Castles and fortifications in France

Mont Saint Michel Island

Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune which has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and since the eigth century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it. On top God, the abbey and monastery, below this the Great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen ...
Founded: 8th century | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, ...
Founded: 333 AD | Location: Carcassonne, France

Cháteau Comtal

The Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) is a medieval castle within the Cité of Carcassonne, the largest city in Europe with its city walls still intact. The Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a 'Cathar Castle'. When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel's castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne. The castle with rectangular ...
Founded: c. 1130 | Location: Carcassonne, France

Château de Chambord

The royal Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinct French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King François I in part to be near to his mistress the Comtesse de Thoury, Claude Rohan, wife of Julien de Clermon ...
Founded: 1519-1547 | Location: Chambord, France

Château de Chenonceau

The Château de Chenonceau (Chenonceau Castle) is a manor house near the small village of Chenonceaux. It was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher, sometime before its first mention in writing in the 11th century. The current manor was designed by the French Renaissance architect Philibert Delorme. The original manor was torched in 1412 to punish owner Jean Marques for an act of sedition. He rebuilt a ...
Founded: 1515-1521 | Location: Francueil, France

Château d'Amboise

The Château Royal of Amboise, standing firmly on its riverside rock facing the Loire river, was home to every king or queen of France for 160 years, up to the end of the 16th century. Built to control a strategic ford that was replaced in the Middle Ages by a bridge and the château began its life in the 11th century, when the notorious Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou, rebuilt the stronghold in stone. Expanded and ...
Founded: 15th century | Location: Amboise, France

Château de Villandry

The Château de Villandry is a castle-palace located in Villandry, in the département of Indre-et-Loire. The lands where an ancient fortress once stood were known as Colombier until the 17th century. Acquired in the early 16th century by Jean Le Breton, France's Controller-General for War under King Francis I, a new château was constructed around the original 14th-century keep where King Philip II of F ...
Founded: 1532 | Location: Villandry, France

Château de Chantilly

The Château de Chantilly comprises two attached buildings: the Petit Château built around 1560 for Anne de Montmorency, and the Grand Château, which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the 1870s. Owned by the Institut de France, the château houses the Musée Condé. It is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public. The estate"s connec ...
Founded: 1560/1875 | Location: Chantilly, France

Château de Blois

The Royal Château de Blois in the center of the city of Blois. The residence of several French kings, it is also the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orléans. Built in the middle of the town that it effectively controlled, the château of Blois comprises several buildings constructed from the 13th to th ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Blois, France

Palais de la Berbie

The Musée Toulouse-Lautrec is an art museum in Albi. It is dedicated mainly to the work of the painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec who was born near Albi. The museum opened in 1922 and is located in the historic center of Albi, in the Palais de la Berbie, formerly the Bishops' Palace, an imposing fortress completed at the end of the 13th century. Older than the Palais des Papes in Avignon, the Palais de la Berbie, former ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Albi, France

Château des Ducs de Bretagne

The Château des ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) is a large castle located in Nantes. It served as the centre of the historical province of Brittany until its separation in 1941. It was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany between the 13th and 16th centuries, subsequently becoming the Breton residence of the French Monarchy. Today the castle houses the Nantes History Museum. The restored edifice ...
Founded: 1207 | Location: Nantes, France

Château de Saint-Malo

Château de Saint-Malo was built between 1424 and 1690, first by Jean V, the Duke of Brittany. The Duke Francois II built the first tower in 1475. In 1590 during the Wars of Religion the castle was occupied by local people, who wanted to prevent local governor to gave the city to Protestant king Henry IV. The château was modified in the 17th century according the design of famous fortress architect Sebastian V ...
Founded: 1424 | Location: Saint-Malo, France

Château Royal de Collioure

The Château Royal de Collioure is a massive French royal castle in the town of Collioure, a few kilometers north of the Spanish border. The Château is the juxtaposition of at least four castles. Roussillon was conquered by the Romans around 120 BC and then occupied by the Visigoths from 418. The first mention is about a fortified site in Collioure under siege in 673, by Wamba, king of the Visigoths who lay sie ...
Founded: 1207 | Location: Collioure, France

Château de Vincennes

The Château de Vincennes is a massive 14th and 17th century French royal castle in the town of Vincennes in a suburb of Paris metropolis. Like other more famous châteaux it had its origins in a hunting lodge, constructed for Louis VII about 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX erected a more substantial manor: Louis IX is reputed to have departed from Vincennes on ...
Founded: 1340-1410 | Location: Vincennes, France

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Château de Azay-le-Rideau was built from 1515 to 1527 and it is one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the water. Gilles Berthelot, Treasurer-General of the Finances of France under King Francis I and mayor of Tours, began reconstructing Azay-le-Rideau's earlier medieval castle, that was part of his wife's inheritance. Howev ...
Founded: 1515-1527 | Location: Azay-le-Rideau, France

Porte Saint-Pierre

Porte Saint-Pierre is the best preserved remnant of the former battlements of the medieval city. It was originally built already in the Gallo-Roman times (3th century AD), but the current tower dates from the 15th century.
Founded: 15th century | Location: Nantes, France

Château de Chaumont

The Château de Chaumont was founded in the 10th century by Odo I, Count of Blois. The purpose was to protect his lands from attacks from his feudal rivals, Fulk Nerra, Count of Anjou. On his behalf the Norman Gelduin received it, improved it and held it as his own. His great-niece Denise de Fougère, having married Sulpice d'Amboise, passed the château into the Amboise family for five centuries. Pierre d'Amboise unsucc ...
Founded: 1465-1510 | Location: Chaumont-sur-Loire, France

Château d'Yvoire

Built from 1306 during the village fortification by the Comte de Savoie Amédée V, Yvoire castle had a military goal to watch the navigation and control the road which linked Geneva to the high valley of the Rhône and to Italy. For several centuries, the village of Yvoire was in the center of several strategic or religious wars between France, Bern, Geneva as well as the houses of Faucigny, Dauphiné and Savoie. In ...
Founded: 1306 | Location: Yvoire, France

Arras Citadel

Built by Vauban between 1667 and 1672, the purpose of Citadel of Arras was to protect the city from the attacks (Spanish troops coming from the Netherlands). It has been nicknamed La belle inutile (the beautiful useless one) by residents as it has never been directly involved in heavy fighting and didn"t keep the Germans form occupying the city in either Word War. Since 7 July 2008 it is part of the UNESCO World Heri ...
Founded: 1667-1672 | Location: Arras, France

Saint-Tropez Towers

As a result of being a coastal town and needing to protect itself from attack, St Tropez became well-fortified early on in its history. You can now visit three towers scattered across the city"s coastline. Originally, four towers were built to protect the coast and the port: Tour du Portalet, Tour la Vieille, Tour de Suffren, now lost, and the Tour Jarlier.  The Tour du Portalet and the Tour la Vieille, or Old Tower ...
Founded: 1565 | Location: Saint-Tropez, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.