Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Chateau de Chenonceau

After our first night in Tours, we explored the Loire Valley the next day (Thursday, May 26).  We made two major stops, the first at the Chateau de Chenonceau.  The Chateau itself is spectacular, but we have to do just a little history to get the feel for why this is so impressive.  I abandon my scattered notes, and just give you this first bit from Wikipedia :
The original second edition[clarification needed] manor was torched in 1411 to punish owner Jean Marques for an act of sedition. He rebuilt a castle and fortified mill on the site in the 1430s. Subsequently, his indebted heir Pierre Marques sold the castle to Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France in 1513. Bohier destroyed the existing castle and built an entirely new residence between 1515 and 1521; the work was sometimes overseen by his wife Katherine Briçonnet, who delighted in hosting French nobility, including King Francis I on two occasions.
   Eventually, the château was seized from Bohier's son by King Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the Crown; after Francis' death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château along the river. She would have the arched bridge constructed, joining the château to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees. Set along the banks of the river, but buttressed from flooding by stone terraces, the exquisite gardens were laid out in four triangles.
   Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle, but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. However, after King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de' Medici had Diane expelled. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright, but forced Diane to exchange it for the Château Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding a new series of gardens.
There is a rather long walk from the bus parking lot and the outer gates to the Chateau itself.  We strolled past all sorts of imported trees, many of them several stories high, others growing with the twisted limbs you'd expect in Fangorn Forest from Lord of the Rings--but not gloomy, and no wandering Ents. 

And there was a old style "vegetable garden," which we didn't have time for--it looked like a combination of flowers, herbs, and maybe some vegetables.  Some plant person needs to write about that...[Ah, I forgot to mention--even from the parking lot, the breeze coming past us was full of flowers--roses, mostly, and many others blended in.] But then we got to the Chateau itself, this odd structure sprawling right across the river.


It's hard to get a full view of this from any one angle.  Here's Charity in one view:

The history of the chateau is marked throughout, with the emblems of various kings and ladies.  The salamander emblem of Francis I hung over the main doorway,


while tiles inside existed for decoration, and to commemorate.  I just liked the rabbit.  Someone else has photos of the interlocked initials of, I think, Catherine and Henry.

The Chateau (hmm...why do I always mistype chataue?  over and over again...  I even had French in high school, and know that 'eau' = long o combo) is still furnished.  The bedrooms are striking--

One was the black mourning room of one of the Queens, though without flash, I didn't get any good photo there.

Outside, we had enough time to visit the formal gardens, first of Diane, the King's mistress...


then, on the other side, of Catherine...


One more view of the Chateau:

My favorite part, of course, was the remaining 11th C tower in front.  I'll claim that as my tower.

Two of my favorite poets, Yeats and Robinson Jeffers, each lived in towers--in Ireland and Big Sur, CA.  Someday, with that burst of wealth, from lottery or Hollywood script, I'll build my own tower here in midMissouri, about halfway between the other two....

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