Saturday, 6 May 2017

Amboise and da Vinci - the return

The annual bus trip for members of a local historical society came around and this time we were visiting Amboise - a royal town, palace and location for Leonardo da Vinci's last three years.
JC and I had been there before but decided a bus trip where everything was organised, including a guided tour of the palace, might be a pleasant way to pass a Saturday. We did learn a few new things from the guide.

After travelling 2.5 hours we needed a pit stop and where better than an ancient cafe which has been in the one family for several generations. Bigot is known for its patisseries (pastries) and was founded in 1913. JC declared his pain au chocolat delicious and I certainly enjoyed my pain au raisin, washed down with a real hot chocolate (not made from powder). You'll find it across from the street leading to the royal palace of Ambroise. From the castle you have panoramic views over the Loire River and the countryside. Somewhere nearby in those tree covered hills in the distance lives Mick Jagger in his chateau La Fourchette in the village of Pocé-sur-Cisse (see photo of his chateau). He describes it as his “haven of peace in the valley of kings”. I like the Loire Valley area too and would love to live there though it's unlikely to happen.
There has been a building on site for many centuries. Its strategic position has always attracted wealthy opportunists and kings including Clovis in 503 or Philippe-Auguste in 1214 but especially Charles VIII and his wife Anne de Bretagne. All their children died young. Charles ruled until 1498 when he hit his head on a low doorway while walking to a tennis game in the palace courtyard and put himself into a coma from which a few hours later he died. He was only 28, rather ugly but often successful militarily, especially in Italy during the time of the Borgias and other leading families fighting for control of the Italian peninsula. His widow was obliged to marry his cousin who became Louis XII so Anne became queen of France twice in a row.

Before he died, Charles had constructed a solid wing of the palace and it is this wing plus one other which is all that remains of this once amazing place. Most of the palace was demolished in the nineteenth century. In this diagram you can see which parts once existed and all that remains today (black). Sad. I would have loved to see it and its gardens at the height of their splendour.

Many French monarchs stayed at Amboise for varying lengths of time: Henry IV who was assassinated in Paris, Louis XIII, Louis XIV and very notably Francois 1 who refurbished the Renaissance wing and added Italian flavours. (See bust of Francois beside a tapestry in the photo). Francois had spent his childhood here and years later invited Leonardo da Vinci to spend his last years in Amboise as his friend, confident, engineer and special event designer. Francois I died at Rambouillet, some years before his great rival Henry VIII of England died.

As I entered the council chamber with its fleur de lys columns and stained glass windows I was surprised to see a fire blazing in one chimney. It was magical to see it still working after all those centuries and it was most appreciated in the cold temperatures during our visit.

The palace is a museum containing furniture and furnishings from many periods. Of note is a French-manufactured piano, tapestries from the sixteenth century, one of the first extendable tables, a room devoted to Louis-Philippe last of the Bourbon kings of France who ruled for only 10 years (1840-1850) until he was ousted and spent his last years in exile in England. He signed off on the failed attempt to colonise Akaroa and the South Island of New Zealand.

Leonardo's remains were buried on the grounds in a church in 1519 but that was knocked down and so he was reinterred in the ancient chapel of Saint-Hubert in 1871. This chapel, built in 1493 has outstanding stone sculptures over the door and inside the lace-like stone carving is impressive. The windows, though beautiful, were installed in the 20th century because the originals were blown out by German bombing during WW2.

A short walk from the palace you can visit Clos Luce, da Vinci's home for the end of his life. We were supposed to have a guided visit but there was chaos. I felt the management was poor. Our group had to be divided into 2 so some of us waited. JC and I thought a drink while waiting would be in order but the café on site offered no interest in us and no service and so we lost a lot of time waiting to have an order taken. Like too many places in France, staff put their other chores ahead of serving waiting clients. They'd rather not be disturbed by money-paying customers. With no time left to explore the grounds and gardens and models of da Vinci's machines we eventually sculled a drink and moved into the chateau. Despite our guide, dressed as da Vinci's cook, and her efforts to show us around we missed half of what was to be seen. Again, the management are not efficient and can't cope with crowds.
We looked out a window to see the same view of the palace, so close, that Leonardo would have had. We saw the main dining room cum meeting room and the kitchen and a few scale models hurriedly walked through but not his bedroom and other places, before we had to leave to retake the bus. JC and I felt a bit short-changed. Luckily we were not first- (and only) time visitors. For more information and photos of Amboise and Clos Luce visit


Elizabeth at Eiffel Tells said...
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