Château de Valençay is a residence of the d'Estampes and Talleyrand-Périgord families. Although geographically it is part of the province of Berry, its architecture invites comparison with the Renaissance châteaux of the Loire Valley, notably the Château de Chambord. The manor was praised as "one of the most beautiful on earth" by George Sand, who also noted that "no king has owned a more picturesque park".
The château, sited at the edge of a plateau that overlooks the little Nahon river, was built on a royal scale by the d'Estampes family of financiers over a period of some 200 years. Construction started in 1540 at the behest of Jacques d'Estampes in place of the demolished 12th century castle and was not completed until the 18th century, when the south tower was added.
The 18th century saw a rapid succession of owners, including the notorious Scottish banker John Law, who purchased the estate in 1719. Nearly a century later, in 1803, Napoleon ordered his foreign minister Charles Maurice de Talleyrand to acquire the property as a place particularly appropriate for reception of foreign dignitaries, notably Ferdinand VII of Spain, who would spend six years in Napoleonic captivity at Valençay. (The treaty providing for his release in 1813 took the estate's name).
The period of Talleyrand's occupancy was the golden age in the history of Valençay, with twenty-three communes reportedly administered by the ruling prince. Undoubtedly the most celebrated of Talleyrand's servants employed at Valençay was his chef, Marie-Antoine Carême. After Talleyrand's death in 1838, the great statesman was buried in a small mortuary chapel in the park. His collateral descendants retained the ownership of the estate until 1952, when the male line ended. The last prince bequeathed the property to his stepson, who sold it to an association of historic chateaux in 1979.
Talleyrand's château boasts one of the most advanced interiors of the Empire style anywhere. There are a hundred rooms, of which a quarter comprise Talleyrand's apartments. A room of King Ferdinand is also shown to tourists. The western wing contains the Talleyrand Museum, formerly housed in outbuildings, and Le Musée de l'Automobile du Centre, exhibiting over fifty vintage and antique automobiles.
The formal French gardens, dating from the early 20th century, cover about forty hectares, not counting the area of Talleyrand's vineyards. Llamas, peacocks, and other exotic animals kept in the park provide amusement for tourists.References:
The Baths of Caracalla were the second largest Roman public baths, or thermae, in Rome. It was built between AD 212 and 217, during the reigns of Septimius Severus and Caracalla. They would have had to install over 2,000t of material every day for six years in order to complete it in this time.
The baths remained in use until the 6th century when the complex was taken by the Ostrogoths during the Gothic War, at which time the hydraulic installations were destroyed. The bath was free and open to the public. The earthquake of 847 destroyed much of the building, along with many other Roman structures.
The building was heated by a hypocaust, a system of burning coal and wood underneath the ground to heat water provided by a dedicated aqueduct. It was in use up to the 19th century. The Aqua Antoniniana aqueduct, a branch of the earlier Aqua Marcia, by Caracalla was specifically built to serve the baths. It was most likely reconstructed by Garbrecht and Manderscheid to its current place.
In the 19th and early 20th century, the design of the baths was used as the inspiration for several modern structures, including St George's Hall in Liverpool and the original Pennsylvania Station in New York City. At the 1960 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the gymnastics events.