Blois — castles of France

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Blois castle, located on a high rocky promontory, washed by the waters of the Loire and its tributary-a small river, provided a safe shelter and protection; without a doubt this place was inhabited even in the Neolithic age. However, the mention of the castle occurs only in texts of the ninth century.

From the middle of the tenth century Blois and its surroundings become a possession of the powerful feudal lords – the counts de Blois, vassals of the king of France, they are also graphs of tours and Chartres, and champagne, which have been changed many times fortified castle. From a mighty fortress, erected in the XIII century, preserved only the angular tower of the fortress wall, several towers, included in the later buildings, as also the great hall of the counts de Blois, intended for meetings and celebrations.

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At the end of the XIV century, the County of Blois was sold to Prince Louis of Orleans, son of the French king Charles V. This event will usher in a bright future of the city the Son of Louis, the poet Charles of Orleans, after returning from many years of English captivity lived in the castle for 25 years, gathered around a small refined society of writers and poets.

However, the history of Blois is associated mainly with the name of the grandson of Louis of Orleans, who in 1498 became king of France under the name of Louis XII. A native of Blois, Louis XII, decided to settle his residence here. The small city of Blois, a Royal city and was the capital of the Kingdom within the same period of the XVI century. This choice was well justified, as the city and its surroundings were then in luxuriant bloom, and the population of them were entirely committed to the Dukes of Orleans, who contributed to the development of this area.In the times of Charles of Orleans, and especially of Louis XII and Francis 1, the city of Blois is experiencing a brilliant takeoff, but after the death of Queen Claude de France (1524), and brutal defeat at Pavia (1525) Francis I never returned to Blois; his successors stayed here only for a short time.

In the XVII century the city has come a revival thanks to a long stay in a castle (1634-1660) Gaston of Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIII.

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In the XVIII century , the castle of Blois was abandoned by the kings. It found shelter for the old faithful vassals of the king; it was divided into small living quarters and was in a deplorable condition; the gardens also were broken… In 1788, Louis XVI ordered to sell the lock, or in the absence of the buyer, to destroy it. Saved the castle, only his conversion to the barracks.

During and after the Revolution, several monuments of Blois was damaged and partially destroyed. The castle also suffered from the vandalism: all the logos and images that reminded the Royal family, were destroyed. The sad fate of the castle lasted the entire first half of the nineteenth century. It has undergone many alterations during the military occupation, and only since 1845 the architect Dubana had undertaken extensive renovations, condemned nowadays as excessive.

Wing of Louis XII. In 1498, Louis, Duke of Orleans and the Comte de Bloisbecomes king of France under the name of Louis XII. The new king immediately begins the reconstruction of the castle of their ancestors. Case of Louis XII, stretched first by the three sides of a courtyard, was built very quickly, within three years. Joyful note sounded in this new elegant building of stone and brick, without threatening bristling with towers and loopholes, is still very common in that era; the wide Windows, balconies, loggias, Lucerne, walking the galleries gave access of air and light… the Wing of Louis XII mesmerizing the audience with his peaceful, joyful, friendly, and a view of the king himself, known for his simple and pleasant manners. It was not the castle, as Louis the KHP was not necessary to defend yourself. His power was undeniable. The king of France needed now in the castle, which could serve him the main residence. So, the king opens a new era in governance, «open» diplomacy, declared the Italians, which was confirmed by the revolutionary diplomatic action – a luxurious reception in 1501 the castle of Blois, the Archduke of Austria, which France was almost in a state of war.

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The buildings of Louis XII, modern in its spirit, essentially remained deeply Gothic with many points of view: the lack of balance and symmetry in the layout and distribution of window openings, thin, very deep and sophisticated moldings, rich sculptural decoration, including, as in the cathedrals, friezes with acanthus, pinnacles, rosettes and obviously medieval in origin, hanging ceiling decorations, décor and picturesque characters. According to tradition, typical of French Gothic, initials and emblems of the owners of the castle engraved in stone: flowers lilies are symbols of the king, ermine – Queen Anne Brittany, decorated with columns of the gallery; the Grand staircase is decorated with porcupine – emblem of the Dukes of Orleans: «De près comme de loin, je suis redoutable!» («Up close and far away, I’m dangerous!»); the equestrian statue of the king stands above the main entrance to the castle.

The gallery, adjacent to the chapel, the southern half of which was destroyed in the XIX century, mistakenly attributed to Charles of the Order, while it certainly applies to the buildings of Louis XII.

In restrained simplicity of this case is not surprising, as it served as a kind of corridor, connecting two buildings, but not residential premises.

Contemporary a Cappella is just the choruses of the former chapel, built by Louis XII and consecrated in 1508, St. Calais. The nave of the chapel was destroyed in the XVII century. It was a private chapel of the Royal couple. In the immediate vicinity of the castle was a large capitulary Church. The Savior, which was a place of solemn worship (after the Revolution it was destroyed). Today the roofs of ancient buildings crumble with time, but the roof of the metal in this case would be inappropriate. Therefore restorers need to use authentic materials and to repair it is almost «old-fashioned» methods.»

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The facade of the chapel, decorated with the initials of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany, was converted in the nineteenth century. The interior of this house with its pointed arches, castles, arches and heraldic emblems on the tiles of the floor filled with the spirit of Gothic.

The wing of Francis I. In the long list of construction works undertaken by Francis I, the Prince, «who was selflessly devoted to buildings,» the castle of Blois was the first chronologically: the wing of Francis I. it was begun in 1515, that is, from the beginning of his reign, and the work has been completed in 1524 after the death of Queen Claude de France, initials, and logos, which is everywhere inseparably linked with the emblems of the king. Built only 15 years after the Louis XII wing, the Francis I wing, however, significantly differs from it. Over the 15 years of French art experienced a strong influence of Italian art. The wing of Francis 1 is one of the first masterpieces of the Renaissance.

The facade on the courtyard side is made in the spirit of Gothic, which resulted in the lack of symmetry and traditional French architecture, the revival of the upper parts of the building: pyramidal slate roof with high chimney pipes and large Dormer Windows and is accented by an openwork balustrade. However, the decoration of the facade – brand new: the Windows are framed by pilasters rising from floor to floor. Their intersections with the horizontal profiled rods of the intermediate floor forms a square grid, which is becoming a role model, turned into a distinctive element of many of the Loire castles. Projecting wide cornice consists of several rows of magnificent stone carvings, borrowed from Italian architecture. Italian influence was also evident in the pediments of the dormers, with their niches in the antique style, with figures of cupids… Concession the French tradition – the emblem of the king, the Salamander (whose motto is «J encourage le bien et j e touffe le mal!» «I encouraged good, but I’m evil!») done eleven times deep relief on the façade of the wing of Francis I.

The main emphasis of the facade of the castle of Blois – the staircase, indicating his focus to the destruction made by Gaston of Orleans. Spiral staircase, built in an octagonal projecting tower, was typical of France in the epoch of Gothic, although in the Loire Valley are already starting to appear on the stairs with straight flights in the Italian style. A special attraction staircases give open marches between the corner buttresses. This openwork staircase with its three balconies offering lovely views of the Front yard, served as a kind of backdrop for a magnificent Royal ceremonies.

The Wing Of Gaston Of Orleans. The building, located in the courtyard, was built in 1635-1638. Gaston of Orleans, brother of Louis XIII, exiled in Blois due to his endless intrigues against the king.

Simple, classic style of this building is difficult to reconcile with the abundant fancy decor Renaissance buildings, which were supposed to carry in case of implementation of the project completely. Architect Francois Mansart was an idea to build a Grand Palace around the quadrangle, and to landscape the surrounding area with gardens, steps down to the Loire, with a large front yard surrounded by a porticoes… This ambitious plan was buried in 1638. It was built only a wing in the courtyard, and not completely. The rest of his life Gaston of Orleans, held in the case of Francis 1, in front of his unfinished masterpiece.

In the case of Gaston of Orleans, now houses the Municipal library and two large halls, used for concerts, conferences, exhibitions.

The wing of Francis I (interior). Climbing the famous stairs to get into the interior of the case of Francis I, it is possible to note repeating rhythm of diagonal lines in the form of marches, railings, cornices, vault ribs… In the medallions of the arch are placed the initials and emblems of Francis I and his wife Claude de France (the letter «C» and the weasel) and his mother Louise of Savoy (Swan with folded wings, presenly arrow). The first room on the second floor consists of two rooms connected together during the major restoration work of the mid-nineteenth century. At the same time, architect Dubinom was made a radical restoration of the apartments of Francis I include updated tile paving floor, newly decorated walls and painted ceiling beams. All the fireplaces have been redone with the exception of those which adorned the great hall; were left untouched one of the door frames. These surviving elements very characteristic for the decoration of interiors of the Renaissance: the rich decoration in the spirit of «flaming Gothic» shallow relief with characters, shells, horns of plenty, emblems…

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During the last fifteen years the wing of Francis I constantly changed and re-furnish furniture:

the tables in the Italian style, Flemish tapestries, chairs with high backs and, especially, Larry, that in the Renaissance as in the middle ages, continued to be the main type of furniture.

In the second hall, the Hall of the Guards, presents enormous embroidery on the religious story. Here you can also see a widely published portraits of the poet Ronsard (one pictorial, the other sculptural).

Indeed, in the castle of Blois, probably during the ball, Ronsard met Cassandra Salviati to which he devoted many of his poems… Wood panel for the second half of the XVI century accurately recreates the atmosphere of the ball at the Valois court, which is likely to occur in Blois. Characters doing a trendy dance imported into France, Catherine de Medici.

The medieval design of an old castle clearly emerges when, from this room you go immediately following the gallery doorway, done in two-meter-thick wall at the entrance and right round the curve of the tower.

Gallery that also applies to the buildings of Francis I, pierced by light and air, thanks to a kind of loggia – the loggia of Bramante in the Vatican. With the balcony offered a beautiful view of the sprawling gardens.

Busts of the royals are collected in this gallery remind us of the long years of Catherine de Medici and her sons in the castle of Blois in the last third of the XVI century, as well as on the special passion that their successor Henry IV was to this castle. He ordered the construction of the gallery, 200 meters long, flanked the magnificent gardens, which in the eighteenth century was in ruins.

In the depth of the gallery is «bargueno» – Secretary of Spanish or Portuguese origin with lots of drawers, which served to hold the values.

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Behind the front room, located in the ancient tower of the thirteenth century next to the fortified wall (you should pay attention to the thickness of the walls of this room), are the Royal chambers, in which at the end of the sixteenth century has repeatedly taken refuge Catherine de Medici, forced to flee from Paris, inflamed by religious unrest. She’s here and died on 5 January 1589, a few days after the assassination of the Duke de guise. Room received in that regard, the name of the room of Catherine de Medici, was decorated during the restoration of the XIX century monograms of Henry II and Queen. In the XVI century she, however, did not have the nature of private property, which she is credited today. At that time it was usually carried out with techniques. Hole in the wall gave the opportunity to place it there on a small hill a chair with a high back, covered with a canopy on which sat the Queen.

Individual items of furniture purchased or received as a gift, allow today to reconstruct the atmosphere of this room. Portraits adorning the walls, remind us of the passion of Catherine de ‘ Medici and the art of portrait, flourishing in the sixteenth century which she contributed.

Located next to the chapel is interesting for its painted wooden panels and graceful sculptures-ness of the decoration of the apse with hanging castle arch and niches. The greatest attraction of the body of Francis I – his Cabinet, as it has retained its original decor of wooden panels carved: 237 panels, each of which is peculiar in its kind, offers a complete set of decorative ornaments, which are used in the early Renaissance arabesques, cornucopia, mascarons, dolphins, etc. This room is famous for its secret cupboards, or «cabinets of poison», as vividly described them in his novels by A. Dumas. But in fact, it is not known, there hid ever the poison, Catherine de Medici!

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On the third floor of Francis I, at the time of reconstruction, there was a tragic event that occupies an important place in the history of France: 23 December 1588 Duke Henry of guise was murdered there on the orders of his cousin the king of France Henry III. This murder put an end to the religious wars tearing France during the reign of the sons of Henry II and Catherine de ‘ Medici, wars generated by the fanaticism of the Protestants, supported by Elizabeth of England, and intolerance of Catholics United around the Catholic League led by Philip II of Spain. The power of the crown was constantly contested by the League, and especially the head of the League – Duke de Gizom. The situation worsened in the course of the States General of the Kingdom gathered in the castle of Blois in October 1588. Henry de guise feel to the occasion, openly mocked the king, who decided to end it.

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Paintings of the XIX century are exhibited in the Hall of the Council and in the Royal chambers, illustrate this tragic co-existence, as well as the murder of the cardinal of Lorraine, brother of the Duke de guise, which took place a day later.

Descending to the second floor, you can get into the Hall of the States General. Recall that this is the largest room of the fortress of the counts de Blois, built in the early XIII century. It is in this great hall – one of the oldest halls, preserved in the Gothic castle, the count de Blois carried his rule, judged, accepted the accolades from his loyal vassals. In this room when the castle was owned by the king, under Henry III twice (in 1576 and 1588 years) were collected in the States General of the Kingdom of France. The interior of this room with its two naves separated by a row of columns, reminiscent of capitulary hall of the Abbey. Suspended capitals denote the Dating of the beginning of the XIII century. The nave has no vaults of stone ceiling is sheathed a small, tight fitting wood panels. The walls of the hall were repainted in the nineteenth century.

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