Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Chateau Gazing

Chenonceau chateau, with the original tower on the right
This morning we went to visit a beautiful chateau at Chenonceau. It is located in a beautiful idyllic setting and one can imagine royalty arriving by horse-drawn carriage, with immaculately manicured gardens flanking both sides of the castle.

It was owned by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briconnet. However, Bohier owed money to the crown, and he had to forfeit the property to Henry II.

Catherine de Medici's portrait on the fireplace
He in turn gave the chateau to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, who was apparently 20 years older than him and known for her beautiful skin and red hair. In her bedroom is a portrait of Henry II's wife, Catherine de Medici, who looks very stern, so it seems strange for Diane to have her rival's portrait hanging on her wall, or is it a reminder not to be like Catherine?

After Henry II died, Catherine took her revenge, kicking out Diane and taking over the estate. She held parties in the gallery and covered the area to create more space in the chateau.

The next generation, Henry III occupied the chateau with his wife Louise of Lorraine. However, when he was assassinated, Louise was so distraught that she made her bedroom all black, while she wore white, the royal sign of mourning.

Each of the rooms were very beautifully decorated, and tapestries were more used as ways to insulate rooms, and many of the fireplaces are still in working order. The kitchen was interesting, with lots of copper pots hanging on the walls, as well as knives in the butcher area with a well worn wooden block.

The gallery used for parties and wounded soldiers
There were no washrooms in this chateau -- they used chamber pots and hardly bathed! Also curtains were installed in four-poster beds so that people could have some privacy -- there weren't many corridors so people, from visitors to staff had to pass through other people's rooms to get elsewhere.

There are many interesting details, such as the private chapel, the interlinking C's that almost look like a "D", and the original tile worn out, but the designs can still be seen on the edges of the rooms.

During World War I, the gallery was used as an impromptu hospital for over 2,000 soldiers, and in World War II, its location on the River Cher marks the line of demarcation between the occupied zone and the free zone.

The butcher room with choppers and a worn chopping board
The resistance used the chateau to smuggle people, including Jews from the north to the south in the free zone.

Outside the gardens are very pretty, but use the same plants in the entire design which while pretty, isn't very interesting for green thumb fans. There's also a garden maze, but we didn't have time to go in.

After lunch we visited the chateau at Amboise, a short drive away. It was originally built in the 15th and 16th centuries, and was the home of many kings and queens -- Charles VIII, Francis I, Henry II and Catherine de Medici.

However most of the property is gone, after an owner sold many of the stone blocks to raise money. But what we could still see was impressive.

Leonardo is apparently buried here
We first went into the small St Hubert chapel and in there is apparently the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. He was asked by Francis I to come to France, and at that time the artist was already 64 years old. Leonardo was not the first Italian architect/artist invited by Francis I, as the others didn't want to come.

It is believed that days before Leonardo died, he called the notary to come and discuss his will and burial arrangements. He asked that he have a simple tombstone and he was apparently buried with one hand behind his head, which is unusual.

However the original church in which he was buried (not far away, on the same grounds) was destroyed, and his corpse was moved again, apparently in this chapel; however we cannot be sure because Leonardo had no descendants so there are no DNA samples to verify this. Our guide believes 95 percent that Leonardo is buried there.

The castle with those in black still existing, in red are gone
Then we made our way into the main building, going through several of the rooms, like the cupbearer's room, where there is a special cabinet storing the king's drinks. Only one person has the key to the cabinet to prevent poisoning.

Another was a long room with vaulted ceilings that would have been used for dining and partying, but also for trials, one case which involved Protestants who were convicted with attempting to assassinate the king and were hung outside the castle for four days so that the public learned a deadly lesson.

However towards the end of our tour some of the rooms were decorated with 19th century furniture, complete with wallpaper and paintings. The landscaped gardens outside are also sculpted, with bushes looking like verdant balls.

A Flemish influence in the architecture of the castle
We survived the day -- reaching 35 degrees! It was still very hot and very bright at 7pm! And it will still be very hot in the next few days.


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