Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Château de Vincennes

The Louvre and Versailles are not the only châteaux in the neighborhood. While not in Paris proper, Château de Vincennes is just a hop, skip and a jump away—only a few metro stops on the line 1 direction Chateau de Vincennes.

Once a hunting lodge developed in the 11th century, ever the construction king, Charles V began to enlarge this royal country home three centuries later into one of the largest châteaux in Europe. Buildings were added in subsequent years and the castle was finally completed in the 17th century.

The castle has a predominantly medieval feel with its fortress walls and large moat keeping marauders out and the royal court in. The water has long since been drained from the barricade and replaced by grass, but one can certainly imagine how challenging it would have been for a knight dressed in armor to cross this once formidable water-filled area.

Enter the courtyard of the castle at no charge. One can almost hear the faint memory of horse’s hooves from a bygone era galloping along the interior. Approximately, half way through the grounds a large banner will be posted on the right. This will be the place to buy tickets to the chapel and the donjon (dungeon). In 2009 the tickets could be purchased separately for 8€ each or if you would like to see both, pay for a package deal at 12€.

This city-fortress would not have been complete without a chapel for the royal family and their entourage to pray in. Built in the Gothic style, it counter-poses the masculine nature of the fortress. This more feminine edifice reaches into the heavens with sheer grace. Customary for the time, stained glass windows align this 14th century chapel. On the day I visited, the chapel housed an exhibition of Bulgarian medieval works of art. So, who knows what you will see while you are visiting.

Most surprisingly to this pacifist, I was fascinated how much the dojon intrigued me. Housing many famous prisoners, including a king, it clearly was a posh prison experience. Take note how well-worn each of the marble steps are from the 700 years of wear and tear. If you can speak or read French, the tour of the tower begins with a short film with French subtitles documenting the history of the imposing dungeon-tower. Guided tours are also offered, but again you must have a working knowledge of the native tongue. Audio guides are available in English for those who didn’t take French 101 in high school.

Lastly, I wanted to mention that a path encircles the building, so that one can get a 360 degree vantage point of the exterior. Walk through history as you see the very obvious differing architectural styles of the buildings. Just keep in mind, you will want to sport your tennis shoes while you are traversing over the rocky terrain. As long as your feet are comfortable, you will enjoy this monument to France's history.

Thank you for reading and bonne journée!