Chateaux on the Loire: Their Variety Explained
France indeed is a country of châteaux and castles. Many regions have plenty but the Loire Valley, in particular, is a privileged area for such. It would be a serious mistake to believe the châteaux offer a certain unity in style or appearance. These châteaux on the Loire are incredibly different and all periods are represented. A confusion is often made between Châteaux on the Loire and Renaissance châteaux. There is nothing more incorrect. Of course, the great period of construction for most of them is the XVIth century.
The oldest vestige of French military architecture is found at the Langeais keep. It dates back to the Xth century. The seventeen towers of Angers enable to admire the vigour and robustness of the XIIIth century fortresses. They represent one of the most amazing examples of a medieval stronghold. But Loches, Chinon, Vendôme, today uninhabited stone skeletons, also date back to the Middle-Ages. When the Valois established themselves on the banks of the Loire River, they soon brought more ease, comfort and light in these severe mansions. They took great care however as to not remove their defensive character and as long as a danger would threaten the Kingdom, the château would keep the essential elements of its protection: wall walks, watch towers and barbicans. Montsoreau, Langeais or Le Plessis-Bourré are characteristic: elegance appears but the whole remains rugged.
We know that when Charles VIII brought artists, sculptors and workmen fom Italy, they were all trained to the new Style, in fact a return to the shapes of Ancient Greece and Rome. The king introduced this Renaissance Style in France. However, the builders adapted their constructions with slowness and carefulness. The plan of Chambord is still traditional. The château of Amboise juxtaposes the Flamboyant Gothic and the new style. Chaumont, Chenonceaux represent the Spring of the French Renaissance that then blossomed in Blois and Chambord. There was an admirable adaptation of Italo-Antique Art to the French Art. It was often said that the Renaissance was due to Princes and that they imposed this ornamentation, then imitated in all regions. There again, one must avoid another mistake: the XVIth century is not the end of the châteaux constructions in the Loire Valley. After the return of the Valois in Paris, or Fontainebleau, the installation of the Bourbons around the capital-city, the Loire Valley did not leave any sovereign unaffected. Cheverny and Brissac are beautiful examples of the Louis XIII Style. Serrant was completed only under Louis XIV. Ménars owes its charm to Madame de Pompadour and her brother the Marquis de Marigny. Under the reign of Louis XVI, some châteaux were still erected, such as Montgeoffroy that the Maréchal de Contades ordered only 15 years before the French Revolution.
The same variety is met inside the châteaux: most have sumptuous furniture, tapestries and paintings. Several châteaux belong to the French State and were transformed into museums. Other belong to proprietors, who often are descendants of the constructors and the warmth of life has not disappeared. Also the sceneries that surround them are quite different. Some are found inside deep forests like Chambord or Ussé whereas Villandry, Chenonceaux or Ménars are adorned with magnificent gardens or are in the middle of towns like Langeais and Angers. Such is the variety of French châteaux on the Loire Valley. Happy discovery!
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Chateau_de_Langeais_et_rue_Thiers.JPG
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/64/Ch%C3%A2teau_d%27Amboise_07.jpg
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/30/Chenonceau-20050320.jpg
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b3/Castle_Brissac_2007_02.jpg
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/62/Chateau_du_Plessis-Bourre_Vue_SE_no_02_2004-05-23.JPEG
Image source: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/dd/Menars_castle%2C_aerial_view.jpg