Friday, November 11, 2016

France, Loire Valley - Château d’Amboise I

The Royal Château d’Amboise is a castle located in the town of Amboise, 
in the Indre-et-Loire département of the Loire Valley in France. 

The dominant renaissance style of Château d'Amboise is there for all to see well before you even enter the town, 
as its position high above the Loire river, at an elevation of 81 meters, 
makes it obvious from quite a distance as you drive along the approach roads on the river bank.

The Château d'Amboise was built on the foundations of an old fortress 
for the strategic view it provided over the Loire at an important crossing point. 
Its position perched high on a promontory overlooking the river, offering a solid defense against any intruders.

Constructed in the 11th century by the Count of Anjou, the chateau that we now see is a substantially modified building, 
having been converted from a defensive medieval fortress to a castle which was comfortable to live in.

Confiscated by the monarchy in the 15th century, 
it became a favored royal residence and was extensively rebuilt, expanded and improved over time. 
This is the first great wave of changes that have affected the castle.
In 1434 it was seized by Charles VII, 
after its owner, Louise d'Amboise, was convicted of plotting against the monarchy and condemned to be executed.
 He was later to be pardoned, but the chateau remained in the hands of the king. 
Once in royal hands, the château became a favorite of French kings, from Louis XI to Francis I.

In the late 15th century, it was Charles VIII who embarked on the most ambitious reconstructions, 
giving rise to many of the fine renaissance characteristics that we see today. 
Charles VIII decided to rebuild it extensively, beginning in 1492, 
at first in the French late Gothic Flamboyant style and then, after 1495, employing two Italian mason-builders, 
who provided at Amboise some of the first Renaissance decorative motifs seen in French architecture.
Even though he decided to turn the old castle of his childhood days into a luxurious palace, 
not long after the work was completed, in 1498, Charles met his death here – 
not in the defense of his kingdom – but by hitting his head on one of the many low doorways.

The castle was now entering its most important period, in the first couple of decades of the 
16th century, it hosts to the leading writers and artists in Europe at that time. 
King Francois I followed at the chateau, as it entered its golden era; 
during the first few years of his reign the château reached the pinnacle of its glory.

Francois I spent his childhood at the chateau, and when he succeeded to the throne, 
he lavished much of his social skills on Amboise. 
He held frequent balls, feasts, tournaments and it was he who, in 1516, invited Leonardo da Vinci to stay in a nearby mansion, 
Manoir du Clos-Luce (attached to the castle by a 500 meters long underground tunnel), 
with the promise of a pension, with the only requirement being that he devote some of his time to conversation and companionship. 
Leonardo's remains are said to lie within the Chapel of Saint-Hubert within the grounds of the chateau.

During the 15th and 16th centuries it became a favorite of the French kings as a place to house their wives and children, 
while they sought the company of their mistresses elsewhere. 
Notable residents also included Henry II and his wife, Catherine de Medici, 
and Mary Stuart- the child queen of Scotland, who had been promised to the future king Francois II. 

These were to be the glory years at the chateau prior to its decline and loss of favor with the Royals, 
who came to prefer to stay closer to Paris. 
Starting with the reign of Henry IV onwards, the castle was occupied much less frequently. 
The château fell into decline from the second half of the 16th century and the majority of the interior buildings were later demolished, 
but some survived and have been restored, along with the outer defensive circuit of towers and walls.

At the beginning of the 17th century, the chateau was all but abandoned 
when the property passed into the hands of Gaston d'Orleans, brother of the Bourbon King Louis XIII. 
After his death it returned to the Crown and was turned into a state prison. 
From the 17th century onwards, Amboise Castle was never again to regain the glory of the earlier centuries and fell into disrepair. 

It then suffered at the hands of the Revolutionaries and Emperor Napoleon. 
During the French Revolution a great deal more destruction was done, 
and an engineering assessment commissioned by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in the early 19th century 
resulted in a great deal of the château having to be demolished.

It was in part rebuilt in the 19th century by King Louis-Philippe during his reign, 
but with his abdication in 1848, the château was confiscated by the government.

Since 1840, the Château d'Amboise has been listed as a ‘monument historique’ by the French Ministry of Culture.

In 1852 an article in Bentley's Miscellany noted:
'Amboise, a few years since, was a smiling, lively little town, and the castle was a pleasure residence of the last king; 
the gardens were delicious, the little chapter of St. Hubert a gem, restored in all its lustre, and the glory of artists and amateurs. 
All is now changed: a gloom has fallen on the scene, the flowers are faded, the gates are closed, they pretty pavilions are shut-up; 
there are guards instead of gardeners, and a dreary prison frowns over the reflecting waters, which glide mournfully past the towers.'

In 1873, Louis-Philippe’s heirs were given control of the property and a major effort to repair it was made.
However, during the German invasion in the Second World War in 1940 the château was damaged further, 
but restoration continued afterwards.
In 1974 the Saint-Louis Foundation took over its administration and continued its restoration program.

Today, through this foundation, the present Comte de Paris, a descendant of Louis-Philippe, 
repairs and maintains the château as a tourist attraction.

This emblematic monument is registered as a World Heritage site by Unesco.

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