Château de Valençay: harmonic combination of Renaissance and Classical architecture

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Katerina Bulovska
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The magnificent Château de Valençay was the residence of the d’Estampes and Talleyrand-Périgord families, situated in the Berry region, near the Loire Valley in France. It was built in 1540 by Jacques d’Estampes as a symbol of prestige, on the site of an ancient feudal fortress. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was transformed from its original medieval look into its present state, by harmoniously combining Renaissance and Classical architecture. In 1803, Prince Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon’s Minister for External Affairs at the time, bought and improved the remarkable château. Here, he organized many luxurious entertainments and received many diplomats and international elites.

Talleyrand was the most famous resident of Château de Valençay. Over the main entrance, the Talleyrand-Périgord coat of arms is still noticeable. Among others to reside here over the years was also the notorious Scottish banker John Law who lived here at the beginning of the 18th century. From 1808 until 1813, Ferdinand VII of Spain and his family were kept under house arrest in the château, after Napoleon proclaimed his own brother Joseph as King of Spain.

During the Second World War, the castle escaped from destruction only because the Talleyrand-Périgord family also held the title of Sagan, one of the duchies in Silesia in the Kingdom of Prussia. In this period, many works of art from the Louvre, including Venus de Milo, were brought to Château de Valençay.

Château of Valençay. Author: Jean-Christophe BENOIST. CC BY 3.0

In 1975, the castle was registered as a French historical monument. Violette de Talleyrand-Périgord was the last member of the Talleyrand-Périgord family. After her death in 2003, the family name became extinct. Today, Château de Valençay belongs to the Department l’Indre and is open to the public.

Corner tower. Author: Jean-Christophe BENOIST. CC BY 3.0

The west wing of the castle, with a mansard roof and skylight windows, has more classical French style look than the large round tower, but they were both added in the 17th century. The facade of the south gallery has characteristic ancient Greek and Roman architecture elements, such as the topmost part of the Doric columns on the ground floor and of the Ionic on the first floor. The keep wasn’t built as a defensive wall, despite its medieval characteristics. Its grandeur represented the power of the owners.

Angle tower of the Château de Valençay. Author: Manfred Heyde. CC BY-SA 3.0

The castle has more than 100 rooms, although not all are open to the public. They are furnished with unique Empire and Louis XVI style furniture, from elaborately embroidered chairs to ornate tables, and decorated with Chinese vases, fussy clocks, and exquisite chandeliers. Egyptian motifs are also common in the interior design.

Chateau de Valençay. Author: Manfred Heyde. CC BY-SA 3.0

In the Grand Salon is the most important piece of furniture – the round table used at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) where the ambassadors of the European states strove to negotiate peace after Napoleon’s fall. The castle’s collections of objets d’art are also exhibited in the open rooms.

Château de Valençay. Author: Daniel Jolivet. CC BY 2.0

There is a museum in the castle, dedicated to Prince Talleyrand, where on display are his bed and desk, as well as his outfits and a collection of his paintings. Paintings of other members of the Talleyrand-Périgord family are hung on the walls of the long gallery. In addition to the paintings, the long wooded hallways are also decorated with adorned tapestries. Another room that is open to the public is the one furnished and decorated according to the taste of the Spanish King Ferdinand VII.

Entrance. Author: Jean-Christophe BENOIST. CC BY 3.0

The present Château de Valençay is surrounded by idyllic gardens and a landscaped park. The beautiful French style garden with ornamental hedgerows and beds of lilies, roses, and bright orchids, the forest area park called the “Forest of the Princes” where domestic and exotic animals live, and Napoleon’s maze, the Grand Labyrinth, are all part of the magnificent 130 acre estate. The beautiful garden is completed with stone figures, sculptures, ponds, and fountains.

Eastern façade. Author: frank wouters. CC BY 2.0

The French novelist Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, better known by her pseudonym George Sand, described Château de Valençay as “one of the most beautiful on earth” and complimented its surrounding by saying “No king has owned a more picturesque park”.