Château de Vincennes

Vincennes, France

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 the crusade from which he did not return.

Vincennes was more than the grim fortress: Philippe III (in 1274) and Philippe IV (in 1284) were each married there and three 14th-century kings died at Vincennes: Louis X (1316), Philippe V (1322) and Charles IV (1328).

To strengthen the site the castle was greatly enlarged replacing the earlier site in the later 14th century. A donjon tower, 52 meters high, the tallest medieval fortified structure of Europe, was added by Philip VI of France, a work that was started about 1337. The grand rectangular circuit of walls, was completed by the Valois about two generations later (ca. 1410). The donjon served as a residence for the royal family, and its buildings are known to have once held the library and personal study of Charles V. Henry V of England died in the donjon in 1422 following the siege of Meaux.

In the 17th century the architect Louis Le Vau built for Louis XIV a pair of isolated ranges mirroring one another across a parterre to one side of the keep, suited for the Queen Mother and Cardinal Mazarin, but rebuilding was never pursued once Versailles occupied all attentions. Some splendid apartments show the earliest phase of Louis XIV style, before the example of Vaux-le-Vicomte presented the Sun King with a worthy model. The unlucky builder of Vaux, the minister Nicolas Fouquet found himself transferred to Vincennes, to much less comfortable lodgings. In 1691 another unwilling lodger was John Vanbrugh, soon to become a playwright and architect, who drew some of his Baroque 'gothick' from his experience of Vincennes, it has been argued.

Abandoned in the 18th century, the château still served, first as the site of the Vincennes porcelain manufactory, then as a state prison, which housed the marquis de Sade, Diderot, Mirabeau, and the famous confidence man, Jean Henri Latude, as well as a community of nuns of the English Benedictine Congregation from Cambrai. From 1796 it served as an arms factory.

The executions of the duc d'Enghien, in 1804, and Mata-Hari, in 1917, were effected at the château. During the Nazi occupation, 30 hostages were murdered on August 20, 1944.

The park was landscaped in the English landscape style in the 19th century. In 1860 Napoleon III, having employed Viollet-le-Duc to restore the keep and the chapel, gave the Bois de Vincennes and its château to Paris as a public park. Today the chateau is the main base of France's Defence Historical Service, which maintains a museum in the donjon.

Only traces remain of the earlier castle and the substantial remains date from the 14th century. The castle forms a rectangle whose perimeter is more than a kilometer in length (330 x 175m). The castle has six towers and three gates, each originally 13 meters high. The castle is surrounded by a deep stone lined moat. The keep, 52m high, and its enceinte occupy the western side of the fortress and are separated from the rest of the castle by the moat. The keep is one of the first known examples of rebar usage. The towers of the 'grande enceinte' now stand only to the height of the walls, having been demolished in the 1800s, save the Tour du Village on the north side of the enclosure. The south end of the castle contains the buildings of Le Vau.

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Details

Founded: 1340-1410
Category: Castles and fortifications in France
Historical period: Valois Dynasty and Hundred Year's War (France)

Rating

4.5/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Ahmed Khan (10 months ago)
Tickets are cheap with kids go free. Can easily spend half a day. Well worth the visit if you are in Paris
Rob Vince (10 months ago)
We were staying near Disneyland and also seeing Paris. This chateau made a great break from the crowds, easy location halfway into Paris on the RER train line. Huge and a bit neglected but the chapel and keep were impressive. Also recommend the audio guide.
Sebastian Rousseau (10 months ago)
Beautiful castle, full of history and well managed. The Chapel is worth a visit with a stunning embroidered tree. I thoroughly recommend a visit.
Jennifer Smith (11 months ago)
So overrated!! I don’t understand how people rave about this place: even the cashier told me there’s no exhibits to see inside the doujon. So you’re paying €9.50 to climb an empty tower and then see a modern installation in a barren church?! Have these visitors never traveled before?! The courtyard is pretty desolate and nearly no buildings are open. The one that is has a boring sounding exhibition on arms that was closed anyway this Saturday. Would never recommend this place TBH. Somewhat of a wasted day trip from Paris.
Allan (13 months ago)
Pretty castle located near a very beautiful park. Tickets are required for the tower and the church and can be bought inside the castle grounds. Expect to spend around 2 hours max here.
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