Wednesday, August 31, 2016

France, Loire Valley - Château de Chenonceau I

The Chenonceau Castle is a French castle spanning the River Cher, 
near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Indre-et-Loire département of the Loire Valley in France. 
It is one of the best-known châteaux of the Loire valley, and, with the exception of the Palace of Versailles, 
it is the most visited castle in France.
It is often referred to as "Château de Femmes" (the “castle of the six ladies”) for the succession of powerful French noblewomen, 
who each made an impact on the castle, forming it into the lovely château we see today. 
Throughout its history it is they who have most influenced its design and its destiny.

In 1513 Thomas Bohier acquired what was a small fortress by the river Cher 
and decided to replace it with a Renaissance style chateau leaving only the keep from the original building.
It was his wife Katherine Briconnet who oversaw the building work between 1515-1521, 
as her husband spent a lot of time away at war.

Soon after completion, and after the death of Bohier, 
in 1535 the chateau was seized by King Francois I, because Bohier could not pay his debts to the Crown. 
The king's successor, Henry II presented the castle to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, 
who added the bridge over the Cher river (known as the Pont de Diane), 
arranged significant renovations, and enhancements to the gardens.

Upon Henry II's wounding during a jousting accident in 1559, which would eventually kill him, 
his wife, Catherine de Medici, refused Diane access to the dying King, though it is said he repeatedly called out for her. 
And upon the King's death, Catherine refused to allow her to attend the funeral 
and forced Diane out of her beloved Chenonceau and into the nearby Chateau Chaumont, where she lived only a few years.

Catherine lived at Chenonceau after the death of her husband. 
The château became her favorite residence and she decided to enlarge the castle and to erase the presence of Diane.
Under Catherine de Medici further extensive work was carried out on the chateau and gardens, 
including the Grand Gallery on the bridge, which finally gave Chenonceau its now iconic look. 
The Château was used extensively by Catherine and other French Royalty for festivities and hunts.
Catherine loved to entertain and, as her favorite get away, 
she gave many beautiful parties here in honor of her three sons, all Kings of France.

The fortunes of the castle changed after the death of Catherine de Medici in 1589. 
On her death bed, Catherine left Chenonceau to her daughter-in-law, Queen Louise de Lorraine-Vaudémont, Henry III’s wife. 
Following occupancy by the widow of Henry III and the mistress of Henry IV, 
the castle slowly became less occupied and less maintained. 
Bought by the Duke of Bourbon in 1720, he sold many of the contents of the castle, and then the castle itself in 1733.

The purchaser, Claude Dupin, or rather his wife, gave a new lease of life to the castle, 
and most importantly managed to save it from being damaged during the revolution. 
The widowed Louise Dupin saved the château from destruction during the French Revolution,
preserving it from being destroyed by the Revolutionary Guard because of its strategic value,
"it was essential to travel and commerce, being the only bridge across the river for many miles".

In 1864, Madame Pelouze was the sixth and last woman of “Château de Femmes”; 
she began restoration work on Chenonceau that would last ten years.

José-Emilio Terry, a Cuban millionaire, acquired Chenonceau from Madame Pelouze in 1891.

Henri Menier, whose descendants still own the castle, bought it in 1913.
During the First World War, one of the most meritorious acts in the history of the castle 
was when Gaston Menier transformed the building in 1914 into a temporary hospital,
 where more than 2000 wounded were recovered up to the end of war.
Another interesting fact, during the second World War, 
one end of the castles gallery was in the Occupied Zone and the other in French Free Territory 
(the River Cher was the dividing line between the Résistance and the German occupied part).

Château de Chenonceaux later became the property of the French nation.
Today it is owned by the Menier family, famous for their chocolate.
The castle has now been carefully restored to its former glory.

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