Sunday, October 31, 2010

Château of Langeais – a truly medieval residence

The château of Langeais is quite different from everything I have seen by now (maybe just a bit similar to Vincennes) and relies on a very long history. Its first stone was laid around the year 1000 by the count of Anjou, Foulque Nerra. Visitors can still admire a fragment of the outer wall of his fortress and the ruins of an old chapel in the gardens behind the present-day castle. Being a reputable warrior and a remarkable landlord, he understood the strategic importance of Langeais as a promontory from which attacking armies could be easily seen. Later on, the domain came into the possession of various noblemen serving the king of France, who made it a prestigious residence to welcome the king whenever he would have wished to visit it.
The fortress successfully survived the hundred years war remaining almost untouched by the major military campaigns.
Charles VII was the first king to settle in Touraine by acquiring Langeais and other châteaux on the banks of the Loire. Louis XI continued this tradition, choosing to reside in Plessis-lès-Tours, Langeais, Chinon and Loches. By that time, Langeais lost its military role and slightly turned into a comfortable home for the royal court and family.
Louis XI built it according to his own vision and necessities. The castle preserves its massive appearance, marked by a drawbridge, narrow tall towers, machicolations and sharply sloping roofs, which are typically medieval, but some details of the façade and the fine windows already contain refinements that herald the Renaissance architecture.
Dunois, the cousin of Louis XI was given Langeais as a gift and proved to be a very concerned master. He not only cherished the chef-d’oeuvre erected by his predecessors but also added a new west wing.
The most important historical event hosted by the Langeais castle was the wedding between Charles VIII king of France and Anne, the Duchess of Brittany, arranged by Dunois and other French diplomats. The secret terms of the marriage contract were carefully thought over to unite Brittany to France forever. In the early morning of December 6th 1491 Anne of Brittany became queen of France, wearing a magnificent gown in gold cloth, beautifully imitated in the Wedding Hall of the castle, where lifelike waxwork figures re-enact the event (though I wouldn’t say “lifelike”, were people less tall in middle ages than they are today? Haha) (and by the way, according to historic data and available portraits, Anne was looking better than the yellow face wax figure without eyelashes!) Anyway, we all know the rest of the story, her (tiny tiny) husband very soon died and she had to marry his cousin who became Louis XII, in order to comply with the terms of the above mentioned contract and maintain Brittany as a French province.
Unfortunately Anne didn’t stay too much at Langeais, but the entire place seems to be breathing the air of her memory. Inside, you can still smell the coldness of that early misty December morning that changed her fate forever.
The castle had many owners after that, until it was finally bought by Jacques Siegfried, an Alsatian businessman interested in French Middle Ages. He succeeded to restore the château as it used to be in the 15th – 16th centuries and handed it down to the Institut de France at his death.
Impressions about the castle of Langeais? Well, there is a lot to say. It is a perfect reflection of a medieval princely abode with purely decorative floor tiles, fine pieces of furniture (beds, seats, fauteuils, chests), embroidered drapery, woven tapestry that all help us fancy the lifestyle at the end of the Middle Ages. In fact, Langeais hosts an exceptional collection of tapestries. They were very popular at the end of the 15th century to decorate walls, add warmth to homes and by representing figures of personages, religious /historic episodes or hunting scenes, feed the imagination of people during long tedious evenings.
Langeais is more than a museum and a priceless architectural inheritance. It is an open gate to plunging into the past by visiting an almost real medieval living environment, carefully recreated to challenge our minds and wish to know more…


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