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Report 2029: France 2012 Part 1 - The Loire Valley

By Eleanor from UK, Fall 2012

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Page 19 of 33: To the Northeast - Chambord, History

photo by MAW

Roof detail

Chambord is the largest of the Loire châteaux. It is on the tick list of most visitors and is always busy.

There is a brief glimpse of the château from the main road just before the bend where there is a view down the avenue of trees.

It has a huge car park which was already busy by 10:30. From here it is quite a long walk to the ticket office, which has a selection of shops selling food and souvenirs. There are toilets here but there is a 50c charge. In the château they are free. There are extensive grounds and parkland which are popular with walkers or horse riders with three way marked routes from 3.3km to 8.6km. Bikes can be hired.

We were provided with a very basic information leaflet which showed the layout of the rooms but had little information about them. There are information panels in the rooms but with a limited amount of English. The official website is poor. We felt this was a case of ‘could do better’. It is however possible to hire an audio guide.

First views of the château seen surrounded by a moat are stunning. It is the largest château in the Loire and was built as a hunting lodge by François I. It is a monument to his extravagance and vanity as he wanted to prove himself the greatest builder in the world. The château is designed to show off his two great passions of hunting and architecture. His badge of the salamander is carved throughout the building.

The château is built in the center of a huge hunting park surrounded by a wall 38km long. It was intended purely for show and the towers and moat served no defensive purpose. It has 440 rooms, 85 staircases, 365 chimneys and 800 carved capitals. The roof line is a silhouette of pinnacles, domes, spires, cupolas with the central lantern tower. It is built from the local white tufa limestone which is easy to carve. The roofs are dark slate and this is used for decorative detail on the walls. In the sunshine the building appears a brilliant white.

François I used Italian architects and it is thought that Leonardo da Vinci was responsible for the design of the double helix staircase, but died before construction began in 1519. The building was unfinished when François died and his son continued the work.

It was a cold and drafty building and its size made it unpopular as a permanent residence. Françoise only spent 40 days here during a reign of 32 years. After each visit it was left empty, without furniture or inhabitants.

In the 17thC, Louis XIV, the Sun King completed the building of the chapel and the west wing. He made nine hunting visits here and also used it for entertaining. During the 18thC Chambord was regarded as a prestigious ‘royal gift’ and had several permanent residents. The Marquis of Polignac was governor here just before the Revolution and carried out a number of alterations to make the building more habitable by lowering ceilings, putting in wooden floors and improved insulation by paneling and wall coverings.

During the Revolution, the furnishings were sold and it was used as a fodder warehouse, powder manufacturing workshop and a prison. In the 19thC it was put up for sale and a subscription organized to buy it and return it to the heir to the French throne. Refurnishing began.

In the 20thC it passed to the state with its collection of tapestries and works of art but just seven items of furniture. It is now open as a tourist attraction and the rooms on the second floor are used as an exhibition area. When we visited there was an exhibition of rather esoteric modern art which was definitely an acquired taste, and not for us.

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