Château de Chambord at Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France, is one of
the most recognisable châteaux in the world because of its very
French Renaissance architecture
French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional
French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The
building, which was never completed, was constructed by King Francis I
Chambord is the largest château in the
Loire Valley; it was built to
serve as a hunting lodge for Francis I, who maintained his royal
residences at the
Château de Blois and Amboise. The original design
Château de Chambord is attributed, though with some doubt, to
Domenico da Cortona;
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci may also have been involved.
Chambord was altered considerably during the twenty-eight years of its
construction (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by
Pierre Nepveu. With the château nearing completion, Francis showed
off his enormous symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old
archrival, Emperor Charles V, at Chambord.
In 1792, in the wake of the French Revolution, some of the furnishings
were sold and timber removed. For a time the building was left
abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at
restoration. During the Second World War, art works from the
collections of the Louvre and the
Château de Compiègne were moved to
Château de Chambord. The château is now open to the public,
receiving 700,000 visitors in 2007. Flooding in June 2016 damaged
the grounds but not the château itself.
2.1 Royal ownership
French Revolution and modern history
5 Further reading
6 External links
Plan of the château as engraved by
Jacques Androuet du Cerceau
Jacques Androuet du Cerceau (1576)
The château and decorative moat, viewed from the North-West (2015)
Châteaux in the 16th-century departed from castle architecture;[nb 1]
while they were off-shoots of castles, with features commonly
associated with them, they did not have serious defences. Extensive
gardens and water features, such as a moat, were common amongst
châteaux from this period. Chambord is no exception to this pattern.
The layout is reminiscent of a typical castle with a keep, corner
towers, and defended by a moat. Built in Renaissance style, the
internal layout is an early example of the French and Italian style of
grouping rooms into self-contained suites, a departure from the
medieval style of corridor rooms.[nb 2] The massive château is
composed of a central keep with four immense bastion towers at the
corners. The keep also forms part of the front wall of a larger
compound with two more large towers. Bases for a possible further two
towers are found at the rear, but these were never developed, and
remain the same height as the wall. The château features
440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four
rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape.
The château was never intended to provide any form of defence from
enemies; consequently the walls, towers and partial moat are
decorative, and even at the time were an anachronism. Some elements of
the architecture – open windows, loggia, and a vast outdoor
area at the top – borrowed from the Italian Renaissance
architecture – are less practical in cold and damp northern
The elaborately developed roof line. It should be noted that the
keep's façade is asymmetrical, with the exception of the Northwest
façade, latterly revised, when the two wings were added to the
The roofscape of Chambord contrasts with the masses of its masonry and
has often been compared with the skyline of a town: it shows eleven
kinds of towers and three types of chimneys, without symmetry, framed
at the corners by the massive towers. The design parallels are north
Italian and Leonardesque. Writer
Henry James remarked "the towers,
cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the
spires of a city than the salient points of a single building."
The double-spiral staircase
One of the architectural highlights is the spectacular open double
spiral staircase that is the centrepiece of the château. The two
spirals ascend the three floors without ever meeting, illuminated from
above by a sort of light house at the highest point of the château.
There are suggestions that
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci may have designed the
staircase, but this has not been confirmed. Writer
John Evelyn said of
the staircase "it is devised with four (sic) entries or ascents, which
cross one another, so that though four persons meet, they never come
in sight, but by small loopholes, till they land. It consists of 274
steps (as I remember), and is an extraordinary work, but of far
greater expense than use or beauty."
The château also features 128 meters of façade, more than 800
sculpted columns and an elaborately decorated roof. When Francis I
commissioned the construction of Chambord, he wanted it to look like
the skyline of Constantinople.
The château is surrounded by a 52.5‑km² (13,000‑acre) wooded
park and game reserve maintained with red deer, enclosed by a
31‑kilometer (20‑mile) wall. The king's plan to divert the Loire
to surround the château came about only in a novel; Amadis of Gaul,
which Francis had translated. In the novel the château is referred to
as the Palace of Firm Isle.
Chambord's towers are atypical of French contemporary design in that
they lack turrets and spires. In the opinion of author Tanaka, who
Leonardo da Vinci
Leonardo da Vinci influenced the château's design, they are
closer in design to minarets of 15th-century Milan.
The design and architecture of the château inspired William Henry
Crossland for his design of what is known as the Founder's building at
Royal Holloway, University of London. The
Founder's Building features
very similar towers and layout but was built using red bricks.
Northwest façade of the
Château de Chambord
Félibien's drawings based on a wooden model
Facade of the keep
Plan of the keep
Who designed the
Château de Chambord is a matter of controversy.
The original design is attributed, though with several doubts, to
Domenico da Cortona, whose wooden model for the design survived long
enough to be drawn by
André Félibien in the 17th century. In the
drawings of the model, the main staircase of the keep is shown with
two straight, parallel flights of steps separated by a passage and is
located in one of the arms of the cross. According to Jean Guillaume,
this Italian design was later replaced with the centrally located
spiral staircase, which is similar to that at Blois, and a design more
compatible with the French preference for spectacular grand
staircases. However, "at the same time the result was also a triumph
of the centralized layout—itself a wholly Italian element." In
1913 Marcel Reymond suggested that Leonardo da Vinci, a guest of
Clos Lucé near Amboise, was responsible for the original
design, which reflects Leonardo's plans for a château at Romorantin
for the King's mother, and his interests in central planning and
double spiral staircases; the discussion has not yet concluded,
although most scholars now agree that Leonardo was at least
responsible for the design of the central staircase.
Archeological findings by Jean-Sylvain Caillou & Dominic Hofbauer
have established that the lack of symmetry of some facades derives
from an original design, abandoned shortly after the construction
began, and which ground plan was organised around the central
staircase following a central gyratory symmetry. Such a rotative
design has no equivalent in architecture at this period of history,
and appears reminiscent of Leonardo Da Vinci's works on hydraulic
turbines, or the helicopter. Had it been respected, it is believed
that this unique building could have featured the quadruple spiral
open staircase, strangely described by
John Evelyn and Andrea Palladio
although it was never built.
Regardless of who designed the château, on 6 September 1519 Francis
Pombriant was ordered to begin construction of the
Chambord. The work was interrupted by the Italian War of
1521–1526, and work was slowed by dwindling royal funds and
difficulties in laying the structure's foundations. By 1524, the walls
were barely above ground level. Building resumed in September
1526, at which point 1,800 workers were employed building the
château. At the time of the death of King Francis I in 1547, the work
had cost 444,070 livres.
Painting by Pierre-Denis Martin of
Château de Chambord in 1722
The château was built to act as a hunting lodge for King Francis
I; however, the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, that
time consisting of short hunting visits. As the château had been
constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was not practical to
live in on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and
high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the
château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no
immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had
to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people
at a time.
As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished
during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements
and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major
logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from
the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation.
After Francis died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not
used for almost a century.
For more than 80 years after the death of King Francis I, French kings
abandoned the château, allowing it to fall into decay. Finally, in
1639 King Louis XIII gave it to his brother, Gaston d'Orléans, who
saved the château from ruin by carrying out much restoration work.
Louis XIV's ceremonial bedroom
King Louis XIV had the great keep restored and furnished the royal
apartments. The king then added a 1,200-horse stable, enabling him to
use the château as a hunting lodge and a place to entertain a few
weeks each year. Nonetheless, Louis XIV abandoned the château in
From 1725 to 1733, Stanislas Leszczyński (Stanislas I), the deposed
King of Poland and father-in-law of King Louis XV, lived at Chambord.
In 1745, as a reward for valour, the king gave the château to Maurice
de Saxe, Marshal of France who installed his military regiment
Maurice de Saxe
Maurice de Saxe died in 1750 and once again the colossal
château sat empty for many years.
French Revolution and modern history
On the second floor
In 1792, the Revolutionary government ordered the sale of the
furnishings; the wall panellings were removed and even floors were
taken up and sold for the value of their timber, and, according to M
de la Saussaye, the panelled doors were burned to keep the rooms
warm during the sales; the empty château was left abandoned until
Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to his subordinate, Louis Alexandre
Berthier. The château was subsequently purchased from his widow for
the infant Duke of Bordeaux, Henri Charles Dieudonné (1820–1883)
who took the title Comte de Chambord. A brief attempt at restoration
and occupation was made by his grandfather King Charles X
(1824–1830) but in 1830 both were exiled. In Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage
Beyond the Sea, published in the 1830s, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
remarked on the dilapidation that had set in: "all is mournful and
deserted. The grass has overgrown the pavement of the courtyard, and
the rude sculpture upon the walls is broken and defaced". During
Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) the château was used as a field
The final attempt to make use of the colossus came from the Comte de
Chambord but after the Comte died in 1883, the château was left to
his sister's heirs, the titular Dukes of Parma, then resident in
Austria. First left to Robert, Duke of Parma, who died in 1907 and
after him, Elias, Prince of Parma. Any attempts at restoration ended
with the onset of World War I in 1914. The
Château de Chambord was
confiscated as enemy property in 1915, but the family of the Duke of
Parma sued to recover it, and that suit was not settled until 1932;
restoration work was not begun until a few years after World War II
ended in 1945. The
Château and surrounding areas,
some 5,440 hectares (13,400 acres; 21.0 sq mi), have
belonged to the French state since 1930.
Château de Chambord is a popular tourist attraction.
In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the art
collections of the Louvre and Compiègne museums (including the Mona
Lisa and Venus de Milo) were stored at the
Château de Chambord. An
B-24 Liberator bomber crashed onto the château lawn on 22
June 1944. The image of the château has been widely used to sell
commodities from chocolate to alcohol and from porcelain to alarm
clocks; combined with the various written accounts of visitors, this
made Chambord one of the best known examples of France's architectural
history. Today, Chambord is a major tourist attraction, and in
2007 around 700,000 people visited the château.
After unusually heavy rainfall, Chambord was closed to the public from
1 to 6 June 2016. Cosson, a
Loire tributary, flooded its banks and the
chateau's moat. Drone photography documented some of the peak
flooding. The French Patrimony Foundation described effects of the
flooding on Chambord's 13,000 acre property. The 20-mile wall around
the chateaux was breached at several points, metal gates were torn
from their framing, and roads were damaged. Also, trees were uprooted
and certain electrical and fire protection systems were put out of
order. However, the chateau itself and its collections reportedly were
undamaged. The Foundation observed that paradoxically the natural
disaster effected Francois I's vision that Chambord appear to rise
from the waters as if it were diverting the
Loire River. Repairs
are expected to cost upwards of a quarter million dollars.
Founder's Building at Royal Holloway, University of London,
designed by William Henry Crossland, was inspired by the
Chambord. The main building of
Fettes College in Edinburgh,
David Bryce in 1870, also contains decorative
quotations from the
Château de Chambord.
^ Although château and castle derive from the Latin castellum,
their meaning is different. In French château-fort refers to a
castle, while château more properly describes a country house.
^ Viollet-le-Duc, however, in his Dictionnaire raisonné de
l'architecture française (1885) found that there was "nothing
Italianate [about Chambord] ..., in thought or in form".
^ Creighton & Higham 2003, p. 6
^ Thompson 1994, p. 1
^ Thompson 1994, pp. 117–120
^ a b Yarwood 1974, p. 323
^ Viollet-le-Duc 1875, p. 189, quoted in Tanaka 1992, p. 85
^ a b Tanaka 1992, p. 96
^ James, Henry (1907) . A Little Tour in France (2nd ed.).
London: William Heinemann. p. 40.
^ a b Quoted in Garrett 2010, p. 78
^ Tanaka 1992, p. 85
^ Félibien 1681, pp. 28–29 (Félibien's description of the model).
^ Guillaume 1996, p. 416.
^ Reymond 1913
^ Heydenreich 1952; Tanaka 1992
^ Hanser 2006, p. 47.
^ a b Heydenreich 1952, p. 282
^ a b Tanaka 1992, pp. 92–93
^ Chirol & Seydoux 1992, p. 53
^ Boucher 1980, p. 34
^ Saussaye, Le
Château de Chambord (Blois) 1865 etc.
^ a b Quoted in Garrett 2010, p. xxii
^ "Presentation". Chambord.org. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
^ "Liberator 22 juin 1944 – Chambord – Aérostèles".
Aerosteles.hydroretro.net. 31 May 2008. Retrieved 27 March 2011.
^ Garrett 2010, pp. 78–79
^ Kelsey D. Atherton (3 June 2016). "DRONE FILMS FLOODED FRENCH
CASTLE". popsci.com. Retrieved 18 June 2016.
^ "Sauvegarde Du Domaine De Chambord Après Inondations". Fondation du
Patrimoine (in French).
^ Original features Times Higher Education. 5 February 2009
^ Fettes College: The Building. Retrieved 21 March 2009
Boucher, J.J. (1980), Chambord (in French), Fernand Lanore
Chirol, Serge; Seydoux, Philippe (1992), Chateaux of the Val de Loire,
Creighton, Oliver; Higham, Robert (2003), Medieval Castles, Shire
Archaeology, ISBN 0-7478-0546-6
Félibien, André (1681). Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire des
maisons royales, published for the first time from the manuscript in
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University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-976839-4
Guillaume, Jean (1996). "Chambord, château of", vol. 6,
pp. 415–417, in The Dictionary of Art, edited by Jane Turner,
reprinted with minor corrections in 1998. New York: Grove.
Jean-Sylvain Caillou et Dominic Hofbauer, Chambord, le projet perdu de
1519, Archéa, 2007, 64 p.
Hanser, David A. (2006). Architecture of France. Westport,
Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-0-313-31902-0.
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of Francis I", The Burlington Magazine, 94 (595): 277–285,
Reymond, Marcel (June 1913), "Leonardo da Vinci, architect de
Chambord", Gazette des Beaux-Arts: 413–460
Tanaka, Hidemichi (1992), "Leonardo da Vinci, Architect of Chambord?",
Artibus et Historiae, 13 (25): 85–102, doi:10.2307/1483458,
Thompson, M. W. (1994) , The Decline of the Castle, Magna Books,
Viollet-le-Duc, Eugene (1875), Dictionnaire raisonné de
l'architecture française du XIe au XVIe siècle, 3
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