Tuesday 6 August 2013

Twilight of the Middle Ages

Fougeres-sur-Bievre is an amazing place. A very late mediaeval castle it was built in the last quarter of the 15th century, not long before the kings and queens of France -- and their senior courtiers -- begain building their pleasure palaces in the Loire Valley. The original 15th century building is largely intact and it is an imposing place right in the heart of the village of the same name.

Original square keep on the right, mediaeval inspired potager garden away on left
Square keep on the left, machiolated round tower on the right, entrance gate in the centre
Slightly off the well-worn tourist trail, it was empty barring one French couple when we arrived; and during our visit few other people joined us. It seems to be an overly well kept secret despite it being only a stone's throw from Chaumont-sur-Loire, not too far from Cherverney and close to the town of Blois.
Square keep with its external spiral staircase; Renaissance loggia
We think this is a real shame as it offers a great opportunity to see a 'proper' mediaeval castle. As it isn't in ruins and hasn't been modified too greatly you don't have to do too much imagining to get a sense of what it looked like in its hey-day. Just mentally add moats, a drawbridge and then remove the loggia and the slate roofs - the original would have had flat roofs and wall walks.
Looking across the cour d'honneur to the entrance gate
The first mention of a castle at Fougeres is in about 1030 when it was held by a vassel of the Counts of Blois. During the Hundred Years War [1337 - 1453] the castle was occupiied by the English. They were booted out in 1429 leaving the castle in ruins. Forty years later, in 1470 one Pierre de Refuge, advisor to Prince Charles of Orleans and treasurer to King Louis XI, turned it into a proper fortress complete with defensive towers, machiolations, moat and drawbridge.
Mediaeval defensive arrow/firearms slit
Renaissance door pediments

His grandson, Jean de Villebresme added Renaissance elements between 1510 - 1520. He is responsible for the larger windows and the decorative framing of both them and the doorways. Around this time too the loggia was built which enclosed the cour d'honneur [inner courtyard] on the east side.
Renaissance loggia seen from the great round tower
Apart from the alterations to the roofline, by adding the steeply pitched & concial slate roofs, the changes have been minimal. The military/defensive aspects were softened as moats were filled in and the drawbridge removed -- though you can still clearly see the grooves where it slotted in when raised when you pass through the entrance gate.

Spiral staircase with Renaissance embelished windows
Renaissance window detail
In 1812, the then owner destroyed the ribbed vaulting in the chapel so that a paddle wheel for his spinning mill could be installed. Today the ceiling is made of flat wooden beams, but the original corbels, in the shape of angels, remain. We also spotted a mischevious wee corbel lurking under the spiral staircase which leads up to the grande salle.
Cheeky corbel
The castle is unfurnished, but hosts permanent displays on how the conical & ptiched roofs are constructed and the wattle & daub walls are made, as well as models of mediaeval war machines. The rooms and attic space also host temporary exhibitions. More about these in a later post.


Leon Sims said...

N&A or is it really A&N. That is so fantastic. We've seen many Chateaux in our visits but this is certainly on our list next year.Thanks for the heads-up!

Leon Sims said...

PS: Love your sunflower

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Leon - well I [A] do the typing but we collaborate on what the content should be and often the photos are a mix.
However, I [A] do the replys to the comments.

Do put it on your list! I don't think you'll be disappointed. Just check the opening times as they can be subject to change after the summer season.

thanks :-)

Craig said...

I've not heard of it and it's wonderful. I know that the slate roof lines aren't original, but they are beautiful.

ladybird said...

We visited Fougères in 2008 - or was it 2009?! Anyway, we loved it - far from the madding crowd! We didn't see a soul when we were there, except for the man at the ticket office, with whom we spend a cheerful half an hour before leaving, exchanging jokes. Is the 'giant birdcage' still there? Thanks for bringing back some great memories. Martine

the fly in the web said...

Much more interesting than trailing through the tourist site chateaux being rushed or hanging about with guided groups.
As you say, you can get a real picture of what a medieval chateau was like...what is the tourist board doing to promote it?

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Craig - Agreed, they may not be authentic they do look good.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Martine - Indeed it is! just beyond the little mediaeval inspired potager.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Fly - it is promoted by dept 41, Loir et Cher and by Centre Monuments Nationaux on their respective websites.

We suspect that as its owners were more modest and no big events took place here there's no obvious "hook" to market the place with.

It would have been great if, for example, it had stood model for one of the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry castles [had it been of the right period].

GaynorB said...

It does look to be an interesting chateau to visit and perhaps all the better for not being too crowded.

It's now on 'the list'! I've made a note in my little black book to re-read your post before we go.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Gaynor - as a visitor it is lovely when a place is empty but when the attraction is of such quality it is a shame that so few people come.

chm said...

It was in 1954 that I went to Fougères-sur-Bièvre for the first time. I went up and down, back and forth and didn't see a soul! I recommended it warmly to Ken and Walt.

In old French, bièvre means "castor" or beaver. Near Paris, there is a small river called also Bièvre. Probably, beavers were plentiful at one time.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@chm - I should think you are quite correct regarding beavers--and their pelts would have been highly prized for winter cloaks.

Perpetua said...

But what a twilight! Just my kind of castle and to see it without the crowds must be wonderful. Another for the bucket-list. :-)

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Perpetua - ticky things these bucket lists ... they grow without one noticing!! ;-)

wcs said...

It's well worth a visit! Do they still have the four-square potager on the grounds? That was the inspiration for our vegetable garden here.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@wcs - yes they do. What we liked about it was it was loosely [def. loosely!] inspired by the Middle Ages AND it wasn't too big :-)