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

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

What we didn’t see this year

Due to my friends’ thorough visiting style, I had to make many cuts in our original program; which was a bit of a shame as the Loire Valley has so much to offer and there was so much more that I wanted to show them. Like the dungeon of Montbazon. As we had spent the better part of Wednesday morning visiting the donjon of Loches, I reckoned that a visit of the keep of Montbazon was no longer mandatory. I slightly regretted this as I have very vivid and pleasant memories of our 2006 visit.

When you’re driving into the village, coming from Tours, the solid rectangular tower immediately catches the eye. The first time we saw the keep of Montbazon was during our 1999 or 2000 Loire Valley vacation. In those days the road leading up the entrance of the dungeon was blocked by a large pile of rubble and the place looked deserted and neglected. When we returned in 2006, however, it was possible to drive straight up the foot of the monument. At the ticketing office, we were greeted by a jolly, grey-bearded gentlemen who spoke excellent French with an ever so slight English accent.

He introduced himself as one of the volunteers who, over the last decade have worked very hard to restore the dungeon and surrounding grounds to their former glory. They are continuing the work of a former American lieutenant who was hospitalized in the area during the First World War. The lieutenant, who had fallen in love with the place returned to Montbazon in 1922 to buy the dungeon and save it from further decay.

The quality of this photo is not very good, but it's the best I could do with the scan of the photo I took in 2006. Moreover, it was a warm, yet overcast day.

The most intriguing part of the edifice is the huge statue that’s sitting on one of the corners of the edifice. When you come closer, you can see that it’s a statue of the Virgin Mary. It isn't part of the original structure and dates from the 18th century.

Notice the full-length crack caused by lightening.

Another amazing feature is an almost full-height crack in the east wall caused by a bold of lightening that struck the tower in 1797. As a result the whole structure had to be reinforced with a solid concrete support that runs all around the monument and holds it together. That happened much later of course, as concrete as we know it today was only invented in the second half of the 19th century.

Finally there is the telegraph Chappe on the south-western top angle of the keep. The balustrade of this system of mechanical semaphore is still visible. A sign on the wall explains how it was used to send coded messages from, for instance, the Mont Saint Michel in the west to Saverne in the east. By the way, the first time I heard about the Chappe system was when we visited the Château du Haut Barr in the Alsace, where the Saverne telegraph is located.

And there is yet another link between Montbazon and Savern: the last but one duke of Montbazon was the infamous Cardinal de Rohan’s brother, who lived in the castle of Saverne. The Cardinal was part of a conspiracy that went down into history as ‘L’affaire du collier’, which was mounted in an attempt to incriminate the frivolous Queen Marie-Antoinette, wife to France’s last King, Louis XVI. I’ve written about this sordid affaire here.

The history of the keep is fascinating as it was once part of one of the most sumptuous and elegant châteaux in the Loire Valley. Unfortunately, the castle was demolished in 1746 and the stones were used to stabilize the Road of Spain, the current N10.

Like the dungeon, its official website is currently ‘under reconstruction’. But you can read all about it here.



Anonymous said...

Martine, You always have such fascinating tidbits to share with us. I must go see this donjon. I'd never heard of it before.

ladybird said...

Dedene, It's fun sharing these stories with other people ... And do go and visit the donjon as it is really very impressive.