Thursday, October 29, 2009
The castle at Amboise was originally built for the strategic view it provided over the Loire River at an important crossing point - at that stage a ford, although there is now a bridge.
Constructed in the 11th century by the Count of Anjou, the chateau that we now see is a substantially modified building, having been converted a defensive castle to one which was comfortable to live in. The first great wave of changes came in the 15th century after the chateau was seized by Charles VII. It was Charles VIII who embarked on the most ambitious reconstructions, at the end of the 15th century, giving rise to many of the fine renaissance characteristics that we see today. Unfortunately he also died at the castle when he baged his head on a lintel! Francois I followed at the chateau, as it entered its golden era.
Equally interesting, the castle at Amboise was the first to have gardens laid out in the formal style that came to be known as 'French style gardens'.
The castle was now entering its most important period, around the first couple of decades of the 16th century, and frequently paid host to the leading writers and artists in Europe at that time. Notably Leonardo da Vinci visited as a guest, and worked in a nearby mansion, Clos Lucé, which is attached to the castle by a 500 metre long underground tunnel. Leonardo da Vinco was buried at St Huberts chapel at the castle, although it is not completely certain that the skeleton now said to be his is the right one, because of the disrepair that the chapel subsequently fell into.
Notable residents also included Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Mary Queen of Scots.
Perhaps the most bleak moment in the castles history was in 1560, during the Wars of Religion, when 1,200 protestants were disembowelled and hung from the castle walls - it's hard to imagine now what a terrible the site the castle must have been at that time.
The royals came to prefer to stay closer to Paris, and from the reign of Henry IV onwards the castle was occupied much less frequently.
From the 17th century onwards Amboise chateau served as a prison, but was never again to regain the glory of the earlier centuries and fell into disrepair. Following the French revolution much of the castle was demolished, to be in part rebuilt in the 19th century by King Louis-Philippe. After further turmoil and damage during the Second World War, it is now a descendant of Louis-Philippe who maintains the castle as a tourist attraction.
The castle is an impressive site to visit, although it is much dimished in size from its heyday - only one fifth of the original castle remains. There is also a highly regarded collection of renaissance furniture and furnishings to see on a visit to Amboise, as well as enjoying the views from the carefully maintained gardens.
You will also want to visit the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, which has some good stained glass windows as well as the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci.