Sunday, 15 September 2019

Chateau d'Anet - disappointing

Here is an example of lost history that begins with a great story but can be a disappointing tourism experience. Mostly it's about Henri II and his favourite mistress Diane de Poitiers. Naughty goings-on, of course.

Diane as born in 1499 and married Louis de Breze who was 40 years her elder. Through this marriage Diane was often called to the court of Francois 1. Her skills and interest in hunting went down well with various men. In particular she caught the eye of of the second son of the King, Henri. Diane's husband died at Anet in 1531. She genuinely mourned him.

Although Henri was married to Catherine de Medici he took Diane as his secret mistress. Henri came to the throne in 1547 and in the meantime Diane was busy enlarging and improving the Anet property. She added monograms of herself and King Henri which can still be seen. Gradually the relationship became less and less secret; the court often visited Anet for entertainments and, of course, Catherine de Medici was not happy but she bid her time.

Henri died violently in 1559 - killed by an arrow through the eye during a tournament. The new king was still a child so Catherine, his mother became regent. Diane tried to make peace with the most powerful woman in France by returning the crown jewels to her but Catherine remained dangerous and confiscated her magnificent chateau at Chennonceau. Diane stayed a refugee at Anet and designed a tomb for herself which you can visit.

Over the centuries the estate was handed down, sold, put on hold, changed. As with most chateaux, things deteriorated during the French Revoltion and many things of value were stolen and lost. In 1804 Diane's damaged estate fell into the hands of a new owner who demolished major wings of the building, felled all the trees in the park.
The chapel was untouched. The inhabitants of Anet town were not happy about the vandalism and riot ensued.

The chateau remained empty and abandoned until purchased by the dowager duchess d'Orleans who was daughter of the Duc de Penthievre. She died less than 9 months after purchasing it and her son, the future King Louis-Philippe, couldn't afford to retore the property so it was sold and resold. Some restoration work occured once it was purchased by an architect and this drew the attention of the Ministry for the Interior which classified parts as historical monuments and accorded a substantial subsidy.

The old park had been designed by Le Notre (Louis XIV's famous garden designer) but was now unrecognisable. Years passed, it changed hands. During 1914 the owner turned it into a Red Cross hospital. The property suffered greatly during WW2 with outlying buildings bombed and up in flames with all their furnishings and books. The German military occupied it. Fighting around it in 1945 . saw the surrounding forest destroyed. Restoration has taken place over the years and it is still of some interest but it is far from what it was in Diane's day. In fact only a third of the main chateau remains, the gardens are truly boring, most of the interesting landscape features are long gone.

While the chapel is now pretty much in it's original state, as is Diane's tomb (having had bits retrieved from being cattle troughs) the rest of the place is disappointing. Most of what is left is not open to the public, only a few rooms. They contain furniture from Diane's period, which is quite a rare thing these days, as well as collectables over the centuries. You are not allowed to take any photos inside the chateau. You are not allowed in the park. It is not a pretty site. The bare minimum has been done around the back of the chapel.

The visitor experience could be so much improved if a potager or medicinal garden was reinstated and if more rooms were available for viewing, even if the current owners have their own private areas which they use over winter months. It would be helpful if a display of the various changes to the estate was available for viewing. One could allow visitors to stoll along the man-made lake, have some refreshments etc. Alas none of this is possible. The owner, who must have plenty of money to own the property will be supported, to some extent, by subsidies from the State to keep it maintained.  Parts of the front buildings have rather large fissures and seem to be out of use.

Yes, I know very well it takes a lot of money to keep these places going but to attract more visitors and to give them a better experience the management will need to create a longer and more interesting experience for them. We arrived on a very hot day and there was nowhere to get a drink. It seemed to us that the owner was Ok letting us see a few rooms for a fee and couldn't be bothered otherwise. Well, that's the impression I and others comment on.

They have a minimal shop where I bought a copy of an engraving of the original estate in Diane's time as an example of true Renaissance achievement.


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