owner, the renowned Christophe Hay, makes delectable dishes – his chocolate mousse is the best I have ever tasted.

Virtual Visit to the Chateau of Chambord

Take an online visit of the Chateau de Chambord and see the incredible double helix staircase up close. Wander in the rooms, wonder at the ancient ceilings, nip up to the roof top and take a stroll in the park: chambord.org/fr/chambord-chez-vous/chambord-google-street-view

More on visits to the Loire Valley

Chateau du Clos Lucé, the former home of Leonardo da Vinci is beautiful and atmospheric
The magnificent Abbey de Fontevraud
The enchanting Chateau de Brissac, the tallest castle in France and the most amazing setting for a very posh B&B

Château de Chambord: Francis I’s Incredible Loire Valley Palace

Approached by a long, tree-lined road, the Château de Chambord is a breathtaking vision to behold, rising up like the Mont Saint-Michel, but out of an ocean of forest. With dozens of chimneys, cupolas, gables and towers reaching 56 metres into the air, and 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases within, it’s the largest château in the Loire Valley, France’s ‘Valley of Kings’. During the Renaissance era, it was simply the greatest, most resplendent castle in Europe, an absolute architectural masterpiece which earned Francis I the nickname of Le Roi Batisseur – the builder king.

The fingerprints of Leonardo da Vinci, who was employed in the position of the king’s First Painter, Engineer and Architect until his death four months before construction began, appear to be everywhere. Upon visiting in 1539, Francis I’s greatest rival, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, declared that Chambord embodied “a summary of what human industry can achieve”.

Yet despite its glorious beginnings , in recent years has Chambord become the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ of French monuments? In 2013, visitors were no more numerous than in 1998 – 750,000. Over the same period at the Château de Versailles, visitors nearly tripled, from 2.68 million to 7.5 million, a trend seen among other major French sites. Chambord, it seems, has struggled to adapt to the realities of global tourism. Worse, through the centuries, Chambord’s meaning and purpose have become clouded in the public’s eyes. Often regarded as a lovely but oversized hunting lodge with too many empty rooms to merit a visit, today around twice as many tourists take a quick photo of Chambord from its parking area than those who actually step inside.

However, this year, as France celebrates the 500th anniversary of Francis I’s coronation, the Château de Chambord may finally be rising from its slumber.

For years, eight different public entities had a hand in Chambord’s management and this archaic system bogged down how the Château functioned until 2005, when it was finally regrouped into a single, streamlined commercial public establishment, a la Versailles or l’Opéra National de Paris. Over the next decade, numerous shake-ups took place across the 5440-hectare domain, which notably includes the Renaissance castle, Europe’s largest walled forest and the only entirely state-owned village commune in France.

A multi-million Euro restoration of the château was launched – from the famous double-helix staircase up to the fleur-de-lis-topped lanterne tower – and such fundamental posts as head curator, cultural director and communications director were created. Finally, this winter, Chambord adopted its first strategic plan since the state assumed its stewardship in 1930.

The project is ambitious and aims to achieve 100 per cent financial independence (versus the current 86 per cent) by 2020, notably by increasing the annual visitor figure to one million. The creation of a rich cultural calendar, improved visitor services and lodgings, resurrected historic gardens and the refurnishing of long empty rooms are all elements of the plan. The hope is to not only draw more visitors, but encourage them to linger, be it for an afternoon or a weekend, so that they can see Chambord in a radically new light.

Fresh Attractions

To boost Chambord’s allure, period furnishings loaned from the Mobilier National have begun reappearing in numerous hitherto empty rooms. Louis XV’s flamboyant 18th-century style is newly on display in rooms like the Maréchal de Saxe Appartement de Parade and the Appartement Conti, and the 17th century shines in Louis XIV’s refurnished Appartement de Parade. Chambord is even overseeing the recreation of chairs, beds and tapestries straight out of 16th century paintings and documents, for a complete refurnishing of King Francis I’s royal chambers by 2019.

The complete refurnishing of Chambord will take a while, so from this July visitors are to be offered the use of augmented reality ‘HistoPads’ – small iPads which allow them to view any room as it would have looked 500 years ago, when Francis I and his court were in residence.

Soon, though, no virtual-reality will be needed to behold Chambord’s forgotten gardens. Following on from last year’s replanting of English-style gardens between the château and village, based on a set of 1889 plans, Chambord’s Jardins à la Française are due to come back to life in 2016. The latter reconstruction follows the archival discoveries of 18th-century engravings depicting a cross-shaped garden on the château’s northwest side and architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart’s original plans, which were drawn up for King Louis XIV.

Re-Engineering Perception

Even as Chambord prepares for a boost in tourism, with a new visitor centre opening in spring 2016, and a tripling of lodging capacity underway – including luxury cottages a stone’s throw from the château and an €8 million renovation of the onsite Hôtel Saint Michel – Jean d’Haussonville, CEO of the National Domain of Chambord, has said that their greatest challenge remains: recasting Chambord’s identity in the eyes of the world.

Is Chambord an oversized hunting lodge, or a UNESCO world-heritage monument on par with the Great Pyramids in Egypt or Machu Picchu in Peru? Chambord’s new slogan, ‘Entrez dans le Monde du Genie’ (Step into the world of genius), seems to offer an answer. From Fontainebleau to Versailles, royal castles throughout French history underwent considerable modifications. Successive kings added wings while erasing their predecessors’ work. But not at Chambord.

“They say the work of genius is in the complete work, a work to which nothing could be added or taken away,” reflects d’Haussonville. “And we see that very well here – every French political regime had this intuition that you mustn’t touch Chambord… that they were dealing with a château completely unlike any other.”

King Francis I dedicated nearly three decades of his life to building Chambord and, by one estimate, the equivalent of half the state’s budget for construction during that time, all for a castle which was too remote and hard to heat, to ever really be a practical place to live. Indeed, Francis I would only sleep there a handful of weeks during his reign. But what if Chambord is less a castle than a work of astronomically expensive conceptual art?

As Henry James noted in the 20th century, at first sight, Chambord appears to be more than just “a single building… the towers, cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city”.

During the Renaissance, theologians and humanist intellectuals like Erasmus and Thomas More were theorizing about the ideal society, drawing on everything from the Bible to the Kabbala to Plato, in order to imagine a city where everyone lives in equality. These ideas, well known to Kings and Popes, nourished some of the grandest architectural projects of the era. For historian François Parot, a Chambord guide, it’s no wonder both Francis I and the Pope, who was rebuilding Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome while the Château was under construction, chose a Greek cross with equidistant arms as the form of their masterworks. “They were using the same archetype,” he says, “a sacred city, a particular ideal city”.

In the Old Testament it’s called ‘New Jerusalem’, in the Book of Revelations, ‘Heavenly Jerusalem’ or the ‘Celestial City’, where the 12 tribes of Israel, and all the world’s nations, will rejoin in harmony one day. The city is described as having four sides representing the four cardinal points (North, South, East, West), with gates open in every direction. When the Portuguese ambassador, Francisco de Moraes, described Chambord in 1541, he explained that the cross-shaped donjon or keep has four doors opening onto the four corners of the earth.

“Chambord is a reflection in stone of the ideas behind the Renaissance,” says d’Haussonville. “It’s an architectural metaphor for the eternal cycle [of life and the universe].”

At the heart of New Jerusalem is said to grow the Tree of Life, portrayed during the Renaissance as two entwined trunks. And what ascends through the heart of Chambord, to the very tip of the lanterne tower? A double-helix staircase, which is widely attributed to Leonardo Da Vinci.

“Chambord is to architecture what the Mona Lisa is to painting, it’s the major work of the Renaissance, and even if Leonardo Da Vinci might not be the author of Chambord he certainly inspired it,” says d’Haussonville. “It’s a work of genius, a concentration of intelligence which is unique in the world, but which takes time for one to begin to comprehend. However, once you start to reflect on Chambord, you find that it reads like a symphony.”

Interpreting the Symbolism

Of course, it helps to have a guide with the keys to interpreting Chambord’s secrets, such as François Parot or his colleague, Thibaud Fourrier, a Université de Tours historian. Parot and Fourrier have made the first comprehensive interpretation and inventory of Chambord’s myriad sculpted décors, which include salamanders, porcupines, Charlemagne’s imperial crown and angel wings, knotted ropes and fleur-de-lys…

“Some of these symbols have been here for 500 years, but we only first interpreted them a few years ago. But why would anyone be interested in them?” says Parot. “This was supposedly just a hunting lodge.” Far from it, Parot insists, “these décors allow us to understand Chambord, they are part of a sculptural programme”.

During a visit with Parot, Chambord comes to light as a symbol of power and legitimacy for Francis I, a king who wished to be seen as the rightful heir of the Clovis, France’s first Christian King. Legend said that an angel descended from heaven to anoint Clovis with a fleur-de-lis, his authority thus coming directly from God.

Seen this way, Chambord is Francis I’s majestic message to the world, but it’s also a vehicle for his most intimate conversations. The lanterne tower is covered with numerous mysterious carvings drawn from Christian and Jewish symbolism (figure eights, triple crosses) which are hidden from the view to those walking the terrace roof below. Other symbols inside, such as the great ‘F’s on the lanterne ceiling, have simply been carved backwards, as if they were intended to be read from above. As d’Haussonville puts it, “in these elements of Chambord’s architecture… the king is speaking to God.”

But can this ethereal dimension of Chambord really be made palpable for a tourist? D’Haussonville believes so. It’s what all these new gardens and rooms, walkways and holiday cottages are intended for – “creating spaces so that people have time to live, to experience Chambord inside and out, and to feel something here.”

For his part, d’Haussonville says, “There is a spiritual dimension here at Chambord. You feel it in the castle… the way all the towers are oriented in different directions, each turning by degree, you get this sensation of ascension. It’s a castle that dances, it’s spiralling toward the heavens.”

For more information, visit www.chambord.org

The Cultural Calendar: What’s on at Chambord during 2015…

For theatre lovers, what could be more magical than attending a play by Molière in the place it was first performed, in front of Louis XIV, some 345 years ago? This spring, the great Denis Podalydès of the Comédie Française will direct performances of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at Chambord (May 22-23). That event is just one example of how the château’s keepers are bringing the arts back to Chambord.

Other highlights include an exhibition of French artist Guillaume Bruère’s paintings inspired by Francis I (Apr 12-Aug 30), a show of photos of the Chambord forest by Korean lensman Bae Bien-U (Sept 27, 2015-Mar 20, 2016) and the Festival de Chambord (July 3-18), which offers 15 days of music from the Renaissance to the contemporary. There’s even a riotous equestrian show inspired by Francis I’s victory at the Battle of Marignano and Chambord’s history (May 1-Sept 27).

Walk through the Centuries with ‘HISTOPAD’

The château’s new augmented reality visitor technology explained…

Chambord’s extraordinary scale seems to guarantee the château could never be completely refurnished. Nonetheless, starting this July it will be possible to see Chambord as it would have looked centuries ago when the king and his court stayed at the château, thanks to the new, augmented reality ‘HistoPad’.

Walk into any room of the château, and these small iPads, which were created by the French start-up company Normandy Productions, become windows into the past. When a HistoPad is held up inside a room, a reconstruction of the historic décors — tapestries, furniture, etc —appears instantly, with pop up text and multiple interactive details. The HistoPad may well be a game changer for Chambord. In 2013, an earlier version of the technology was introduced at the Château de Falaise, William the Conqueror’s Castle in Normandy, and one year later the number of visitors had doubled.

Loire, France: Chateau de Chambord - History

Château de Chambord

VISITES : Parc en libre accès toute l’année et tous les jours.
Ouvert tous les jours de l’année sauf le 1er janvier, le 30 novembre et le 25 décembre.

  • du 2 janvier au 27 mars : 9h – 17h
  • du 28 mars au 25 octobre : 9h – 18h
  • du 26 octobre au 31 décembre : 9h – 17h

Dernier accès ½ heure avant la fermeture du château. Les jardins à la française ferment ½ heure avant le château.
Le château ferme à 16h les 24 et 31 décembre.

Les tarifs 2020 sont valables jusqu’au 31 décembre 2020

Plein tarif : 14,50 € (château + jardins)
Tarif réduit :12 € (présentation d’un justificatif obligatoire)

  • Visiteur ayant acheté une prestation « forêt ou animation » destinée aux groupes ou aux individuels vendue par le domaine national de Chambord.
  • Enseignant non titulaire du pass éducation, responsable de centre de documentation et d’information et chef d’établissement.
  • Jeune de 18 à 25 ans (hors union européenne).
  • Accompagnant du détenteur de la carte d’abonnement.
  • Demandeur d’emploi, bénéficiaire du RSA ou d’aide sociale
  • Tarif CE pour le titulaire d’une carte CE nominative avec date de validité.
  • Groupes de plus de 20 personnes.

Gratuité (sur présentation d’un justificatif) :

  • Moins de 18 ans (pour public individuel)
  • 18-25 ans ressortissants de l’Union Européenne (pour public individuel)
  • Les enseignants français du primaire et du secondaire (Enseignant titulaire du pass éducation nationale tamponné pour l’année en cours)
  • Titulaire de la Carte Culture délivrée par le Ministère de la Culture
  • Personne en situation de handicap + 1 accompagnant

Le château de Chambord, le plus vaste des châteaux de la Loire . est situé dans la commune du même nom, dans le Loir-et-Cher. Il fut édifié, à partir de 1519 (règne de François Ier ), au cœur du plus grand parc forestier clos d’Europe (environ 50 km² et mur d’enceinte de 32 km de long).

Son jardin d’agrément ainsi que le parc de chasse ont été classés “monuments historiques“.

Le site de Chambord fut précédemment à la construction du château actuel (seul domaine royal encore intact depuis sa création), une motte féodale.

Le château et son domaine ont bénéficié de l’inscription au Patrimoine Mondial de l’UNESCO en 1981 classement depuis 2000 dans la zone de classement de la région naturelle du Val de Loire entre Sully-sur-Loire et Chalonnes-sur-Loire ainsi que dans le réseau Natura 2000 en 2006. Le château de Chambord figura également sur la première liste de Monuments Historiques, établie en 1840 et appartient au réseau des résidences royales européennes.

En 1516, François Ier, roi de France depuis 1515 (célèbre date de sa victoire militaire à Marignan) souhaita l’édification d’un château somptueux célébrant sa gloire, dans la forêt giboyeuse de Chambord.

C’est ainsi que débuta le chantier d’une immense création architecturale qui n’avait pas été envisagé comme demeure royale mais plutôt comme annexe du château de Blois. Dans les faits, François 1er ne passa à Chambord que 42 jours pendant ses 32 ans de règne. Cette nouvelle « merveille du monde » était destinée à immortaliser son constructeur, François Ier, le « prince architecte ». Il est probable que Léonard de Vinci , installé au château du Clos-Lucé à Amboise à la fin de l’année 1516, y fut associé au projet architectural.

Le chantier commença par la destruction de plusieurs bâtiments, dont l’ancien château des comtes de Blois et l’église du village ainsi que par la construction des fondations du donjon carré flanqué de quatre tours unique bâtiment prévu à l’origine.

Le roi décida d’ajouter deux ailes latérales au donjon primitif, dont l’une devait accueillir son logis.
1 800 ouvriers travaillèrent à la construction du château de Chambord.

Le donjon était déjà construit lors de la visite de Charles Quint, grand rival de François Ier, qui y passa la nuit du 18 au 19 décembre 1539, en chemin depuis l’Espagne et à destination de Gand. L’accueil réservé à l’empereur du Saint-Empire romain germanique fut grandiose.

François Ier mourut en 1547. et lors du très peu de temps qu’il voua à Chambord, il se consacra principalement à la chasse, en compagnie d’un petit groupe d’intimes.

Les travaux de construction continuèrent sous le règne d’Henri II puis ils furent interrompus à sa mort en 1559.

Par la suite et pendant une centaine d’années, les séjours du roi et de sa cour se raréfièrent tandis que l’édifice continuait de susciter l’admiration de ses visiteurs. Un chantier de consolidation fut entrepris en 1566 (règne de Charles IX).

Chambord était trop distant des lieux de séjours de la Cour et tomba progressivement en désuétude. Henri III, puis Henri IV, n’y séjournèrent pas et ne continuèrent pas les travaux.
Louis XIII visita deux fois à Chambord., en 1614, à l’âge de treize ans, puis en 1616, de retour de Bordeaux.

À partir de 1639, Chambord fut occupé par Gaston d’Orléans, frère du roi, qui avait reçu en apanage le comté de Blois en 1626. Des travaux de restauration, d’aménagement et d’assainissement des marais environnants furent ainsi entrepris entre 1639 et 1642.

Le projet initial de François Ier fut achevé à l’avènement de Louis XIV. Le Roi-Soleil avait bien compris le symbole de puissance et de grandeur que pouvait représenter Chambord. Les travaux furent confiés à l’architecte Hardouin-Mansart entre 1680 et 1686.

Louis XIV effectua une dizaine de séjours au château de Chambord entre 1650 et 1685, parfois accompagné par la troupe de Molière qui y joua deux comédies-ballets accompagné de musiques de Lully : Monsieur de Pourceaugnac et Le Bourgeois gentilhomme à l’occasion de la venue en France d’une ambassade turque.

Louis XIV fit aménager un appartement, comprenant une antichambre, un salon des nobles et une chambre de parade.

C’est également sous le règne de Louis XIV que fut entreprise la création d’un parterre devant la façade Nord ainsi que le creusement du canal du Cosson.

En 1700, Philippe V (roi d’Espagne) effectua une visite à Chambord en compagnie des ducs de Berry et de Bourgogne.

Louis XV y logea son beau-père Stanislas Leszczyński, roi de Pologne entre 1725 et 1733.

Le château resta vide pendant 12 ans, puis en 1745, Louis XV en fit don au maréchal de Saxe qui en devient gouverneur à vie.

Après la mort de Maurice de Saxe en 1750, le château ne fut plus habité que par ses gouverneurs.

À la Révolution française, les habitants des villages environnants se livrèrent au saccage du domaine. Les grands animaux furent tués, les arbres coupés ou ravagés par le pacage des troupeaux. Les pillages furent arrêtés militairement en mai 1790. En 1792, le gouvernement fit vendre le mobilier qui n’avait pas été volé mais les enchères s’accompagnèrent de pillages nocturnes. Les fenêtres et les portes furent arrachées ainsi que les plombs ornant les combles du donjon. Un état des lieux du 17 juin 1796 confirma le désastre et pourtant le gros oeuvre échappa à la destruction.

En juillet 1802, le premier consul Napoléon Bonaparte attribua Chambord à la quinzième cohorte de la Légion d’honneur.

En 18065, Napoléon Ier décida de créer à Chambord une maison d’éducation pour les filles des titulaires de la Légion d’honneur.

En 1821, le domaine de Chambord est acquis grâce à une souscription nationale, afin d’être offert au petit-neveu de Louis XVIII, Henri d’Artois, duc de Bordeaux, né l’année précédente.

À la chute de Charles X, son petit-fils le prince Henri reçut le titre de courtoisie de comte de Chambord. Exilé, le prince fit administrer le domaine par un régisseur et y finança de très importants travaux. Le château fut alors officiellement ouvert au public. Pendant la guerre de 1870 le château servit d’hôpital de campagne. C’est depuis le château qu’Henri publia un manifeste aux Français, appelant à la restauration de la monarchie et du drapeau blanc. À son décés survenu en 1883, Chambord passe par héritage aux princes de Bourbon de Parme ses neveux : Robert Ier (1848-1907) et son frère Henri de Bourbon-Parme (1851-1905), comte de Bardi. À la mort de Robert de Parme en 1907, le château fut transmis à sa descendance.

Mis sous séquestre pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, le domaine fut acheté onze millions de francs-or en 1930 par l’État français . La gestion et l’exploitation du domaine furent partagées entre l’administration des domaines, les Eaux et forêts et les monuments historiques.

Dès le début de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, le château devint le centre de triage des trésors des musées nationaux de Paris qu’il fallut évacuer et protéger des bombardements allemands. Certaines oeuvres, comme la Joconde, ne restèrent à Chambord que quelques mois alors que d’autres y demeurèrent pendant toute la durée de l’Occupation.

En 1981, le domaine fut inscrit au Patrimoine Mondial de l’UNESCO.
En juin 2016, une crue inhabituelle du Cosson inonda les parterres nord et la cour royale du château qui fut fermé aux visiteurs pendant une semaine.

En 2017, les jardins à la française fur recréés. A l’origine, ils avaient été commandés par Louis XIV puis achevés sous Louis XV et avaient existé pendant plus de deux siècles avant de disparaître. Ils occupent six hectares et demi au nord et à l’est du château.

Château de Chambord

The Château de Chambord was our first stop on our day-trip from Paris to see the Loire Valley. Chambord is one of the most distinctive châteaux of all the grand estates in the Loire. It is also the largest, tallying 440 rooms (60 of them open to the public), 282 fireplaces, 77 staircases, and over 800 sculpted columns. It is a perfect example of French Renaissance architecture, blending French medieval tradition (a central keep in the shape of a Greek cross, round bastions at the corners, two wings, two towers, a curtain wall) with the classical influences of the Italian Renaissance. The château is also one of the inspirations for the castle in Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and, when I take you up to see a closer view of the towers on the roof later in this post, you will see why.

Front view of the château.

A distant view of the Château de Chambord circa 1723. Philippe, the Duc d’Orléans and Regent of France for Louis XV, is pictured. Pierre-Denis Martin, 1723. Image sourced from the collections website of the Château de Versailles.

The owners of the Château de Chambord and the progression of their tenancy present a microcosm of France’s turbulent political history over the last 500 years. The château was commissioned by François I (1494-1547) in 1519, who planned to use it as a (super-fancy) lodge for hunting parties. He appreciated the seclusion of the location in the marshy, game-rich region of Sologne. François (known as Francis in English) was a great patron of the arts, and he kick-started the (Italian-influenced) Renaissance in French art, culture, and architecture. He was a patron of Leonardo da Vinci, and brought the Italian artist and inventor to the Loire Valley in 1517 da Vinci remained there for two years until his passing in 1519. It’s rumoured that da Vinci had a hand in the design of the Château de Chambord, especially with the double-helix staircase, but it is unknown exactly how much he was involved. The original design of the château is attributed to another Italian, architect Domenico da Cortona. However, construction was slow as François was soon caught up in the Italian War of 1521-26. Dwindling royal funds meant that work all but ceased, and there was difficulty with laying the chateau’s foundations in the swampy soil. In 1524, the walls were barely above ground level. In 1526, construction resumed with 1,800 workers hired to work on the project.

The double-helix staircase contains two spirals that intertwine it is designed so that two people using the staircase at the same time will never see or run into each other. From the outside it looks like there is only a single staircase.

François maintained his royal residences at the Château de Blois and the Château d’Amboise consequently, he spent very little time at Chambord itself. He only spent 72 days in residence at Chambord, and all of this time was part of short hunting visits. However, it should be noted that the château was designed for brief stays rather than for living on a long-term basis. The massive windows, high ceilings, and open windows made it impossible to heat. There was no nearby village or estate to help keep it properly supplied and staffed, so all provisions (including furnishings, as the château was kept unfurnished at the time) had to be brought in by the traveling party, which often numbered 2,000 people. Seclusion has its benefits, but also its challenges.

François I, who commissioned the building of Chambord. Portrait by Jean Clouet, c. 1530. From Wikipedia.

The present furnishings at Chambord nod to its past function as a hunting lodge.

Like his father, Charles d’Angoulême, François used a crowned salamander as his personal emblem. It was thought that salamanders could walk through flames and extinguish them, hence the motto: nutrisco et extinguo (“I nourish and I extinguish”). For this reason, salamanders are also popular symbols used by firefighters. In medieval lore, a salamander was symbolic of a man who trusted in God and whose soul remained peaceful, even as he walked through the fires of passion, war, and uncertainty. A salamander was also a Christ-like figure who baptized the world with flame. So adopting a salamander as a personal totem signified a man’s bravery, his chastity, as well as power through his ability to harness fire. “Salamander hair” was once marketed to the wealthy for use in their cloaks and garments as a fireproof material that wouldn’t burn in reality, this indestructible material was actually asbestos.

Salamanders can be found all over Francis’ residences, including Chambord. Initially, François’ salamanders spat water, but the water was eventually replaced by flame.

Chambord was the château François used to impress foreign dignitaries, including his archrival Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, whom he invited to Chambord in 1539. Charles praised Chambord as “a summary of what human industry can achieve.”

Construction on the château was unfinished at the time of François’ death in 1547 the central keep and the royal wing had been completed, but the chapel wing and the lower enclosure were not yet finalized. Following the death of its creator, Chambord fell into disuse for a period of more than 80 years. François’ son, Henri II, died rather unexpectedly in 1559 and royal succession quickly cycled through Henri’s three short-lived sons. The French Wars of Religion (1562-1598) kept the country fairly occupied as tensions between Catholics and Protestants hit a fever pitch.

View from one of the windows of the château.

In 1626, Gaston, Duke of Orléans and brother of King Louis XIII, was granted the County of Blois (to which Chambord belongs). Gaston occasionally dabbled in a little conspiracy here and there against Louis XIII and Prime Minister Cardinal Richelieu, but what’s a little treason, war, and attempted assassination between brothers? Gaston was placed under house arrest in 1534 at Chambord. The Château benefitted from the attention, as the Duke restored the building and its towers, enlarged the property, and completed construction of a wall enclosing the entire estate. It is thanks to him that Chambord was saved from total ruin and became as large as it is today at 13,450 acres, with a wall spanning 32 km (20 miles). It is the largest enclosed park in Europe, and is as vast as inner Paris.

Gaston, Duke of Orleans. Anthony van Dyck, 1634. From Wikipedia.

When Gaston died in 1660, Chambord became property once more of the crown. Gaston’s nephew, Louis XIV, completed construction of the château at long last. He finished construction on the chapel wing and the lower enclosure, furnished the royal apartments, added a 1,200 horse stable, and restored the great keep. He and his court visited Chambord seven times between 1660-1685, usually in the autumn, and they spent their weeks hunting, throwing grand balls, and watching comedic performances. Chambord had at last become the grand royal retreat that had been envisioned by François I. Louis XIV’s last visit to Chambord was in 1685, as he soon had another pleasure palace at Versailles to keep him entertained.

Louis XIV, the Sun King. Hyacinthe Rigaud, 1701. From Wikipedia.

Louis XIV bust at Chambord. It is a plaster of an original sculpture done by Antoine Coysevox in the 18th century.

The emblem of the Sun King can be found on the window shutters.

In 1725, Chambord became home to the exiled King of Poland, Stanislaw I Leszczsynski, upon marriage of Leszczsynski’s daughter, Maria, to King Louis XV. Leszczsynski enjoyed a quiet, secluded stay in Chambord with his modest court, all the while plotting to recover the Polish throne. Outbreaks of malaria in the summertime occasionally forced Leszczsynski to retreat from Chambord and its marshy grounds to nearby residences (such as Blois). He decided to address the problem of the infected swamp areas around Chambord in order to improve living conditions at the château. He installed bridges and dykes, cleaned and widened the nearby river Cosson to make a canal, raised the walls of the artificial terrace, and deposited extra soil. His work was interrupted in 1733 when destiny called for Leszczsynski once more, when Augustus II of Poland died. Leszczsynski returned to Poland and was elected King. However, his subsequent reign was brief, as Russia and Austria then invaded the country in order to depose him they didn’t want Leszczsynski to unite Poland with their rivals, Sweden and France. The Château de Chambord would remain empty while Leszczsynski chose to stay in Lorraine following his second loss of the Polish throne.

Stanislaw Leszczsynski, circa 1731. From Wikipedia.

In 1745, Louis XV gifted Chambord to Maurice de Saxe, Marshal of France, as a reward for his victory in the Battle of Fontenoy. Interestingly, Maurice was one of eight acknowledged illegitimate children of Augustus II, Saxon elector and Leszczsynski’s rival for the Polish throne. Maurice, one of the great generals of the age, installed his military regiment at Chambord. Military maneuvers, hunting parties, and other forms of entertainment kept him and his men entertained. Maurice lowered Chambord’s ceilings, made the rooms smaller, and brought in tiled heaters from his home region of Saxony in an effort to heat the giant estate. Many of the furnishings present today at Chambord are meant to reflect the look of this period. Maurice also had a formal French garden planted, built numerous roadways in the park to better serve his hunting parties and their hounds, and commissioned other projects throughout the château and its grounds. Maurice died in the château on November 30, 1750. Again, Chambord fell into disuse.

Maurice de Saxe, circa 1750-1760. From Wikipedia.

In 1792, Chambord was stripped of its furnishings, wall panelings, and even its floors as revolutionary activity swept through the Loire Valley. Anti-monarchists sought to sell everything they could find, even the timber. The panelled doors of Chambord were said to have been burned to keep the rooms warm as everything was sold off. In spite of the thorough ransacking, the château was thankfully not destroyed (as other châteaux were). It remained abandoned until 1809, when Napoleon Bonaparte gifted it to Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Chief of Napoleon’s Staff, French Marshal, and Vice-Constable of the Empire. But Berthier did little with Chambord but pass through it, and his widow later sought to sell it off.

Louis-Alexandre Berthier. Jacques Augustin Catherin Pajou, 1808. From Wikipedia.

In 1821, a nation-wide fundraising campaign was held to purchase the estate from Berthier’s widow in order to gift it to the one-year old Duke of Bordeaux, Henri of Artois. Henri, also known as the Count of Chambord, was the grandson of Charles X and the last legitimate descendant in the male line of Louis XV of France. Henri’s father Charles Ferdinand, the Duke of Berry, was stabbed by an anti-royalist assassin on February 13, 1420, and died the next day. His wife, Marie-Caroline of Bourbon-Two-Siciles, the Duchess of Berry, gave birth to Henri seven months after Charles’ death. He was called Dieudonné (God-given), as his birth saved the senior male line of the House of Bourbon from extinction.

The Birth of Henri d’Artois, Count of Chambord. From the Château de Chambord website.

Henri’s birth announcement, posted at Chambord.

On August 2, 1830, Charles X abdicated his throne as a result of the July Revolution. Charles’ son Louis Antoine followed suit. Charles X encouraged his cousin, Louis Philippe of Orléans, Lieutenant General of the Kingdom, to proclaim ten-year old Henri as King Henri V. Louis Philippe refused to do so. After a period of seven days, the National Assembly decreed that Louis Philippe was King. It is disputed whether Henri could be considered King of France for that period of time between August 2-9. Monarchists became divided on who they felt was the rightful ruler of France: Henri or Louis Phillippe. Henri’s supporters became known as Legitimists, as he was the genealogically senior claimant to the French throne (especially after Charles X passed away in 1836, and his uncle Louis Antoine in 1844). Those who supported Louis Phillippe’s family and his “July Monarchy” were called Orléanists.

Louis Philippe. Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1845. From Wikipedia.

Henri and his family went into exile in Austria on August 16, 1830. The Château de Chambord was the only piece of property Henri was allowed to retain, and he preferred to go by the courtesy title of “The Count of Chambord.” He administered the estate from afar through a steward, commissioning numerous restoration projects to the building and the grounds. The château was opened to visitors for the first time, where Henri had some artwork (such as family portraits) exhibited. Henri hoped to one day return to France, where he would reside in Chambord and reign as King. He waited as France cycled through Louis Philippe’s July Monarchy (1830-1848), the Second Republic of President Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte (1848-1851), and the Second French Empire of Napoleon III (1852-1870). His chance seemed to come with the breakout of the Franco-Prussian War in July of 1870 and the collapse of the Second French Empire. In September, royalists became a majority in the French National Assembly, and restoration of the monarchy seemed like a good possibility. The Orléanists joined forces with the Legitimists, throwing their support behind Henri with the expectation that upon his death (leaving no heirs, as he was childless), their preferred claimant, Philippe d’Orléans (Louis-Philippe’s grandson) would ascend to the throne. However, Henri said that he would accept the crown only if France abandoned the use of the tricolour flag and return to the one with the white fleur-de-lys. He was uncompromising upon this point, and it cost him a crown. Instead of restoring the monarchy with Henri at its head, a temporary Third Republic was established. The royalist majority of the National Assembly intended to wait until Henri died, and then they would move forward with the more liberal Philippe d’Orléans as King. But by the time Henri died in 1883, public opinion had changed and now it preferred a continuation of the republican government. The Third French Republic would last until the breakout of World War II in 1940, and the German occupation of France.

Chambord was used as a field hospital during the Franco-Prussian War, which lasted until January 1871.

A large ceremonial armchair now found at Chambord. It was offered to Henri by French monarchists and installed at his residence, the Schloss Frohsdorf, in Austria. Henri granted hearings while sitting in this chair in his “throne room”, and anyone who passed in front of it had to bow. There is a label on the chair that reads “Henri, deign to accept this pledge of my constant love for you. Calm as in the storm, my heart will always be yours.”

Upon Henri’s death, ownership of Chambord fell to his nephews, the princes of Bourbon-Parma (Parma is a city in northern Italy). The estate went first to the elder nephew, Robert, Duke of Parma, who died in 1907, and then to Elias, Prince of Parma. Their Austrian nationality became an issue during World War I, and Chambord was confiscated as enemy property in 1915. Elias’ family sued, and they were compensated for the loss of the estate when the suit was settled in 1932. In 1930, the château became state property. On August 25, 1939, as the Germans began to invade France, many pieces from the Louvre art collection were relocated to Chambord. 203 trucks were used to transport 1,862 wooden cases. The art pieces were moved from chateau to chateau throughout the Loire Valley, trying to keep them out of the hands of the Nazis.

The Winged Victory of Samothrace (Nike) being lowered down a ramp on September 3, 1939, as pieces from the Louvre art collection are moved from Paris. Original photo credited to Noel de Boyer. From Wikipedia.

On June 22, 1944, an American heavy bomber plane, a B-24 “Liberator” from the U.S. Air Force based out of England, crashed on the lawn of Chambord. The crew parachuted to safety, and the pilot and co-pilot were hidden separately in nearby villages for several months. The pilot, Lt. William Kalan, took part in Allied arms drops and other French Resistance activities while in hiding. Both Klemstine and his co-pilot, Lt. Kenneth Klemstine, crossed the Loire and joined up with approaching U.S. troops as the Loire Valley was liberated from German occupation.

A U.S. Air Force Photo of a B-24 Liberator bomber.

In 1981, the Château de Chambord was added to UNESCO’s world heritage list.

And, with the history settled, lets move on to some more pictures taken from our visit!

Let’s start with the roof, as that is the highlight of the visit. It’s also where we started, as our time was short and we wanted to make sure we had enough time to appreciate it.

Here is the top of the double-helix stairwell, which takes you up to the roof. The stairwell is housed in the most beautiful tower on the terrace, known as the lantern tower.

The inside of the stairwell (this picture is from Pixabay, as my shot ended up being too blurry to use).

This shot, also from Pixabay, is too good not to use. How many salamanders can you see?

The exterior of the lantern tower.

As promised, let’s now take a look at the castle used in Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.

Here are some stills featuring the castle from the 1991 animated film.

From Disney Wiki. Note all the different towers!

The similarities are even more apparent with the live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast in 2017. (Which, coincidentally, I watched on the plane on our flight over to France, and so I had the songs stuck in my head the whole time we were touring the countryside).

I really like the look of the updated castle in this opening sequence!

Back to the real castle, for comparison’s sake.

Looking at the grounds from the terrace of the real tower.

All right, let’s go back through the château itself. Let’s start with some stained glass windows.

I’m willing to wager that the “H” stands for Henri d’Artois, Count of Chambord.

Let’s check out some of the furnished apartment rooms. Remember, furnishings weren’t kept at Chambord until the time of Maurice de Saxe, and all original items that remained at Chambord would have been pillaged and sold off during the French Revolution. Other period-appropriate pieces have been brought back to Chambord to recreate what the rooms would have looked like.

A copy of a painting of The Field of the Cloth of Gold the original hangs at Hampton Court Palace. It depicts a summit that took place between Francis I and Henry VIII from June 7-24, 1520, in northern France near the then-English held Calais. Both Francis and Henry wanted to be seen as Renaissance princes, and tried to outdo each other at this meeting. Their tents and costumes featured an expensive fabric woven with silk and gold thread, as can be seen in the painting below.

A photograph of the original painting, from Wikipedia. Please note the dragon in the top left corner.

All right, that does it for the Château de Chambord. Next up, the Château d’Amboise!

Loire, France: Chateau de Chambord - History

Using Chambord as our example, we’ll see how the Hundred Years' War with England triggered a royal castle-building spree in France’s Loire Valley. Today, the grandiose architecture, decor, and settings of these châteaux illustrate the lavish style of France’s absolute monarchs.



Complete Video Script

Because of its strategic location, the fertility of its land, and its long and involved history, the Loire Valley is home to a dizzying variety of castles and palaces. The earliest were designed purely for defense. But when a “valley address” became a must-have for France’s royalty in the 16th century, the old medieval towers were replaced by luxurious châteaux.

The Loire River’s place in French history goes back to the very foundation of the country. As if to proclaim its storied past, the Loire is the last major wild river in France. With no dams, it flows freely to the sea.

We’ll start with the biggest. Chambord is the granddaddy of the Loire châteaux. Far bigger than your average Loire castle, it has 440 rooms, and a fireplace for every day of the year.

It’s surrounded by Europe’s largest enclosed forest. It’s a game preserve defined by a 20-mile-long wall, and still home to wild deer and boar. Exploring the vast domain by rental bike, you can imagine royal hunting parties chasing their prey. Chambord began as a simple hunting lodge for bored nobles, and eventually became a monument to the royal sport and duty of hunting.

Of course, when it comes to hunting, good horsemanship is an important life skill. Throughout the region it’s not uncommon to see horses prancing and dancing.

Starting in 1519, the French king Francis I had this royal retreat built, employing 1,800 workmen for 15 years.

François I was an absolute monarch — with the emphasis on “absolute.” In 32 years of rule, he never once called the Estates General — that’s the rudimentary parliament of old-regime France — to session. This immense hunting palace was another way to show off his power.

The architectural plan of the château was modeled after an Italian church. It feels a like a place designed to worship royalty. This castle, built while the pope was erecting a new St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, was like a secular rival to the Vatican.

Like a cross crowns a great church, the tip-top of the tallest tower here is capped with the fleur-de-lis — symbol of the French monarchy.

Each floor of the main structure is the same: four equal arms of a cross branching off of a monumental staircase, which leads up to a cupola. Grand après-hunting parties were held under these fine barrel-vaulted ceilings. Constructed for François I, his emblem — the salamander — is everywhere. The hunting theme carries on throughout the palace. This room features paintings and trophies from Chambord’s illustrious hunting past.

Typical of royal châteaux, this palace was rarely used. Back then, any king had to be on the road a lot to effectively exercise his power. That’s why he’d have lots of royal palaces — and they sat empty most of the time. Back in the 1600s, Louis XIV spent a fortune renovating this place, and he visited only six times.

Touring the lavish apartments of various kings and queens, you notice everything inside was designed to be easily dismantled and moved with the royal entourage.

Because French kings moved around a lot, the entire court — and its trappings — had to be mobile. A royal château would sit cold and empty for eleven months out of the year, and then suddenly spring to life when the king came to town.

Imagine the royal roadies setting up a kingly room like this — busily hanging tapestries, assembling beds, unfolding chairs, wrestling big trunks with handles — just before the arrival of the royal entourage. The French word for furniture, mobilier, literally means “mobile.”

The fancy spiral staircase continues to the rooftop terrace, decorated by a pincushion of spires and chimneys. From here, ladies could scan the estate grounds, enjoying the spectacle of their ego-pumping men out hunting.

On hunt day, a line of beaters would fan out and work their way inward from the distant walls, flushing wild game to the center. That’s where the king and his buddies waited for the kill.

The Loire River, gliding gently east to west, separating northern from southern France, has come to define this popular tourist region. The value of this river and the valley’s prime location, in the center of the country just south of Paris, have made the Loire a strategic prize for centuries — hence all these castles.

This river has long been an important boundary in France. Over a thousand years ago, when the Moors invaded Europe from Northern Africa, this is as far north as they got. In World War II, when Germany invaded, this marked the border between Nazi and Vichy France. And even today, when people refer to northern and southern France, this river marks the border.

Traditional flat-bottomed boats romantically moored along embankments are a reminder of the age before trains and trucks, when it was river traffic that safely and efficiently transported heavy loads of stone and timber.

With the prevailing winds sweeping upstream from the Atlantic, barges, loaded with construction material for the châteaux, raised their sails and headed inland. Then, on the way back, boats flowed downstream with the current.

This transportation infrastructure was critical for shipping all the necessary stone. And the region’s thick forests provided plenty of timber, firewood, and hunting terrain. It’s no wonder that castles were built on the Loire in the Middle Ages.

Long before the pleasure palaces, this strategic valley was dotted with no-nonsense medieval castles.

The royal connection with the Loire Valley goes back to the Hundred Years’ War — that was about 1350 to 1450. Because of a dynastic dispute, the English had a serious claim to the French throne, and by the early 1400s they controlled much of France, including Paris. France was at a low ebb, and its kings retreated here to the Loire to rule what remained of their realm. When the threat finally subsided, and the kings returned to Paris, many of their Loire castles became lavish country escapes.

France rebounded and eventually tossed the English back to England. Still, the French kings continued to live in the Loire region for the next two centuries, having grown comfortable with the château culture of the region. The climate was mild, hunting was good, dreamy rivers made nice reflections, wealthy friends lived in similar luxury nearby, and the location was close enough to Paris — but still far enough away.

For France, the 16th century was a kind of cultural Golden Age. With relative peace and stability, there was no longer a need for fortifications deep within the country. The most famous luxury hunting lodges, masquerading as fortresses, were built during this period.

Extravagant châteaux like these didn’t come cheap. They were the fancy of the economic elites — insiders who controlled the workings of the French economy. Of course, that all changed with the French Revolution, when the working class rose up, chased the bankers and financiers off their estates, and ransacked many of their palaces.

Today scores of these castles and palaces have been restored and are open to visitors. Modern-day aristocratic château owners, struggling with the cost of upkeep, enjoy financial assistance from the government if they open their mansions to the public.

Watch the video: Chambord Château, Loire, France