Château d'Harcourt

Harcourt, France

Château d'Harcourt is a masterpiece of medieval architecture. The home of the Harcourt family, the castle is one of the best preserved castles in the country and contains the oldest arboretum in France. Although the lords of Harcourt trace their origins to the year 1000, the first written record of the castle dates from the second half of 12th century. Robert II d"Harcourt was a companion in the crusade of Richard Lionheart; the first stone castle was certainly built by him.

Harcourts appear later among the most important barons of Normandy. Jean II d"Harcourt, for example, was named Marshal of France and accommodated in his residence king Philip III. In 1338, king Philip VI, set up the seigniory of Harcourt, with the Château d"Harcourt forming its principal town. The fortress appears to have seldom been under siege through history. It is only at the time of the Hundred Years" War that Harcourt became a military base. In 1418, the castle was claimed by the English, but they were eventually expelled by the counts of Dunois, Eu and Saint-Pol in 1449. As the war came to a close, the domain returned to the Rieux family, then, starting from the second half of the 16th century, to the powerful Lorraine-Guise family.

The French Wars of Religion caused an increase in defensive fortifications in the castle. In 1588, the members of a league occupied the castle. In the 17th century, the castle lost all military interest; it was then partially abandoned after Louis Gervais Delamarre acquired it in 1802. With his death, Harcourt was bestowed to the Royal Academy of Agriculture of France. Today it is owned by the council general of Eure.

It is thought that the Château d"Harcourt consisted in the beginning of a motte-and-bailey surrounded by a ditch, like many of the other fortresses of the time. In the 12th century, a square stone tower took the place of earlier wooden constructions. The castillar architecture then evolved according to the progression of sieges, and the rise of its successive owners. In the 13th century the old keep was integrated in a polygonal castle. The bailey was protected by a curtain wall punctuated by nine round towers. Ahead of the curtain wall, a deep ditch, dry most of the time (lacking a river to feed it), girdled the structure.

Through the 14th century, the defence of the castle continued to improve. A monumental fortified door, a châtelet, was installed to defend the more exposed of the two entries. The archeries were enlarged to allow firing crossbows.In the 17th century, Marie Françoise de Brancas (d.1715), wife of Alphonse Henri, Count of Harcourt, undertook to refit the medieval fortress to make it more hospitable. A friend of Madame de Maintenon, she demolished three sides of the polygonal castle and thus opened her apartments to the light. With a similar aim, large rectangular bays were bored and the interior disposition was re-examined.The medieval Château d"Harcourt appears truncated today, especially as the top of the keep was levelled to bring it to the same height as the other buildings. There is no longer any building in the bailey, though a chapel was probably there formerly.

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Founded: 12th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in France
Historical period: Late Capetians (France)

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Lorca Castle

Castle of Lorca (Castillo de Lorca) is a fortress of medieval origin constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries. It consists of a series of defensive structures that, during the Middle Ages, made the town and the fortress an impregnable point in the southeast part of the Iberian Peninsula. Lorca Castle was a key strategic point of contention between Christians and Muslims during the Reconquista.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the site of the castle has been inhabited since Neolithic times.

Muslim Era

It has not been determined exactly when a castle or fortress was first built on the hill. The first written documentation referring to a castle at Lorca is of Muslim origin, which in the 9th century, indicates that the city of Lurqa was an important town in the area ruled by Theudimer (Tudmir). During Muslim rule, Lorca Castle was an impregnable fortress and its interior was divided into two sections by the Espaldón Wall. In the western part, there was an area used to protect livestock and grain in times of danger. The eastern part had a neighbourhood called the barrio de Alcalá.

After Reconquista

Lorca was conquered by the Castilian Infante Don Alfonso, the future Alfonso X, in 1244, and the fortress became a key defensive point against the Kingdom of Granada. For 250 years, Lorca Castle was a watchpoint on the border between the Christian kingdom of Murcia and the Muslim state of Granada.

Alfonso X ordered the construction of the towers known as the Alfonsina and Espolón Towers, and strengthened and fixed the walls. Hardly a trace of the Muslim fortress remained due to this reconstruction. Muslim traces remain in the foundation stones and the wall known as the muro del Espaldón.

The Jewish Quarter was found within the alcazaba, the Moorish fortification, separated from the rest of the city by its walls. The physical separation had the purpose of protecting the Jewish people in the town from harm, but also had the result of keeping Christians and Jews separate, with the Christians inhabiting the lower part of town.

The remains of the Jewish Quarter extended over an area of 5,700 square m, and 12 homes and a synagogue have been found; the synagogue dates from the 14th century and is the only one found in the Murcia. The streets of the town had an irregular layout, adapted to the landscape, and is divided into four terraces. The synagogue was in the central location, and around it were the homes. The homes were of rectangular shape, with various compartmentalized rooms. The living quarters were elevated and a common feature was benches attached to the walls, kitchens, stand for earthenware jars, or cupboards.

Modern history

With the disappearance of the frontier after the conquest of Granada in 1492, Lorca Castle no longer became as important as before. With the expulsion of the Jews by order of Ferdinand and Isabella, Lorca Castle was also depopulated as a result. The castle was abandoned completely, and was almost a complete ruin by the 18th century. In the 19th century, the castle was refurbished due to the War of Spanish Independence. The walls and structures were repaired or modified and its medieval look changed. A battery of cannons was installed, for example, during this time. In 1931 Lorca Castle was declared a National Historic Monument.

Currently, a parador (luxury hotel) has been built within the castle. As a result, archaeological discoveries have been found, including the Jewish Quarter.