Château de Châteaubriant

Châteaubriant, France

Château de Châteaubriant is first mentioned between 1030 and 1042. It was first built by Brient, an envoy of the count of Rennes, to create an outpost in the Pays de la Mée. The first castle was a motte-and-bailey structure made of wood. It dominated the river Chère and the Rollard and had two concentric moats. One was dry, the other filled with water. It also had a big square keep, rebuilt in stone around 1100. Two halls and a chapel were added during the 12th century, the latter being completed in the 13th century. In the same period, Châteaubriant emerged as a town on the banks of the Rollard. City walls were built between the 13th and the 15th centuries. The upper-ward gatehouse, the curtain wall and most of the towers were built during the 13th century. The gatehouse still includes its two towers which were originally 25 meters high. The halls and the keep were rebuilt in the 14th century, and the lower-bailey gatehouse was completed before 1400.

During the war between Brittany and France, Breton castles were taken one after the other by the French. Châteaubriant was besieged in 1488 and surrendered after one week. At the end of the war, Françoise de Dinan had the castle restored and improved. As the old walls did not fit the new military exigences, a bastion was built. The keep and the halls, which also lost their defensive capacity, were opened by large windows. Inside, the baroness ordered new fireplaces in the Flamboyant style.

The improvements on the keep and the halls were not sufficient for Françoise de Dinan who wanted a fashionable residence. She ordered a new palace, built in the lower bailey. This palace has been called Bâtiment des Gardes ('guards' building') since the French Revolution, because it was then used by the National Guard. The new residence was completed at the beginning of the 16th century, after the death of Françoise. At that time, Châteaubriant belonged to Jean de Laval, her grandson and a member of the House of Laval.

However, Jean de Laval was not satisfied with the new palace, a stark building typical of the First Renaissance. He ordered a new wing, built around 1530 in an Italian style, and characteristic of the Second Renaissance. Jean de Laval is also responsible for the long gallery which forms an angle with the palace.

Châteaubriant belonged to the House of Montmorency until 1632 when Henri II de Montmorency was dispossessed and beheaded for felony. The barony was given to the Princes of Condé who kept it until the French Revolution. During the Revolution in 1789 the National Guard of the town settled in the château, which was also used to house various storehouses and a police station.

The castle was acquired by Duke of Aumale in 1845. The Duke settled in the house built by the mayor Martin Connesson and refurbished it. Being a son of Louis-Philippe I, he followed his father to England after the Revolution of 1848 and sold the château to the Loire-Atlantique département in 1853. The sous-préfecture moved there in 1854, and the 1822 house became the residence of the sous-préfet. The police station, the court and the jail, which were relocated somewhere else after the Duke of Aumale acquired the estate, came back in 1855.

In 1944, the southern end of the Renaissance palace was destroyed during an American bombing raid. Major restoration campaigns were carried out in the 1960s and after 2000. Nonetheless, the château has never been fully opened to visitors, who can only access the wards and some rooms, such as the Chambre dorée and the Bâtiment des Gardes which hosts exhibitions.

Architecture

The castle is divided between an upper ward and a lower bailey. The bailey, on the south, is opened by a 14th-century gatehouse, the Pavillon des Champs, which is the main entrance for the whole castle. The upper ward is accessible from the bailey through a second gatehouse. It is located on the highest point, dominating the Chère, and it is bordered by the seigniorial buildings: the two halls and the chapel.

The keep is built on both the upper and lower ward and also dominates the Chère. It was built in stone around 1100 on the site of the primitive motte. Later rebuilt in the 14th century, it felt into ruins during the 18th century. Remains of machicolation are visible on the top. The two halls form an angle with the keep. They were rebuilt in the 14th century and the opening of new windows after the Mad War did not alter their austere look. The small hall, partially destroyed, has a peculiar roof, similar to a flat onion dome, made around 1562. The result is somewhat clumsy and is only an experimental attempt.

Located close to the small hall, the chapel was built around 1142 and refurbished in the 13th century. Some hundred years later, it was divided in two and the western part was turned into the chaplain's house. The monument is romanesque but gothic windows were added in the 16th century. The windows on the chaplain's house form a single bay culminating with a gothic dormer. Mural paintings and 15th-century floor tiles were discovered during archeological excavations.

The Bâtiment des Gardes is the oldest Renaissance building and also the less decorated. It was built around 1500. Its slate roof is steep and as tall as the facade itself, which gives a massive look to the whole. The facade is opened by large regularly positioned windows on the first floor and small irregular doors and windows on the ground floor. The facade on the moat is framed by two medieval towers which were opened by new large windows.

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Details

Founded: 11th century
Category: Castles and fortifications in France
Historical period: Birth of Capetian dynasty (France)

Rating

4.3/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Don Wheeler (2 years ago)
Very informative tour and fascinating chateau !
Bart Bosdijk (2 years ago)
Gratis! Free! Nothing better for dutch tourists.
Sitesh Subudhi (2 years ago)
Awesome historic place...
Alex Seaford (2 years ago)
Well preserved castle, free entry and short film in English to document the interesting history of the place. Well worth a quick visit if you're in the area.
Castle Biker (3 years ago)
2 castles on 1 ground. Free to walk around. Must have been an impressive place in the early days.
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The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.