Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds, France

The Château de Pierrefonds includes most of the characteristics of defensive military architecture from the Middle Ages, though it underwent a major restoration in the 19th century.

In the 12th century, a castle was built on this site. Two centuries later, in 1392, King Charles VI turned the County of Valois (of which Pierrefonds was part) into a Duchy and gave it to his brother Louis, Duke of Orléans. From 1393 to his death in 1407, the latter had the castle rebuilt by the court architect, Jean le Noir.

In March 1617, during the early troubled days of Louis XIII's reign, the castle, then the property of François-Annibal d'Estrées (brother of the beauty Gabrielle d'Estrée), who joined the "parti des mécontents" (party of discontent) led by Henri II, Prince of Condé, was besieged and taken by troops sent by Richelieu, the secretary of state for war. Its demolition was started, but not carried through to the end because of the enormity of the task. The exterior works were razed, the roofs destroyed and holes made in the towers and curtain walls.

The castle remained a ruin for more than two centuries. Napoleon I bought it in 1810 for less than 3,000 francs. During the 19th century, with the rediscovery of the architectural heritage of the Middle Ages, it became a "romantic ruin": in August 1832, Louis-Philippe gave a banquet there on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter Louise to Léopold de Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, first king of the Belgians. Among other artists, Corot depicted the ruins in several works between 1834 and 1866. The Château de Pierrefonds has been classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1848.

Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (later Napoleon III of France) visited the castle in 1850. As emperor, he asked Viollet-le-Duc in 1857 to undertake its restoration, continuators are Maurice Ouadou and Juste Lisch until 1885. There was no question of a simple repair to the habitable parts (the keep and annexes): the "picturesque" ruins in front were to be kept for decor. In 1861, the project grew in scale: the sovereign wanted to create an imperial residence, so the castle was to be entirely rebuilt. The works, which would cost 5 million francs, of which 4 million were to come from the civil list, were stopped in 1885, six years after the death of Viollet-le-Duc. The departure of Napoléon III had halted the reconstruction and, through lack of money, the decoration of rooms was unfinished. Inside, Viollet-le-Duc produced more a work of invention than restoration (polychrome paintings). He imagined how the castle ought to have been, rather than basing his work on the strict history of the building. On the other hand, with the exterior he showed an excellent knowledge of the military architecture of the 14th century.



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User Reviews

Sophie Davies (12 months ago)
Such a beautiful place. We came here as big Merlin fans (TV show) as this is where the castle scenes were filmed, we were really sad that there's absolutely no mention of the show anywhere or in the gift shop(would be another great tourist attraction) We love history as well so seeing the history and learning about it was amazing as well! Not much around so we visited twice and saw new things we'd missed the second time. A café right by the gift shop would be absolutely perfect! We want to come back when all the scaffolding and building works have gone, hopefully soon!
Richard Thomas (2 years ago)
lovely place to visit. A magical castle, rebuilt by Napoleon III, now in beautiful condition, and what a sight, well worth a visit. The little town surrounding it is pretty too, with a little boating lake as nd lots of cafes and restaurants.
Fiona W. (2 years ago)
A very beautiful castle ? full of culture and art. We paid 16€ for the museum, kids were free. It’s really nice to walk around the castle and have some nice family photos ??
Bob Morris (2 years ago)
It was an amazing site. Big. Giant. Massive battlements. We parked on street at entrance. Some walking to get into the main castle. There are a lot of scaffolding going up all over the castle on the outside and inside. There is not much to visit on the inside. You can walk through the draw bridge on the wooden deck and and visit the courtyard, chapel and some of the first floor with exhibits showing you images of the way the castle was before it was rebuilt and through time. You can go into another building to see a first floor and second floor room. Other areas were closed to the general public. It was still worthwhile visiting. Maybe in another five years it will look so much better!
Ellie Smith (2 years ago)
This is my favourite place to visit in France. We first visited in 2017, with family, and instantly fell in love. We returned again again this year with friends. Our friends have never been to France and we couldn't wait for them to experience a visit to Pierrefonds and the Château. My 10 year old really enjoyed reading and learning all about the history of the Château and we finished the day off with a lovely meal in the square at La Commerce. I highly recommend anyone to visit Château De Pierrefonds for a true French experience.
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