The Glorious and Distinctive History of French Chateaux

Chateau

A Chateau in France is the singular of chateaux and forms a very special place at the heart of French society and culture.  Originally defensive strongholds, they rapidly came to be anything from medieval keeps, castles and towers to decoratively elegant palaces and manor houses to represent the seats of power of their owners.

 

They can be found all over France but are most numerous in the Loire Valley region in the North West of the country. There are several notable and world-famous chateaux in the country the show the glorious and distinctive history of France, her rulers and her people.

 

The most famous Chateau in France is probably The Palace of Versailles located south west of Paris. A UNESCO world heritage site, Versailles was the principal seat of French rulers for over 100 years form its construction in 1682 to the revolution in 1789.  The vision of Louis XIV, the Sun King, Versailles became famous for its extensive gardens with an intricate network of fountains, canals and geometric flower beds and groves. Versailles became a byword when it hosted the signing of the treaty that officially ended the First World War in 1919 and set the problematic terms for peace.  Now owned by the French state as a museum and galleries, Versailles is the most popular chateau for visitors in the country.

 

The magical and awe-inspiring Chateau de Chenonceau has to be seen to be believed. It spans a bridge over the river Cher in the Loire valley and begins with a medieval Keep at one end and a long angular art gallery on the other that sits atop the bridge.

 

Originally built by the Marques family in the sixteenth century, it is currently owned by the Menier family who owned the famous chocolate brand. Used as a hospital during the First World War, it was bombed by both the Allies and the Axis in the Second World War.  Aside from the beautiful river setting, the chateau also has extensive gardens and an intricate maze to entertain and confuse visitors.

 

Chambord is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley and a unique mix of Renaissance and Medieval architecture and influences that was never formally completed. It was said to have been designed in part by Leonardo Da Vinci and was constructed as a residence by King Francois 1 beginning in 1519. It celebrates its 500th anniversary next year.

 

The links to Leonardo Da Vinci don’t end there. At the outbreak of the Second World War, the art collections of the Louvre and Compiegne museums including the Mona Lisa and the Venus De Milo were housed here for safe keeping.  They had a close call with an American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed on the lawn in 1944. The chateau has inspired architects and designers all over the world for centuries and many buildings including The Founders Building at the Woolwich College, University of London and Fettes College in Edinburgh take their unique looks from here.

 

The Palace of Fontainebleau is now a national museum but is so much more. Another UNESCO World Heritage site, it was a residence for French rulers from Louis VII to Napoleon III.

 

One of the largest royal chateaux, it was both a medieval royal castle and resplendent palace. Although most closely associated with Versailles, Louis XIV spent more time at Fontainebleau than at any of his other residences. Napoleon 1 loved it and renamed the main courtyard the Courtyard of Honor, a name which it is still known by today. Occupied at various points during the Second World War it later became the headquarters of the Allied Forces of Central Europe until 1966.

 

The art galleries, museums and restored rooms contain priceless artefacts from all over the world as well as hosting magnificent gardens and landscapes for visitors to explore.

 

The Palace of Fontainebleau

Another UNESCO world heritage site and residents of French rulers from Louis VII to Napoleon III. It is now a national museum.    

 

One of the largest royal Chateau’s, it was a medieval royal castle and palace, Most famous for Versailles, Louis XIV spent more time here than any other monarch. Napoleon I loved it and renamed the main courtyard the Courtyard of Honor.  It was occupied at various parts of the Second World War and afterwards served as the headquarters of the allied forces Central Europe under NATO until 1966.

 

The art galleries and museums contain priceless artefacts from the French Republic, royalty and all over the world as well as hosting magnificent gardens and landscapes.

 

Chateau Bouffemont is in good company when it comes to the homes and palaces of the nobility and leading citizens of France. You don’t need to be a King, Princess or an Emperor to experience such luxury and splendour today, just visit the website and see for yourself.