08 January 2012

Monstrosity or masterpiece?

...one of the great European symbols of royal megalomania, a truly glorious and absurd monster of French architecture. *

“...a staggering sight, looking like a riotously exuberant yet self-contained royal city.”

“...a ‘hunting lodge’ [that is] a palace... one of the greatest buildings in France.”

“...although Chambord contains a panoply of Italianate Renaissance features, its general forms actually harp... back to medieval architecture. The formidably solid round towers at the corners... with their roofs like great upturned funnels, could come from a textbook image of a chivalric castle.”

“...an obsessively ordered building, [with] neo-classical Renaissance ideas imposing symmetry and precise proportions on the façades.”

“...bear in mind what an important royal seat the nearby town of Blois was at the time. Chambord was... a deliberate demonstration of royal magnificence and power...”

“Inside, what you see and visit... [is] one of the first apartment blocks in modern Europe... hundred of rooms repeat the same patterns... a staggering 85 staircases...”

“[the] wonderful roofs [have] been compared to an overcrowded chessboard, an exotic Eastern palace... un gigantesque bouquet de pierres...”

The Château de Chambord was built starting in 1519 by order of the early French Renaissance king François Ier — he was 25 years old at the time. Leonardo da Vinci may have had a hand in designing the castle, but it's unclear who the chief architect was.

According to some local people here, "the good king" François liked to hunt in the woods just south of Saint-Aignan, at a place called La Lardière. Chambord is about 25 miles north of Saint-Aignan, and the stone out of which it was built was quarried just a few miles down the Cher River at Bourré, near Montrichard.

At this point, I have outlived King François Ier by ten years...

By the time François died (of syphilis) in 1547, at the ripe age of 53, Chambord was nearly finished. It stood basically empty for a century, until Louis XIV — le Roi-Soleil — took an interest in it. Great parties and celebrations were held there. In 1670, for example, Molière staged his first production of Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme at Chambord for the Sun King and his court.

A few generations later, during the French Revolution of 1789 and the following years, most of the interior of Chambord was stripped bare. The château now belongs to the French government. You can visit the grounds and see the building for the price of parking in one of the surrounding lots. There's a huge gift shop. To see the interior, including the famous double-helix staircase that is at the core of the building, there's an entrance fee.

* All the quotes above come from the Cadogan guide to the Loire (1997, 2001), written by Philippe Barbour. The book is a great read.


  1. Deja vu Ken. Our "Wednesdays in France" posts is about to mirror your Chateaux posts. We describe our trip in 2009 when we first met you and Walt.
    It was a great trip staying in Thenay, near Pontlevoy. So handy to all the Chateaux of the Loire.
    Leon & Sue

  2. Hi Leon and Sue, I'll never forget or cease to be embarrassed about telling you back then that Thenay was not the most charming of the local villages. Later, I drove up there and had a better look around. It was very charming and picturesque indeed. I learned something. Our May 2012 plans are not at all settled...

  3. Unbelievable. If you zoom in closer and block out the building's lower floors, it looks like an entire city skyline.

  4. I hope you tell us more about the Cadogan guides. The Paris one is so well written that I wanted to see some of the others but we have trouble getting them here (well, I could buy one, but I'm talking about borrowing from libraries). Michelin has huge gaps in covering the Centre and I bet Cadogan does better.

  5. I remember being blown away by scale of Chambord--it was the 1st of the Loire chateaux I ever saw. In the evening my parents took me to the 'son et lumiere'. Just lights highlighting bits of the chateau and a French gentleman narrating the events of Chambord's history but it was amazingly effective.

  6. I would need my SatNav to find my way around in a building this large :) Diane

  7. Like I said yesterday... 'tis Gormenghast in the flesh.
    I honestly think it looks a complete mess... it looked a bit more balanced when we had 3000 plus 2CVs parked on the front lawn... the mix of colours was a good counterfoil.

    The WV is "balls"........

  8. After Tartuffe at Vaux le Vicomte, I guess Molière had an "à propos comédie-ballet" for Chambord. The story of how and why Louis XIV came about to commission this play is very interesting btw.

  9. Ken, that photo of you that Walt took is great (did you realize that there is a big building behind you?;)

    Very interesting quotes. I'll be interested to look into which are the Cadogan guides-- I appreciate a good guide book. Ina Caro's "Traveling Through History In France" has a very interesting and informative chapter or two on the châteaux at Blois, Amboise, Chambord, and Chenonceau, with great background on the historic characters (kings, queens, dauphins, etc.) involved and all of the struggles and complications related to their involvement with these châteaux

  10. I read 'somewhere' that work on Chambord was to continue forever. Are they still adding chimneys and such?

  11. I remember it well...being completely overwhelmed the first time I saw it. And coming from Australia thinking it had to be special...but did I like it? Thank you for the quotes...to see it is still an experience for one from a country which has such a recent history; and lacking in over the top excess! I've had five visits and each one shows me something new.


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