The castle of Chambord is one of the most popular tourist destinations in France. Located in the department of Loir-et-Cher, in the Loire Valley region, the castle of Chambord was built in the 16th century, under the reign of François I, a few kilometers from the town of Blois. Built in the heart of the largest enclosed forest park in Europe, the castle of Chambord is the largest of the Loire castels. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, the castle of Chambord welcomes more than a million visitors each year, making it one of the most visited castles in France after the Palace de Versailles . In this article, we will take a closer look at the history of the castle of Chambord and explore its architecture and its magnificent gardens.
The history of the castle
To celebrate his victory at Marignan, François 1er, new king of France, decided in 1516 to build a palace in Sologne to his glory. The construction project is nourished by the humanism of Alberti who defined the principles of Renaissance architecture, and work began in 1519. Initially, the castle of Chambord was to serve as a hunting castle, annexed to the Blois Castle. The first project drawn up by François 1er only provided for the construction of a castle-dungeon, confined on all floors to four round towers. The story goes that at that time, Leonardo da Vinci, who was staying in Amboise, would have participated in the development of the plans for the castle of Chambord alongside the architect Domenico Bernabei da Cortona. Following the imprisonment of François 1er in Madrid in 1525, work on the castle of Chambord was interrupted until 1526 and the king decided, on his return, to enlarge Chambord by adding two side wings to the keep. For several years, some 1,800 workers were busy building the castle and in 1539, François 1er received Emperor Charles V there. The royal wing, located in the north tower, was completed in 1544 and an exterior gallery and a spiral staircase were added in 1545. François 1st died in 1547, after 32 years of reign and ultimately only lived 42 days at the Chambord estate. Unfortunately, the castle did not arouse the interest of the kings who succeeded François 1er: Henri III and Henri IV did not stay there and Louis XIII only visited it twice during his reign. It will be necessary to await the advent of Louis XIV to see completed the project of François 1er. Louis XIV entrusted the work to the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart, as for the Palace of Versailles, and the work was finally completed in 1686. In 1844, the new owner of the castle of Chambord, Henri Dartois, Duke of Bordeaux, undertook work to develop the park and restore the castle, following the multiple lootings that had taken place for decades on the estate of Chambord abandoned.
The architecture of Chambord
The castle of Chambord is inspired by the Gothic style with its enclosure and its large corner towers. Its specific silhouette makes it one of the architectural masterpieces of the Renaissance and its dimensions are impressive:
- The facade of the castle of Chambord measures 156 meters,
- Its height culminates at 56 meters,
- Its dungeon measures 44 meters,
- The castle has 426 rooms and 77 staircases,
- 282 chimneys and 800 sculpted capitals complete the work.
Drawings found at the death of Leonardo da Vinci representing a double spiral staircase suggest the latter’s participation in the development of the plans for the castle of Chambord, although no official document can attest to this. 220,000 tonnes of tufa stone, a white and crumbly stone, were needed to build the castle of Chambord and oak piles were sunk up to 12 meters deep to lay the foundations. The center of the castle rests on a perfectly square central body with a Greek cross, inspired by Italian buildings, such as Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The 4 towers around the center called “the dungeon” precisely mark the 4 cardinal points. Inside the keep are 5 habitable levels, consisting of 4 square apartments and 4 additional apartments in the round towers. At the top of the keep, a large terrace offers a breathtaking view of the Chambord estate and the monumental fireplaces of the castle.
The development of the gardens of the castle of Chambord
The exterior landscaping of the castle of Chambord only really began under the reign of Louis XIV, who wanted to establish regular gardens in front of the facade of the castle. Two settlement projects were proposed to the Sun King and the first earthworks began in 1684, in order to protect the future gardens from flooding. But the works were quickly interrupted and it was not until 1730 and the arrival of the King of Poland, Stanislas Leszczynski, that they resumed. Indeed, the King of Poland declared to the building services that the proximity of the marshes caused epidemics, and in particular malaria. From then on, the building controller ordered the continuation of the work initiated by Louis XIV.
A French-style garden is designed over an area of 6 hectares and plantations of boxwood and chestnut trees are carried out. Along the paths of the garden, plantations mainly composed of fruit trees are aligned: 250 feet of pineapple, 121 orange trees, 1 lemon tree and 1 lemon tree are inventoried in 1751. Unfortunately, since the revolution of 1789, the French garden of the castle of Chambord suffered from a lack of maintenance: the trees were no longer pruned and the paths were overgrown with grass. The moats of the castle are drained and transformed into vegetable gardens. Around 1930, Henri de Bourbon, owner of the castle, kept the garden in its simplified version. In the 20th century, an alley of tall trees persisted and the main alleys were delimited by small shrubs or roses. In 1970, all the trees in the garden were uprooted and only the lawn areas were kept. In 1972, the moats which had been transformed into vegetable gardens were filled with water. Finally, the redevelopment projects of the castle gardens will be carried out from 2010, on the initiative of Jean d’Haussonville, general manager of the national domain of Chambord. The formal gardens of the castle of Chambord were reconstructed between 2016 and 2017 thanks to a donation of 3.5 million euros and they are structured around three flowerbeds comprising:
- 600 trees,
- 800 shrubs,
- 200 roses,
- 15250 boundary plants,
- 18874 m² of lawn.
The borders of the lawns are now formed of thyme, the chestnut trees are replaced by lime trees and vegetable plants such as chives or fennel are planted. Since 2018, 6 gardeners have maintained the gardens of the castle of Chambord, without using phytosanitary treatments.
The English garden
The development of an English garden was envisaged at the end of the 19th century between the village, the church and the castle. Groves made up of trees and shrubs are planted and a lawn adorns the descent to the castle. Cedars and redwoods connect Place Saint-Louis to Porte Dauphine, and another alley forms a path between the town hall and the castle. The English garden will undergo almost no change during the 20th century, even if during this period groves are removed in order to facilitate its maintenance. Just like the French garden, the last developments of the English garden of the castle of Chambord were carried out from 2014 and thanks to a sponsorship. 80 species of trees have been added to it, without modifying the initial appearance of the English garden.
The forest estate of Chambord
The forest estate of the castle of Chambord covers 5433 hectares surrounded by a wall 32 kilometers long and 2.5 meters high, making it the largest forest estate in France. Many species of animals share this natural space: there are stags, hinds, wild boars and all kinds of wild animals. The castle of Chambord estate is also classified as a “national hunting and wildlife reserve” and it contributes to the maintenance of deer such as red deer. Deer captured on the Chambord estate are used, for example, to populate other French forests.
The castle of Chambord is open all year round, except on January 1, November 29 and December 25, and during the summer season, a falconry show is offered to the public. Known throughout the world, the French castle also houses an important collection of paintings, furniture and works of art. Accessible by TGV from Paris, the castle of Chambord is located less than an hour from Orléans. In order to organize your stay in Chambord, we invite you to consult the website dedicated to the domain www.chambord.org