Friday, March 31, 2017

France, Loire Valley - Château d’Ussé (Sleeping Beauty Castle)

The Château d'Ussé is located in the commune of Rigny-Ussé in the Indre-et-Loire département, in France.
It was originally built as a stronghold in the Middle Ages, but developed over time to become a jewel of Renaissance architecture, 
then later, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a splendid residential home.
The elegance of its architecture, its rare furnishings and the perfection of its gardens make it a showpiece of national heritage.

Around the year 1000, the region of Touraine was prey to incessant fighting between rivals. 
In 1004 the Viking Gelduin I decided to build a fortress of wood and stone, 
perched like an eagle’s nest on the side of the hill at the edge of the Chinon forest overlooking the Indre Valley. 
The site was strategic, and as time went by, this fortress became the foundation for the construction of a new castle.

The first alterations, making the castle less of a fortress and more of a beautiful and spiritual place, 
were carried out by Jean V de Bueil, Grand Amiral of Charles VII, 
who purchased the estate in the 15th century, and began rebuilding it. 
This was the beginning of the château we see today.

His son Antoine de Beuil was heavily in debt and in 1485, sold the château to Charles d’Espinay, King's Chamberlain;
In the 16th century, Charles D’Espinay and Lucrèce de Pons oversaw the construction of the central part of the castle, 
a part of the right wing and the chapel, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture.

But it is in the 17th century that the castle was transformed into a place of residence with the addition of a charming pavilion,
 built to celebrate the marriage of Maréchal de Vauban’s daughter and the Marquis de Valentinay, Louis I de Valentinay, 
who was the owner’s son and King Louis XIV’s Finance Controller
It was thanks to the King’s patronage that the château was honored and became a marquisate.
During the 17th century, the Marquis de Valentinay demolished the north wing 
in order to open the interior court to the spectacular view over the river.
The castle itself sits slightly raised above its surroundings, 
and it’s an architectural treat with its numerous circular towers, turrets and chimneys. 
The removal of one side of the castle has left the three remaining sides overlooking an open courtyard.
He also commissioned the landscape architect Le Nôtre with the creation of the French formal gardens. 
They added the finishing touch and finally transformed the château into an enchanting residence.

Alterations continued throughout the 19th century: interior decoration, the addition of a neo-gothic gallery 
and improvements to the inner eastern façade of the Cour d’Honneur.

The Blacas Family has owned the château since 1885, 
when the Comtesse de la Rochejaquelein bequeathed Ussé to her great-nephew, the Comte de Blacas. 
Today the château belongs to his descendent Casimir de Blacas d'Aulps, the 7th Duke of Blacas.
Le Château d’Ussé is still a private residence and home of the Duke of Blacas and his family.
The castle is still lived in and much of it is not open to the public, but there is still plenty to enjoy.

The poet François-René de Châteaubriand often stayed at Ussé 
and in 1808 gave his hosts the cedars of Lebanon that we can still see today.
He worked on his Mémoires d'Outre-Tombe as the guest of duchesse Claire de Duras.

Its many turrets, towers, sloping roof, chimneys, dormer-windows and various Romantic architectural features 
were the source of inspiration for the writer Charles Perrault when he sought a setting for his Sleeping Beauty fairytale. 
Usse Castle has since also been known as the Château de la Belle au Bois Dormant – Château of the Sleeping Beauty.

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