Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Most castles of medieval origin have a dungeon. The dungeon, donjon or keep is the innermost and strongest structure or central tower of the castle. The oldest donjons in the Loire Valley date from the 10th century when the Count of Anjou, the pitiless Foulque Nerra – Black Falcon, started his conquest of the Touraine region. The man was completely unscrupulous, and didn’t shy away from burning his wife and murdering his enemies!

It’s needless to say that his ruthless behaviour provoked violent reactions from his adversaries. The Count therefore had to build strong defences to protect his newly gained territories. One of his most impressive constructions is the ‘Donjon de Montbazon’, south of the city of Tours, in the Indre-et-Loire department.

Donjons weren’t meant to be beautiful or comfortable. They were just intended to keep people out or in! Their first purpose was to protect the lord and master, his staff and soldiers against enemy attacks. Later, when more luxurious and comfortable castles were built within the donjon's grounds, the sturdy towers were used as prisons. The Donjon of Loches is a fine example of this. On one of the floors you can see a copy of the wooden cage in which one of the kings’ rivals (I can’t quite remember his name) was held imprisoned for years in the most beastly conditions.

However, in France there is a donjon that has all the comfort and amenities of a four star hotel: The Château de Jaulny. Last year, during our return trip from the Alsace, we stayed overnight in this charming and surprising B&B in the French Lorraine region. The hostess is a young lady who’s the great-great-great… grand daughter of one of Napoleon’s generals.

During the French revolution the original owners of the château had fled in order to escape from the guillotine. On their return, their castle had been confiscated by the new Regime. When Napoleon came to power, he gave the donjon to the actual owner’s ancestor, as a token of recognition for the general’s brave behaviour during one of his numerous military campaigns.

Like most owners of large historic buildings, the upkeeping became too expensive and the current hostess’ mother was forced to sell a large part of the furniture and other valuable and historic items. Today the old lady is living in a retirement home, while the daughter and her husband run the donjon as a B&B. They have renovated one of the outbuildings in a comfortable modern time home where they live with their two small children.

The intriguing fresco in the dining room of the Château de Jaulny.

Stepping into the large main entrance hall of the dungeon was like walking into another era. The ground floor consisted of a huge dining room with a large fireplace adorned with a very intriguing fresco, a kitchen, a drawing room (that had been condemned and turned into a vast storage room full of antique and very dusty objects). Another room contained a set up of a witch trial that had allegedly taken place at the castle in the 15th century. A large marble staircase led up to the first floor where two comfortable guest rooms with on-suite bathrooms had been installed.

I’m not saying the place was haunted, but it certainly held many secrets … as we would learn later that evening when our young hostess joined us for an after supper drink.

(to be continued)



Nadege said...

I can't wait to read the rest of the story.

chm said...

It's cardinal La Ballue who is said to have invented those cages, called fillettes, little girls. He, himself, after displeasing his master the king, Louis XI, spent eleven years in one of those, in Auzain near Blois, before being freed and sent to the luxury of the Vatican. Treason is not a free lunch!

Daphne Wayne-Bough said...

There's a dungeon up near the Gare du Nord, apparently, run by a large Nigerian lady in red vinyl with a whip. She was interviewed on the telly once. She charges 50 euros for 20 minutes.

Oh, not that kind of dungeon? ;-)

Carolyn said...

Martine, you are the queen of cliffhangers. I believe you could write a TV serial. Looking forward to more of your story tomorrow.

ladybird said...

Nadege, There is more to come. Stay tuned (if you feel like it, of course).

Chm, I didn't know that. The Cardinal was clearly a victim of his own success!

Daphne, LOL! Of course I didn't mean that kind of donjon :). I didn't even know they existed in Brussels!

Carolyn, As a teenager I used to be big fan of 'Dallas' (P.S. I'm not proud of it!)... Can you think of another serial offering that many cliffhangers!

Leon and Sue Sims said...

I also await your next installment.

ladybird said...

Leon ... Hang in there!