Thursday, October 25, 2012

Château de Chambord, Loire Valley

This post outlines some of our adventures on our Spring Trip in April/May 2012.

The Château de Chambord is a glorious example of French Renaissance architecture; the largest and most visited castle in the Loire Valley (according to my Lonely Planet Guide).

North side of Chateau de Chambord, in the Loire Valley, France

And it really is spectacular: 156 metres (170 yds) long and 56 metres (183 ft) tall, 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and over 400 rooms.

Ornate furnishings in Chateau de Chambord, in the Loire Valley

I have to be honest and say that it was not my favourite castle.

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The château's history goes a long way toward explaining my view.

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King François I initiated construction in 1519 and the castle took 30 years to build, although technically, it was never completed.

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The salamander, the emblem of François I, decorates many surfaces throughout the castle

Chambord was built as a hunting lodge (Comtesse de Thoury, the King's mistress, just happened to own the domaine next door. Isn't that a coincidence?) Some of the rooms are furnished in line with the hunting theme.

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While the design credit for the castle is disputed, but many experts believe that Leonardo Da Vinci designed the super cool double spiral staircase that internally links all three floors of the castle. (You might recall from this post that King François I and Leo were good mates.)

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The second floor level of the staircase has ornate vaulted ceilings.

The external staircases are rather lovely too:

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Including this one, which lead us up to the roof.

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They say that the roof was designed to look like the skyline of Constantinople.

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Speaking of the roof, the ornamental outcrops were made from tufa limestone as it is relatively soft and lends itself to easy carving. Unfortunately it erodes after years in the rain, so had to be replaced more frequently than stone. Many examples of the original roof pieces can be seen on the ground floor.

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More super soft limestone

As you would imagine, Chambord was crazy expensive to build and construction halted several times due to lack of funds (not to mention a few wars here and there).

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By the time François I died in 1547 he had spent a massive 7 weeks total in the castle. Turns out when you build an enormous castle with huge rooms and high ceilings it is very expensive to heat. Then there was the fact that the château was miles from anywhere, so all supplies had to be brought along when visitors came. And finally, because the castle was never intended to be a permanent residence it was never furnished - hunting parties would bring the 1500's version of fold up furniture with them. Given these parties could be up to 2000 strong you can imagine the logistical nightmare they would have been to organise.

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Ornamental wood fire heater

François' son, Henry II along with King Louis XIV both continued work on Chambord. During the French Revolution the castle was stripped - all removable furnishings were sold and floor boards were used as firewood.

Chambord fell into disrepair several times only to be revived by various kings and other royal relatives.

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The birth of the Duke of Bordeaux (known as the Comte de Chambord). The château was given to him as a baby in 1821.

During the 18th century sections of the castle were partitioned and lower ceilings installed to make the building more inhabitable.

The French government bought the château in 1930 from the Comte de Chambord's heirs. Shortly before WWII broke out many of the Louvre and Compiègne museums' artworks were stored in Chambord's chapel for safety (including the Mona Lisa).

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The Chapel

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As you can see from its history, the Château de Chambord has never been a home. Hell, it's never even been fully furnished - even now, open to the public, many rooms remain bare. It's so enormous and so opulent, but really, it's all a bit of a waste, insomuch as that it was never really used for the purpose for which it was built. Of course, being open for all of us to enjoy now goes a long way to redeeming this and I do thoroughly recommend you visit. It's stunning. A bit sad, but stunning.

Another example of what I'm trying to explain: the Coach Room displays beautiful horse drawn carriages built for the Comte de Chambord (saddlery provided by Hermès!). They were never used.

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But it's spectacular, there's no doubt about it.

I hope you can squeeze in a visit one day!

Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley, France

16 comments:

  1. Wow! The staircases are fantastic! I have to visit this place someday... soon!! Thanks so much for sharing!!

    Selena

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  2. Still, that roof - I agree with Selena, wow!

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  3. We spent a week one May driving to several of the Loire Valley chateaus. Our favorite was a smaller one near Chambourd that was still lived in by the family (they fenced off the third floor). It was filled with the furniture acquired over two hundred years, and there were dozens of hunting dogs in a kennel outside.

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  4. Memories of 1980 again! There is definitely nothing homely about it, is there? Thanks again for your beautiful photos!

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  5. Oh my! Spectacular, even if a little excessive!

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  6. As magnificent as it is, I think the beauty lies on the outside. The archicture is beautiful...like an elongated wedding cake. I've never been to the Loire....another for the bucket list!

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  7. This is on our bucket list!!! PS Are you a self taught photographer? Your photos are just incredible! WOW!

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  8. Beautiful pictures!!! The outside and the staircase are really beautiful. I really can imagine, though, that it's a bit depressing visiting all the bare rooms and unused magnificence.

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  9. Again a fabulous place and the way you describe it with the great photos and all. I like your style!

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  10. I enjoyed the tour, I was in Blois years ago and saw that chateau, but missed Chambord. Thanks!

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  11. Wow, magnificent. I would like to have a close look to those jacqaurd fabrics!

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  12. amazing, i wonder what the peasants were doing while all that building, painting, decorating and general tarting was going on? thanks the tour, i loved it

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  13. There was a documentary on it on TV not too long ago. It showed some Gendarmes living in it. They all had these teeny tiny dorm rooms, and I thought it was the saddest, most depressing thing, to live in this grand castle, but in a small college-like dorm.

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  14. It's all so mind boggling! Gorgeous however.

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  15. Such splendour! These images of a slightly faded grandeur are almost sad!

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  16. Wonderful place and Chateau, we have been there in 2003

    You have made great pictures !!

    greetings, Joop

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Hi there, I love getting comments, so let her rip! I do my very best to reply (by email) so please make sure your account is set up to show email, so that I can get back to you. Cheers, Kirsty

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