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Visiting the Château de Saverne, Eastern France: 18th and 19th Century Episcopal Residence by Nicolas-Alexandre Salins

Updated on January 10, 2020
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
Alsace, Bas-Rhin, Saverne, Chateau des Rohan: decorative cast iron vases (19th C.)
Alsace, Bas-Rhin, Saverne, Chateau des Rohan: decorative cast iron vases (19th C.) | Source

A building recalling tumultuous personal and social history

Commenced in the 18th century and completed in the 19th, this sedate and imposing Château — sometimes referred to as a Palace — looks as if it must be either a royal or ducal property.

Actually it was a clergyman's residence.

In these days when accountants argue whether citizen bishop So-and-So is entitled to Esso points (or whatever they are called), it is sometimes hard to visualize just how grandiose senior clergy were in pre-Revolution France.

Interestingly, another name for this building in Saverne, in France's Bas-Rhin department, Alsace, is the Château des Rohan: this refers to a prominent family to which six separate châteaux were attributed.

The clergyman in question here, for whom the Château was initially begun to be built, was Cardinal Louis-René de Rohan (1734-1803). He held a number of appointments, including that of Bishop of Strasbourg (1). He belonged to the salon circle of Madame Geoffrin, sometimes known as Le royaume de la rue St. Honoré, along with prominent thinkers Voltaire, d'Alembert and Diderot and others. Louis de Rohan was also a diplomat, serving as France's ambassador to Austria, and, since French Queen Marie-Antoinette was daughter to Austrian Empress Maria-Theresa the nuances of polite intrigue around the French royal court at Versailles together with the Cardinal's diplomatic role could at times stretch to the limits his capacities for subtlety.

He even landed in jail. (After King Louis XV's official mistress expired (2), the Cardinal tried to procure the royal mistress's 2,000,000 livre necklace for Marie-Antoinette, Queen Consort to King Louis XVI, in the belief that she wanted it, having also been assured by occultist Alessandro Cagliostro (1743-1795) that this action would be appropriate. This however proved to be a misconception on his part, which led to a period of royal disfavour.)

While such machinations may have seemed to some observers to have been relatively routine in 18th century France, it was said that French Revolutionaries viewed such events with misgivings, leading to questions about the role of the monarchy and the Roman Catholic Church in the country.

Be that as it may, the Château de Saverne — one of several Rohan family properties — is a fine building, now a museum belonging to the local municipality; the museum has particular strengths in Roman remains and history.

Its architect was Nicolas-Alexandre Salins (1753-1839)(3); the French Revolution intervened before it was fully completed; the building was not finished until 1857.

Features of the Château include a Neo-Classical façade with a striking park-side portico, a town-side pediment, mansard roofing and a surrounding park landscaped in 1723; it may be noted that the park dates from an epoch prior to the main building.

A Medieval château in Saverne was badly damaged by fire in 1779. This event proved to be the catalyst for the commissioning of Architect Salins to design the episcopal Château.

The building's period of inception thus recalls a good deal of tumultuous personal and social history

October 6, 2017


(1) By Louis de Rohan's lifetime, appointment as Bishop of Strasbourg had become practically hereditary.

(2) In pre-Revolutionary France this was sometimes an official title which was accorded.

(3) Other works by Architect Salins include various ecclesiastical buildings in Alsace and the Passavant-Gontard Palace in Frankfurt, Germany.

Palais Rohan, Saverne
Palais Rohan, Saverne | Source
Chateau des Rohan, Saverne
Chateau des Rohan, Saverne | Source
Cardinal Louis de Rohan
Cardinal Louis de Rohan | Source

Also worth seeing

In Saverne itself, situated close to the scenic Vosges mountains, sights include fine ecclesiastical architecture and the Maison Katz.

Strasbourg (distance: 45 kilometres), on the Rhine River, is particularly known for its enormous Cathedral tower, for the picturesque Petite France district and as one of the seats of the European Parliament.


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Saverne: 430 kilometres). In addition, via stopovers, Air France, Delta and KLM , which have a code-sharing agreement, operate flights from New York to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, from where car rental is available (distance from EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg to Saverne: 145 kilometres). Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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