Sunday, October 5, 2008

Castles are the Way to Go: Part I

So, after 2 consecutive weekends of viewing French châteaux, all I can say is "wow" I'll save you from a million scrolls down post by doing each weekend by itself (eeessh I'm behind!)

The first castle we saw last weekend was "Langeais." The original was built in the 10th century, but was mostly destroyed in the 100 years war, and thus was rebuilt into what we saw in the 1400s
This era of châteaux has none of the extravagance that can be seen in castles like Chambord (to be seen later) or even Villandry (seen later in this post!) because it was built with one function in mind: Don't die. With constant wars raging, castles were to protect (thus draw bridges, which are way cooler in person). Because of this the first part of the castle they built was the "donjon" (not the dungeon, false cognate!) which was the watchtower, so even if the rest of the castle wasn't prepared (built) they could see the enemy approaching.

If you look at the above photo there are gaps in the base of the top of the tower called mâchicoulis wherein the defensive line would drop rocks, hot oil, shoot arrows, and lots of general unpleasant things hoping to kill off the attackers quickly without being prone to attack yourself.

Another defensive, the large door opening was not the "real" door - it was for bringing in large goods, so usually this was all barred up and very impossible to force your way through. There is a tiiinnnnyy door (next to the man in a red jacket) which the enemy would have to bottleneck through. They'd apparently try and behead (or just chop you in half) the enemy as they came through. Neat!

Inside was pretty, but like all castles, dark and cold. Thus there were tons of tapestries everywhere. None were truly impressive. My favorites were in the children's room because they were with brighter colors and had very mystical scenes. Way way more fun.

One of the things that most impressed me in Langeais were the floors. All of the intricate designs in beautiful colors - truly rawkin. Fun fact: if you see the bed curtains the front two are knotted. This meant the person in the bed was prepared to receive visitors. It was pretty common to have people visit you and do business while you were in bed. Though you had different beds/rooms for receiving people if they were friends or strictly business people.

After finishing looking around the interior we went wandering around the grounds where we found modern architecture in the way of a GIANT tree house. It was amazing. I want to build one just like it, so badly. I was thoroughly impressed.

Later this day we made our way to Villandry, which is a new style castle built around a fortress (like Langeais) in the early 1500s.
Sadly, there was no time planned to see the interior of the castle (though from what every single French person I've told this to says, the inside isn't interesting at all). The beauty of Villandry rests in the gardens.
Villandry has an interesting combination of an English style and French style gardens, English being very wild and free, French being highly regimented and controlled (the idea that "I am the King, even nature will obey me). The photo shows the more French gardens, the one closet to the front being the garden of loves, each square representing a different form of love; passionate, pure, flighty (called "papillon" which means butterfly), tragic, and some others I forget. The ones in the background are controlled with hedges but the interiors are a bit more rampant.

There is also a water garden, which is strangely vast and empty with some fountains but mostly a vast constructed pond. The pond feeds the moat which surrounds the castle (and is home to a large family of guppies with giant mouths) with a beautiful designed river.

It was a short trip, only the afternoon, but I got a very good taste of French castles in two different styles. Soon you'll hear about Chambord and Cheverny, the châteaux that I visited with the group yesterday!

Fun awesome thing- on the walk back to my home from the trip I walked past a bar that had a band playing outside. They were playing David Bowe :) Good end to an awesome day

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