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Castles of France: II

Updated on September 26, 2011

Castles of France and their history...

A castle which was the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo; a castle that was a refuge for the exiled Voltaire and a prison for Joan of Arc; and a castle that was the location of disastrous party when the performers went up in flames. These stories and more can be found on this page.

Here we explore: Chalmazel Castle, If Castle, Fleckenstein Castle, Belcastel Castle, Kaysersberg Castle, Sully-Sur-Loire Castle, and Pau Castle.

If you like this site, perhaps you would like Castles of France, then Castles of France: III, and Castles of France: IV.

Château de Chalmazel

Château de Chalmazel
Château de Chalmazel

Located in Chalmazel, Loire, France, Chalmazel Castle was built in 1231 by Lord Arnaud de Marcilly as a large family manor. While it was initially a family home, it was well fortified for protection against their neighbors who had ties to the German emperor.

The castle sat in the midst of a thick forest and had very little decorative elements, so it was a rather austere and quite imposing fortress, perhaps purposely built in this manner to deter attack.

In 1364, Chalmazel Castle passed through marriage to the Talarus family, who decorated the interior of the castle in the style that became popular during the Renaissance Period. The rough winters in Chalmazel persuaded the family to move to a less frigid area of France, and the castle became a summer residence. By 1650, the castle was abandoned and began to slowly fall into a state of disrepair.

In 1850 the last of the Talarus line left Chalmazel Castle to the nuns so that it can be used as a hospital. When the nuns left the castle, they rented it out to the commune with the stipulation that it be opened to the public during the summer. Today, Chalmazel Castle is open to visitors and also functions as a bed and breakfast. The castle is also listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture. For visitor's information, visit Château

Château d'If

Château d'If
Château d'If

Located about a mile from the shore of Marseille on the smallest of the the Frioul Archipelago Islands of France, building began of If Castle in 1521 by order of King Francois I to protect the area from attack.

Because of the location of If Castle, it was the perfect prison and was used as such. The castle held over 3,500 Huguenots during the Religious Wars, as well as notable inmates. Like in society, the poorer prisoners of low class were housed in the bottom-most levels of If Castle, while the upper class prisoners had private cells with a window, fireplace, and garderobe, which was a small private room used to secure ones clothes and valuables, or as in this case, a small room with a wooden seat and hole for use as a toilet. Those of the upper class were not just given these rooms, they were expected to pay for them. The castle was no longer being used as a prison by the end of the 19th centruy.

If Castle was also the setting for The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas. It was also visited by Mark Twain as detailed in his book Innocents Abroad. The castle is listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture and is open to the public.

The large photo of If Castle above courtesy of Jan Drewes.

If Castle

Château du Fleckenstein

Château du Fleckenstein
Château du Fleckenstein

Located in Lembach, Bas-Rhin, Alsace, France, a castle has existed here since at least 1165 when it was owned by the Fleckenstein family, from which the castle was named. Fleckenstein Castle remained in the family until the death of the last male heir at which time it passed to the Egersberg family in the 18th century, and in the 20th century it became the property of France.

It is believed the castle was actually built by the Hohenstaufen family and given to the Fleckenstein family. In 1276, Fleckenstein Castle was attacked by Rudolf of Habsburg at which time the Bishop of Speyer was imprisoned in the castle for a year.

Fleckenstein Castle was constantly being updated and defensively upgraded, which was to its benefit because it survived the next few centuries intact. During the Thirty Years War, it was a haven to the locals and once again stood strong. It wasn't until 1689 that it met its match when Ezechiel du Mas, Comte de Melac destroyed destroyed this once impregnable castle for King Louis XIV. General Melac was known for his brutality, and would set fire to whole villages in order to destroy the livelihood of the people.

In 1720, the ruin was passed on to Prince de Rohan, but the damage was extensive, and it stayed in a ruinous state. Restoration and conservation work was carried out in the 19th and 20th centuries, and today it listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture. If you'd like to visit this amazing castle you can find all the information you need at Fleckenstein Castle.

The large photo of Fleckenstein Castle above courtesy of Andreas Praefcke.

Fleckenstein Castle

Château de Belcastel

Château de Belcastel
Château de Belcastel

Located in the village of Belcastel overlooking the Aveyron River, in Aveyron, France. Belcastel Caste was built around a pre-Roman chapel, enclosing it within its walls. Building on the castle itself dates to the 11th century, with the enclosed chapel dating to the 9th century.

Belcastel Castle was a haven to the villagers during the Hundred Years War, when the English tried to take the castle, and failed. Unfortunately, a band of unscrupulous mercenaries succeeded in taking Belcastel Castle in 1370, and the frightened villagers who sought refuge within its walls were murdered. The mercenaries then pillaged the castle and left, leaving nothing behind but the bloodstained walls.

The castle belonged to the Belcastel family until the 15th century when Alzias de Saunhac became the castle's owner. By this time, the castle had fallen into a state of bad repair, and he set about restoring and modernizing his acquisition. He was also responsible for the bridge that crosses the Aveyron River. When he died in 1448, he was buried in the church he also built, Sainte Marie-Madeleine.

Belcastel Castle was owned by the de Saunhac family for about another hundred years. by the 17th century, the castle was abandoned and began a gradual decline. In 1974, Belcastel Castle was discovered by French architect Fernand Pouillon, who instantly fell in love with the ruin. He personally undertook the extensive restoration of the castle and the village. He did such amazing work that France has declared the village "One of the most beautiful villages in France".

Belcastel Castle is owned by an American couple who has opened the castle to the public. For visitor's information, visit the Belcastel Castle official site.

The large photo of Belcastel Castle above courtesy of artizfoto.

Belcastel Castle

Château de Kaysersberg

Château de Kaysersberg
Château de Kaysersberg

Located in Kaysersberg, Haut-Rhin, Alsace, France, Kaysersberg Castle was built mostly of granite some time around 1220 by the order of Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor for his Imperial Bailiff. In 1227 the castle was given to the Lords of Horbourg and Ribeaupierre.

Kaysersberg Castle was built for defense, and experienced improvements and additions over the next few centuries, which included an encircling castle wall, artillery defences, firing slits, and a large barbican.

Kaysersberg Castle was one of the castles damaged during the Peasants War of 1524-1525. Over 300,000 peasants revolted in parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Alsace, France, because of the extreme taxation and domination they were forced to endure. An estimated 100,000 peasants died during this uprising, although it is believed the death toll was much higher.

Today, the castle is a ruin, but is listed as a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture, and is well worth a visit. The beautiful medieval town of Kaysersberg is one of the most picturesque along the Alsace Wine Route. For visitor's information, go to the Kaysersberg website.

The large photo of Kaysersberg Castle above courtesy of Márcio Cabral de Moura .

Château de Sully-sur-Loire

Château de Sully-sur-Loire
Château de Sully-sur-Loire

Located in Sully-sur-Loire, Loiret, Centre, France, a defensive building of some sort has been here since the 11th century, and possibly before that. In 1395, the Château de Sully-sur-Loire was built by Georges de la Trémoille, and was added to in the 16th century. Georges de la Trémoille actually imprisoned Joan of Arc in the castle after her failed attempt to liberate Paris in 1430, but she escaped soon afterwards.

The Château de Sully-sur-Loire was the seat of the Ducs de Sully, and in 1602, the castle was remodeled, a moat was built along with a park, and the river bank was reinforced to prevent encroaching waters. The family furnished the castle with beautiful tapestries which can still be seen.

In the 18th century, the famous writer Voltaire was exiled from Paris and sought sanctuary and company in the Château de Sully-sur-Loire. The castle was a property of the Sully family until 1962, when it was handed over to the department of Loiret.

Today, the castle is the site of popular festivals and is listed a Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. For visitor's information, visit the France travel Guide featuring Sully-sur-Loire.

The larger photo of Château de Sully-sur-Loire courtesy of Oric1.

Castles of the Loire

Château de Pau

Château de Pau
Château de Pau

Located in Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Aquitaine, France, Pau Castle was built in 1370. The oldest part of the castle, the Keep, was built by order of Gaston III of Foix-Béarn, also known as Gaston Phoebus.

Gaston Phoebus, the Count of Foix, did not have a legitimate heir to succeed him. His son, also named Gaston, tried to poison his father with the blessings of King Charles II of Navarre. His efforts failed and the father imprisoned his treacherous son. He was later stabbed accidentally by his father during an argument. This left only illegitimate sons, one of which burned to death when his clothes caught fire at the Bal des Ardents (Ball of Burning Men).

Yvain de Foix, illegitimate son of Gaston Phoebus, was one of the performing men at the ball. In 1393, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria organized a party to celebrate the wedding of one of her ladies-in-waiting. King Charles VI of France and five other lords dressed up in linen clothes that was soaked in resin or pitch which acted as a glue to hold frazzled hemp so as to make them look like wild,hairy men. They were chained to each other and danced around like mad men. The torch bearers were told to stay away from the dancers, but one of them got too close, and one of the dancers went up in flames. The blaze engulfed all the dancers except one, who stood close to the Duchess of Berry. The brave duchess threw the train of her gown over him, which was enough to save him from the fire. After the threat of fire was over, she lifted the train from him, only to find that the man she had saved was actually King Charles VI himself.

Pau Castle was a favorite amongst the royalty. In 1532, Princess Marguerite, who was known for her love of flowers, had the gardens built at Pau Castle. In 1533, King Henry IV of France was born here. Napoleon also stayed here on occasion, as well as Marie Antoinette.

Today, the castle is home to The national museum of the Castle of Pau, and is a beautiful and popular attraction. For visitor's information, go to the Pau-Pyrénées website.

The large photo of the Castle of Pau above courtesy of userid_unavailable.

Learn more about the beautiful Castles of France

Chateaux of the Loire Valley
Chateaux of the Loire Valley

A beautifully detained book highlighting the Castles in France's Loire region.


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    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      7 years ago from Southampton, UK

      France has some wonderful castles, excellent series of lenses.


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