Monday, April 11, 2016

"And you throw him in there and forget him until he's dead!"

Hope you all don't mind, but for the sake of reasonably sized posts (that I can do in one night), each Chateau will have it's own post!  Each one really had it's own pros and cons, plus plenty of fun things to photograph, so I hope you enjoy reading about them!  Plus, if you ever plan your own chateau tour, you'll have the info to choose what you really want to see!

Chateau de Touffou

This Chateau is certainly not one of the better known chateaus and I only found it because it was listed in tourism info for Chauvigny's general area (the Chateau is actually in Bonnes).  When I arrived, I noticed the distinct lack of people, but I was arriving about 45 minutes before the Chateau closes for the lunch period (12-2 PM).  While Versailles is technically a "chateau," it's also an enormous palace, so I wasn't sure what to expect from a much smaller chateau.

Given how many historical sites seem to be crammed into the modern city, I was surprised to see that the Chateau actually was on a decent-sized piece of land with a large grass entry area and gardens to the back.  I decided this meant I needed to photograph it from the gate!

Once I entered the gate, we easily established that I wanted to purchase a ticket for the chateau; however, as I went to wander in, he rattled something off at me . . . he clearly hadn't yet picked up on he fact that I don't speak a whole lot of French. :-(  I quickly conveyed that my French was not so good, "je ne parle pas français tres bien" and asked him to repeat it slowly; however, I still wasn't quite sure what he was saying.  Once we established that the language I *did* speak was English, he wanted to clarify whether I wanted a tour of the chateau.  Having not known what my options were, I said yes, to which he immediately said, "In English?  This is going to be hard."  One thing about the French - they're frank, but he wasn't being rude as far as I could tell.  He actually did quite well with English and there were only a handful of times when he didn't know the word for something; however, I conveniently knew all the French words in question, so we got by just fine.  The tour is apparently supposed to be 45 minutes and it took us an hour, partly due to language and partly my need to take photographs!  As we headed towards the chateau, I started with a photo of the main building.  Construction originally started in 1127 on the Eastern portion, further construction was done in the 15th century and the Renaissance wing was added in the 16th century (this part is to the back).
You'll note the gloomy day, but I must admit that I kind of like castles photographed against stormy skies!  Maybe the daintier ones like Chenonceau need a sunny sky, but I'm just as happy with my castles having a dark & forbidding appearance!  We first toured the tower that's part of the inner wall.  The guide clarified when I talked about a "water-filled moat" that the area between the two walls NEVER had water here - it was used so the enemy soldiers came down from the first wall and your archers could fire on them while they were down below.  NEVER EVER did you want water in there!
Inside the tower, I was surprised to learn that the bed was an original that was used by the family.  The chateau has always been privately owned and by a small number of families, so that could be why?  It is much more common that the furnishings you see are "of the period," but not necessarily something that was ever used in that home or by the people you learn about.  In some cases, they're actually modern reproductions.  The bedding actually looked a bit worn and aged, which I appreciated as it was a clear departure from the "perfect" reproductions in some places!  You can see the symbol of the family Montleon, the lion, on the top of the bedposts.  He also very honestly informed me that the ceiling had NOT been painted like that at the time - it was painted by the later family who lived there (Chasteigner).  Being an August baby myself, I took a picture of the painting for the summer season, but they were all lovely.  The fall painting showed the harvesting of the grapes!
Then, it was back outside for a walk, past the foreboding "keep" that was designed for protection, to the chapel.  I don't know why I didn't take any photos in here as it housed my favorite part of the tour - THE DUNGEONS.  Kind of ironic that the prison cells are below the church, right?  First, the guide showed me the church and told me that it is not consecrated by the Catholic church, so it isn't considered an issue for non-believers to enter (uh . . . is it considered an issue when masses of tourists enter active Catholic cathedrals?  News to me).  It was really interesting to see quite old religious items in a very sparse church - like a wooden, jointed Jesus on the cross.  He also pointed out where there used to be a balcony built so that people could come attend mass without disturbing the family down in the main area - because, of course, the family of the chateau shouldn't be disturbed by the common folk.  Interestingly, there was also a small "window" in the wall that was angled to see the cross only.  This was so prisoners (of the good type) could be brought up to hear the mass, but they weren't allowed to even see the family - hence the angled "window."

We went down to the next level, which was the "Hall of Justice."  It was basically just an empty room now, but he explained well the 3 levels of justice.  High justice would be things that could involve death, middle justice was serious things and low justice would be negotiating disputes between people essentially.  Then, we moved on to my favorite part - the jail cells!  I really, really wish I'd taken photos, especially since they're the only ones I saw.  He showed me the two lower cells, which had really short doors.  When I commented on this, the guide's response was classic!  It was because the people who went in these cells, "You'd take them and bend them, then throw them in there and lock them up to forget about them until they were just bones.  You forget about him until he's dead!"  For sure, the most entertaining tour guide I've ever had!

They were also locked in with their own "water closet" (aka toilet for Americans).  The one upper cell had a painted door (faded with time) and was as large as the two lower ones with the ceiling at normal height in the middle (it was domed to the sides though).  The prisoner also had a water closet that was right outside the door and drained down below.  These were the prisoners taken up to attend the mass.  Upon our escape from the dungeons, there was a lovely view of the guard tower and one designed garden area.  You can also see the river Vienne, which was when it finally occurred to me that the "departments" of France seem to largely be named after the primary river as I'm in the Vienne department (the other river near Civray) and the neighboring department is the Charente, which is the river that runs right past my cottage.

The tour then moved around the back, where you could see the addition of the second "dungeon" (aka keep) that was built later and used for "living" and less for defense.  More accurately, homes during the Renaissance period were built for show.  I was a bit surprised the tour didn't include the main building at all until I learned later than the first medieval keep is used for special events and the second keep is used as a private residence by the family who owns the property (it is quite common that chateaus are privately owned in France).  There was one more area we toured, which were the kitchens.  This building burned down in the 19th century and was rebuilt, but the original bread ovens remained intact!  I did get a photo of a very similar bread oven at a later chateau that was lit so you could see it better in a picture.  Below is a shot of the back portion (Renaissance) with a clearly less "defensive" look and the kitchens to the far left.

PROS: Only chateau that had a free personal guided tour, DUNGEONS!!!, original furnishings, official "remarkable gardens," funny English-speaking guide

CONS: The chateau itself is private, there are only 3 small areas to tour & few furnished rooms (this is reflected in the low 6 Euro entry fee though), it's ~2 hours South of the Loire Valley chateaus (but convenient if you're in Poitiers!)

In short, it was worth the visit for me due to the personal guide and DUNGEONS.  Even after seeing 6 total chateaus, I'm glad I stopped at this one!

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