Friday, 9 September 2011

Chateau de Blois

The chateau sits right in the heart of the town of Blois with its rich history and art. The town is charming with many ancient buildings to be seen and the Loire River alongside. The impressive church is just across from the chateau which displays four different architectural styles through the ages: medieval gothic from the 13th C, Louis XII flamboyant from 1498-1503, Renaissance Francois 1st 1515-1524, Gaston of Orleans Classicism 1635-1638. Its diverse history spans 12thC – 20thC.

Over the ages it was badly damaged by the revolution, neglect, wars. In the 19thC it was restored, so most of what you see is not original and most of the furniture is from the 19thC too. I found this unsatisfying and confusing. However, I did enjoy seeing things in a facsimile of their original state.

My first port of call in the complex was the Hall of the Estates General, a vestige of the medieval fortress built by the counts of Blois from the 10thC onwards. It is the largest gothic hall from the 13thC in France today. I couldn’t resist sitting on the ‘throne’ for a quick ‘if only’. It’s old and run down. There are better in the chateau.

The chateau is built into the rock with a steep drop on both sides. A good defensive design. The tower has narrow slits for arrows to be fired through at opposing armies.

The Louis XII wing is built in brick and stone. The Fine Arts Museum occupies the former royal apartments on the first floor. This had an interesting collection of busts, plaster figures, ceramics and glass. You will also find a display on this site of broken parts of the decorations of the building. During the revolution, anything representing royalty was torn down, such a shame to destroy such magnificent sculptures and decorative parts of the exterior.

The Francois I wing was built only 15 years after the Francois I wing. It translates Italian ideas into French. The projecting staircase tower is embellished with many beautiful details.

Built by Francois Mansart for Gaston of Orleans (Louis XIII’s brother) the staircase is an impressive double vault decorated with allegorical sculptures. Catherine de Medicis has her initials and those of her husband Henry II painted all over the ceilings in some rooms. Henry IV has his rival the Duc de Guise executed in one of the rooms we viewed. We also saw a nice portrait of Mary Queen of Scots who was married to Francois II at the time. She came to a sharp end, you’ll recall; being executed for treason against Elizabeth I of England.

There are no real gardens to explore but the view from the battlements is very pretty. There are no audioguides or guided visits in English. You also have the options of visiting a magic museum. We found ourselves sitting outside the chateau at a cafe and suddenly golden dragons started 'menacing' us with sound effects too.

 We didn't visit the museum which may well have been as weird as the dragons but they were amusing.


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