The Château of Chambord

Oops, the Château of Chambord was undergoing massive restoration of its distinctive towers when we visited, but we still had a good time. Below is a view of what the château looks like without scaffolding.

Photoglob Co., Publisher. Château de Chambord. Cher Loir-Et-Cher Loir France Blois Et, ca. 1890. [Zürich, Switzerland: Photoglob Company, to 1906] Photograph.

Designed for King Francis I, Chambord was never actually finished, and was rarely occupied during his reign. It however is probably one of the most famous of the many châteaux built in the Loire Valley (though the nearby river is actually a tributary, the Cosson, which is routed around the grounds).

It sat abandoned for much of its life, but like many giant buildings in France, it was requisitioned for hospital space during major wars. Below, American soldiers recuperate from PTSD on the grounds. I wonder if anyone from St. Louis was stationed here at some point.

Hine, Lewis Wickes, photographer. Shell Shock patients having a happy time fishing under the wall of the old chateau. Under the walls of the old Chateau these Americans are recovering from war-neurosis , as the scientists now call the condition that used to be described as “shell-shock” Capt. A.E. Dennis, AMERICAN RED CROSS hospital representative for the U.S. Army at Blois, has obtained wonderful results by taking a number of these patients away from the noise and congestion of the hospital to a quiet outdoor life in the forest of the Chateau Chambord near Blois. Blois France, 1918. September. Photograph. 

Despite the scaffolding, we were able to still admire the beauty of this hulking but unfinished masterpiece of the French Renaissance. Looking at the chimneys and dormers in particular, we see the clear influence of this building and others from the same time period on the architecture of the houses of the wealthy in St. Louis.

It is a wonderful example as well, of how the houses of the wealthy were transitioning from being fortifications to merely pleasure dwellings. The towers are indicative of traditional French fortresses, but the walls between them have been replaced with Italian-style loggias, which the guides helpfully reminded us are largely inhospitable for much of the year in northern Europe.

And of course huge windows are hardly effective for defensive purposes and further make a building difficult to heat in the winter.

There is a certain Italian quality to the courtyard below, with its exterior staircase and pedimented dormer windows.

Looking more carefully, I don’t believe the pilasters below at the top of the staircase tower are completed, but rather were suppose to be sculpted into caryatids or atlantids.

Up on the top of the windswept roof is quite the place! Supposedly the roofline was designed to look like the skyline of Renaissance Milan. Having visited Milan twice, I don’t know if that’s true or not. Of course, Milan was chosen because the famous Leonardo da Vinci had been lured to France via Milan by King Francis I, and supposedly the artist may have worked on the design of Chambord.

The giant confection above sits on top of the famous double helix staircase which we’ll take a look at below. The roof really is a giant mess of chimneys, parapets, towers and pinnacles.

I see clear influences from Italy, and clear influences on St. Louis architecture.

Chambord was never completed, and the grounds are relatively simple, sitting in the midst of a giant forest, as are most of its compatriots.

Around on the other side, it is evident that two of the massive towers and the curtain wall were never completed above the ground floor.

Let’s go inside, and yes, there’s the famous double helix spiral staircase, supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Whenever there’s something really cool anywhere Leonardo was in the general vicinity, and nobody knows who designed it, everyone says Leonardo designed it. Maybe he did, who knows. What we have are two staircases that ascend together in a circle, and it is in fact a very cool staircase.

There is some amazing vaulting, all made in that incredibly beautiful white limestone that is omnipresent in the Loire Valley.

The salamander appears as a symbol for Francis I. The salamander was believe to be invulnerable to fire, and hence was often chosen as a heraldic symbol, and sometimes even placed to ward off fire, as we saw years ago with the Heurich Mansion in Washington, DC.

Much like the Pink Palace in Memphis, Tennessee, there are rooms after rooms of emptiness, and there are some interesting exhibits. It is beautiful in its bareness.

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