What is our fascination with castles? Or mine, for that matter? I read an article asking the very same question concerning Americans in general. The author shared that for inhabitants of Europe, castles are a common occurrence. For those living in the US, they are few and far between. I could only think of two when I first started writing this post, Biltmore and Boldt. I learned of a few more castles as I was researching. One resource claimed there are but 40 in existence in the United States. While in Europe there are tens of thousands.
After these questions consider fairy tales and royals. Stories and lives beyond our grasp. Lastly, the architecture. How did they build such magnificent structures with limited resources and technology? These feats are amazing.
I felt this awe to my core while visiting Château de Chenonceau in France with a fellow writer. Cindy Stewart and I were on a research trip in Europe. We thought we were taking a break from work to visit a site for amusement. However, we learned of the castle’s rich history while touring and the connection to WWII. In the end, the trip yielded many interesting nuggets. The château straddles the Cher River in the Loire Valley of France. See a portion of the river in the photo above left.
I'll add a link at the end for J. M. Hochstetler’s HHH post for the background of Chenonceau. Here, we will get an inside view.
Speaking of views, visitors approach Château de Chenonceau by walking the length of a sycamore-lined path. Can you imagine the first inhabitants arriving via horse-drawn carriage?
To give you a brief history, Chenonceau’s roots are from the 12th and13th centuries. It was once a château and mill belonging to the Marques family, of which only the dungeon remains. The round tower you see through the window is this donjon, the Tour des Marques. The rest of the château is the result of construction by Thomas Bohier and his wife, Catherine Briçonnet, from 1513 to 1517 as well as additions by later residents. Below is the timeline for and sketches of the changes.
To walk through this grand door from the time of King François I, is to enter a domain maintained by many notable women across time. Château de Chenonceau is often called the Château des Dames or the Ladies' Castle. In addition to Catherine Briçonnet, six women resided and presided here: Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de’ Medici, Louise of Lorraine, Louise Dupin, Marguerite Pelouze, and Simonne Menier. Every woman had a different purpose in life, yet each fulfilled the role of preserving Chenonceau.
Before we peek inside some rooms, take a gander at these images below. Do you wonder at all the feet and shoes that stepped there? Look at the timeworn tiles and battered stairs. How many people ascended and descended to wear down the stone steps?
The Gallery: Catherine de’ Medici employed Jean Bullant to build this gallery. Bullant built upon the bridge that Diane de Poitiers ordered. This Gallery has been used as a ball room, a hospital in WWI, and the South door with access to the left bank was an escape route for the Resistance during WWII.
(The text in the photo with the flowers reads, "Here were treated 2,254 wounded during the War 1914 - 1918.)
The Second floor Hall features the Oudenaarde tapestry from the 1500s which shows the Battle of Kosovo Polje. The painting is by Pierre Justin Ouvrié. The floor is from the Renaissance.
Did you know Chenonceau happens to be the second most visited château in France, behind Versailles? While I can attest that Versailles is opulent and grand, I prefer Chenonceau. Perhaps this is because it seems peaceful and is simpler overall. Most likely it is due to the representation of the medieval period as I seem to favor the older sites. Have you been to or read about Versailles? Which do you prefer?
Please come back on the 3rd of November to see more of this stunning château. I do hope you'll return. Until next time you can learn more about the history in reading J. M. Hochstetler's post: Historic French Châteaux, Part 3: Château de Chenonceau.
Rebecca lives near the mountains with her husband and a rescued dog named Ranger. If it were up to her, she would be traveling - right now. As a member of ACFW and FHLCW, Rebecca learns the craft of fiction while networking with a host of generous writers. She is working on her first fiction novel. This story unfolds from the 1830s in Northern Georgia.