Château de Chambord

A Crowning Achievement – Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord is one of the crowning achievements of French Renaissance architecture and is one of the most attractive and majestic buildings in all of the Loire Valley. It isn’t hard to see why Château de Chambord is known as one of the most amazing buildings in the world and is seen as far more than just a castle. Many people have been captured by the castle saying that it is like something that you could never see in real life, a piece of fantasy in the real world.

This building is a project of extreme passion which you can easily tell by its grand and majestic look, with a widespread area, it is no doubt that many powerful people had their say in its construction as well as its living legacy. Château de Chambord is truly a magnificent statement piece that is situated so perfectly within the Loire Valley with an exterior and interior that can tame even the most cynical of hearts. With only a glance, you can see why it holds such a promising and loyal space in the hearts of people from all around the world.

wide angle shot of Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord. Source: Creative Commons

Though there are many, many words in the big wide world, none come even close to explaining just how magnificent this château really is. Some even say that Château de Chambord was perfectly designed to shout to the world that the person harboured inside was the greatest king to have ever existed, and that isn’t far from the truth at all. With a château this grand, you know it has to have something pretty damn special inside.

With many intense moments, grand pleasures, and mystical events, it is time to take a good look into this amazing château. Come along on this grand adventure where we will discover the mysteries of Château de Chambord.

The history of Château de Chambord

Château de Chambord is most commonly recognised as one of the most impressive castles in the entire world mainly because of its distinct and grand French Renaissance architecture which has a mix of French medieval forms as well as some classic Renaissance structures. Though funnily enough, it was never actually completed. On top of that, Château de Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley and was originally built to serve as a grand hunting lodge for Francis I who mainly resided at Château de Blois and Amboise.

The original design of this stunning château was mainly built to the designs of the Italian architect Domenico da Cortona. It is also rumoured that the ever so famous Leonardo da Vinci may have also been involved in the design or at least influenced parts of it. During the 28 years of the castle’s construction (1519-1547), Château de Chambord was altered more than you would think, and all of these alterations were made under the incredibly watchful eye of Pierre Nepveu. When it came time to show of the castles near finished design, Francis didn’t hold back and was proud to show off his massive symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old archrival Emperor Charles V at the grand château.

The early history of Château de Chambord

When Francis I was returning from the battle of Marignan in which he had been victorious, he decided to build Château de Chambord not only as a place of residence but also as a place that would show off his power in a permanent way. Despite it being designed for him, he actually only spent 50 days there in the entirety of his life. The actual design and construction of Château de Chambord is something that remains a topic of heated debate up until the current day.

In fact, there are many inconsistencies in its story of construction that will likely never be figured out, it is something that has been taken to the grave and essentially lost throughout time, much like many key parts in history. Regardless of who designed the Château de Chambord (which we will touch on later on), on September 6, 1519, Francis Pombriant was ordered to begin the construction of Château de Chambord until his work was interrupted by the Italian War of 1521 to 1526. This also meant that the work was slowed dramatically by the royal funds which began to dwindle.

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Inside the walls of Château de Chambord. Source: pxhere

Along with that, there were also difficulties arising when laying the structure’s foundations. By the year 1524, the walls were sitting barely above ground level. Luckily, building once again resumed in September of 1526 and at one point in time, 1,800 workers were employed to help the quick construction of the château. When King Francis I passed in 1547, the work had essentially cost 444,070 livres. The château was mainly constructed for short stays only and it wasn’t particularly practical to live in long-term. Heating was also incredibly impractical considering the rooms were huge and they also had open windows.

It was also not surrounded by any villages or estates so there was no way to source immediate food unless it was game. For anyone who would even want to live at the château long term, it meant that all food had to be brought with the group which means numbers up to 2,000 people at a time. Considering all of the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period of time.

This also meant that all of the furniture, wall coverings, cutlery, and more had to be brought every time they decided to head out on a hunting trip which had soon proven to be a major logistical exercise. That is mainly the reasons that much of the furniture of the era was built to be disassembled easily to make transportation easier. 

When Francis I died of an apparent heart attack in 1547, Château de Chambord was left unused for almost a century. It fell into decay during this time until finally, in 1639, King Louis XII gave it to his brother, Gaston d’Orléans who essentially saved the beautiful château from complete ruin by carrying out the very much needed restoration work around the château. Louis XIV had the great keep restored and he also furnished the royal apartments.

The proud king also added a 1,200-horse stable which enabled him to use the château as a hunting lodge that he could also entertain at a few weeks a year. However, this didn’t last long and be abandoned the château in 1685.

From the years 1725 to 1733, Stanislas Leszczyński (Stanislas I), the deposed King of Poland and father-in-law of King Louis XV, lived at Château de Chambord. Then, as a reward for his valour in 1745, the king then granted the château to Maurice de Saxe who was the Marshal of France. He died in 1750 and once again, the magnificent château was empty for many years afterwards.

The French Revolution

File:11-french revolution 1789.jpg
The French Revolution. Source: Creative Commons

When 1792 rolled around, the Revolutionary government ordered the sale of all of the castle’s furnishings. All of the wall panelling’s were demanded to be removed and even floors were taken up and sold for the value of their timber.

According to M de la Saussaye, the panelled doors were burned to keep the rooms warm during the sales of all the items and then afterwards the empty château was left abandoned until Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to Louis Alexandre Berthier. After this, Château de Chambord was purchased from his widow for the child Duke of Bordeaux, Henri Charles Dieudonné who then took on the title of Comte de Chambord.

There was an attempt made by his grandfather, King Charles X, to restore the château but he was exiled in 1830. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) the château was used as a field hospital.

Château de Chambord’s architecture

The original design of the castle is said to be created by Domenico da Cortona, however, there are several doubts regarding this. It was attributed to him mainly due to the wooden model for the design survived long enough to be drawn by André Félibien in the 17th century. In every single drawing of the model, the main staircase of the keep is shown in two, parallel, and straight flights of steps, that are separated by a simple passage.

According to Jean Guillaume, this design was later on replaced by a central staircase which is similar to the one at Blois which is a design more compatible with the French preference for magnificent and grand staircases. Though at the same time, it is said to be a trump of the centralized layout which in itself is a wholly Italian element. It was in 1913 that Marcel Reymond began to suggest that perhaps Leonardo da Vinci who was a guest of Francis at Clos Luće near Amboise may have actually been responsible for the original design which reflects his plans for a château at Romorantin for the King’s mother.

While the discussion has not yet been concluded, many scholars now agree that Leonardo was at least responsible for the design of the central staircase which has gained significant interest over time. There have also been archaeological findings over time by Jean-Sylvain Caillou and Dominic Hofbauer who have established that the lack of symmetry and some facades derives very much so from the original design. The famous staircase is the highlight of everyone’s visit. It is set right in the central axis of the castle and was a revolutionary design.

Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci. Source: Creative Commons

The spiral staircase in Château de Chambord’s interior effortlessly joins various levels via only two sets of steps set in a huge lantern-like case. This means that you can easily ascend on one side without even meeting or making eye contact with anyone else who may be descending on the other side, this would be the perfect place for an introvert. Also situated within Château de Chambord is 426 rooms, 83 staircases, 282 fireplaces, and many perfectly imperfect architectural features.

When you tour throughout the castle, you can enjoy 60 of those rooms and enjoy a glimpse of a collection of over 4,500 objets d’art displayed in the amazingly refurbished apartments. On top of all of the other simply amazing little additions within Château de Chambord, on over 300 of the ceilings and walls, there are salamanders which are small amphibians. The reason for their common appearance is because of the fact that this small, cute creature was the emblem of Francis I with a crown and the motto “I eat the good fire, I put out the bad “. The motto refers to the popular belief that a salamander has the power to resist flames.

The present-day Château de Chambord

These days, Château de Chambord is being used as a stunning destination for tourists to come and get a taste of what life may have been like many, many centuries ago. You can explore parts of the castle as well as the grounds for only 14,50 € for the castle and gardens. You can also explore the elegant stables and a beautiful museum wholeheartedly dedicated to Comte de Chambord.

It also plays home to one of France’s most important collections of tapestries which actually date from the 16th to the 19th century. With over 474 years of history, exploring the interior and exterior of the castle is the perfect experience for anyone to enjoy and will leave a mark for the years to come. Even the stunning and fragrant castle gardens will leave their mark on you.

The gardens beautifully link to Château de Chambord and these formal French gardens make the whole experience just a little more mystical. They are recognised as some of the most majestic gardens in all of France and believe it or not, people visit the castle just to see the gardens at times.

You may enjoy reading about other French Château’s such as Château de Cheverny.

The timeline of Château de Chambord

  • 1519- Francis Pombriant is ordered to begin construction of the castle
  • 1521 to 1526- The Italian War interrupts the construction of Château de Chambord
  • 1526- Building resumes
  • 1547- Francis I dies of an apparent heart attack and the castle sits vacant for almost a century
  • 1639- King Louis XII gave it to his brother, Gaston d’Orléans who saves the beautiful château from ruin
  • 1725 to 1733- Stanislas Leszczyński (Stanislas I) lives at the Château
  • 1745- The castle is gifted to Maurice de Saxe
  • 1792- the Revolutionary government orders the sale of all of the castle’s furnishings
  • 1915- The castle is confiscated as enemy property
  • 2007- The Château sees over 700,000 visitors

Claim to fame

Château de Chambord’s claim to fame is strictly because of the fact that it is one of the most recognisable châteaux in the world. This is because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. Not only is this it’s claim to fame, but it is also one of the reasons it attracts so many visitors each year.

It is also the largest Château to exist in the Loire Valley region.

Interesting facts about Château de Chambord

  • Inside the castle, there is a revolutionary and famous double helix staircase. It is an engineering masterpiece that is inspired by Leonardo da Vinci. You can ascend on one side without even making eye contact with someone on the other side.
  • Within Château de Chambord, there are 83 staircases, 426 rooms, and 282 fireplaces. During your visit, you may only visit 60 rooms.
  • On the ceiling, represented over 300 times, is a small amphibian known as the salamander. It was the emblem of Francis I with a crown as well as the motto “I eat the good fire, I put out the bad.”
  • The garden at Château de Chambord has 600 trees, 200 roses, 800 shrubs, and 15,250 plants.
  • The park at Château de Chambord is as vast as inner Paris. In fact, it is the largest enclosed park in Europe. You can discover it on horseback, by bike, horse and carriage, or in a 4X4.

Château de Chambord in TV and Film

  • The Château of Chambord (1913)
  • Le Vert Galant (1924)
  • L’art Retrouvé (1945)
  • Cinderella (1950)
  • Quentin Durward (1955)
  • Princess of Cleves (1961)
  • Saraba Natsu No Hikari (1968)
  • Donkey Skin (1970)
  • Les Divisions De La Nature (1981)
  • Chronos (1985)
  • Schätze der Welt – Erbe der Menschheit(1995– 2002)
  • The King, the Squirrel and the Grass Snake (2010)
  • Monsieur Taurins (2011)
  • The Castle Project (2012)

Books on Château de Chambord

  • Château of Chambord by Collectif (1999)

Who owns Château de Chambord?

Château de Chambord is the only commune in France owned entirely by the state. It has been since 1932. It lies in the 13,600-acre National Hunting Reserve and Breeding Park. It is surrounded by the longest wall in France.

Tourism

You can visit Château de Chambord as you wish. There is no requirement to listen to a guide. However, it is also a good idea to pick up a leaflet or ask for details so that you can make it more interesting while knowing a bit more about the history. You also need to pay a few euros if you are wanting to park your car.

The castle is opened all year aside from January 1 and December 25. Inside the castle, you will find many little cafes and restaurants to visit. Château de Chambord is just one of the amazing places you can visit. Luckily, there are many important and beautiful castles nearby such as Château de Chaumont and the Château de Cheverny, both to the west of Château de Chambord.

You may also want to take the time to visit the ever so beautiful town of Blois which is a favourite of many. It is very well-loved in the Loire Valley and is also dominated by a lovely Château. If you want to take the time to explore, make sure that these places are on your list!

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