In July of 2017, students went on tours through the Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley region in France. Following the tours, students shared their voices and opinions through photographs and personal reflections.
The cut and color of the arching facade falls gracefully into the viewer’s attention. The black slate of the shapes strikes sharply against the white spread of the castle, creating a daunting exit from the mist that has worn the history of the castle walls. The strength of the exposition leading eyes upwards towards the heavens is outdone by the grand stack of spirals shuffling back into the deck of the rooftop. Such a display is uncharacteristic of the era and is a tribute to the influence that Leonardo Da Vinci has left. Though he did not have a constructive role in the creation, the blueprints of his legacy are brought back to life in the Château de Chambord.
A castle fit for a king. The perfect permanent residence. For the kings of France this wasn’t so. Chateau Chambord was merely a vacation home; a hunting lodge. Surrounded by a 20 mile stone wall enclosing a forest filled with wild game Chambord was the ideal escape for kings of old. The clean renaissance architecture of the chateau with the inspiration of Leonardo da Vinci makes the chateau stand out among the castles of the Loire region. The symmetry of the interior is very pleasing on the eyes but the most stunning feature is the double helix stair case that climbs through the central structure of the castle. It’s easy to see why even modern politicians continue to visit the castle for private events to this day.
At the Chateau De Chenonceau, there are two gardens that are separated on the way up to the chateau. On the right is the garden of Mary de Medici, the wife of Henri II, and on the left of the path is the garden of the beloved mistress of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers. The chateau was given to Diane as gift from the king and the garden is one of the most attractive spaces on the premises. It consists of beautiful flowers and trees which are separated by two intersecting paths and a fountain. In my opinion, the garden seems reflects the amount of attention and affection the king gave to Diane, to contrast the other garden which is more conservative and hidden even though the gardens were made at separate times.
I see the Château de Chenonceau as an embodiment of the feminine identity through its empowered women who oversaw it. Chenonceau was given to the favorite mistress of King Henri II, Diane de Poitiers, as a gift. She created modern gardens and had the bridge built over the River Cher. The style of architecture is tribute to Diane. After the king’s death, Henri’s wife, Catherine de’ Medici, removed Diane from the castle and made the gardens even more grand. She became queen regent and added another floor to the castle, making it three floors. She ruled France from the Green Study. King Henri III died in 1589 and his wife, Louise of Lorraine, drew herself away from court life and lived in mourning. She devoted her time to doing charity, reading, and prayer. Louise Dupin lived during the Age of Enlightenment. She hosted salons of poetry and art in the castle and invited scientists, writers, and philosophers. She is credited for saving the castle from the riots during the French Revolution. You can also feel the feminine touch through the layout of the castle. It has a big hallway filled with windows for natural light to come through and there are black and white tiles on the ground. The other rooms are intimate with wooden floors. You walk outside and there are beautiful gardens with blossoming flowers. Behind that is the evergreen forest where Dupin is buried.
When walking through castles like the Château Chambord, it’s easy to fantasize about being a noble and living a privileged life: exploring beautiful gardens, commissioning artwork, eating delicious food. Less often do we think about the people who made it all happen, the servants behind the scenes and beneath the floorboards. This particular castle was usually uninhabited, but in a short period of time, it had to be made ready for a royal entrance: cleaned, refurnished, with warm food on the table. It must have been a lot of work, planned in advance for efficiency. These people were humans just as much as the royals were, but born into different circumstances, considered less important. They learned many skills, worked long hours, had families, had dreams–but we don’t know their names, don’t see their faces. All that remains is the memory of glamour that they helped create.
FIU Honors France 2017 Student Gallery from Loire Castles