The Chateau of Chambord
The Chateau of Chambord in one of the loveliest Renaissance buildings in the Valley of the Loire. Chambord, château, park, and village in the department of Loire-et-Cher in central France. The château of Chambord was a retreat for French kings, especially Louis XIV It was under his auspices that French dramatist Molière's Monsieur de Pourceaugnac and Le bourgeois Gentilhomme were first produced there.
The Chateau de Chambord is located ten miles east of Blois, and four kilometers from the Loire, in countryside surrounded by woods. The Counts of Blois had originally built a palace to be used for hunting - until 1518 it belonged to the Counts of Blois, at which time Francis I decided to demolish it and build a luxurious mansion. Francis I, who delighted in this very practical exercise, could not have picked a better place to construct a castle.
Chambord is the most impressive of the castles of the Loire. In fact, it has great size, with about 400 rooms, more than 80 staircases, 365 fireplaces, and an exceptional number of towers, high ceilings, pointed domes graceful pinnacles. The castle is situated in a vast park with an area of about 5000 hectares. The encircling walls are about 30 kilometers long.
The castle consists of a large rectangular area, surrounded on three sides by buildings in the form of wings attached to the body of the main building, which occupies half of one side. Designed in the shape of a cross, it has a central tower flanked by four towers and surrounded by a courtyard. The external structure of the castle of Chambord has a very clear defensive logic, being formed by a donjon, shaped like a quadrangle, flanked by four towers, which contain within itself another quadrilateral, in turn flanked by four towers.
The Chateau de Chambord can be considered as an old French castle, decorated with an Italian Renaissance style, and it presents one of the most striking of the buildings of mixed style to be built in France at the beginning of the reign of Francis I, before the ‘French style’ was better defined
Because of the Italian style, the construction of Chambord has sometimes been attributed to Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) – but there are no reliable documents to that effect, and much evidence that Primaticcio was not in France during the years that Chambord castle was built. It’s very likely that the architecture of the castle of Chambord is the work of French artists who were very influenced by Italian architecture, and while in the use of this new decorative style they showed some occasional inexperience, at other times they also proved very skilful.
An example of this is in the arrangement and decoration of the central staircase, which still today has a high reputation - the bastion and stairs was built in a very original pattern consisting of two spiral ramps, combined so that those descending the staircase do not meet those who are climbing the staircase – an idea of considerable originality and ingenuity. There are also many other hidden rooms, passages and apartments in various parts of the large building that are also well suited to the mysterious habits of the prince and courtiers.
The Chateau de Chambord is made with a kind of white stone that is soft while you work but which then becomes very hard when placed in contact with air.
The character of this huge building is a delicate architectural layout applied to a huge mass. But what particularly distinguishes this castle, already very impressive by itself, are the wondrous spires, chimneys and pinnacles that arise on many of the roofs and terraces in which we can recognize the persistence of the Gothic style - interestingly, inside the apartments, which were once decorated with frescoes by Jean Cousin (1495-1560), and where Francis I had made a portrait gallery of the most learned men of Europe, there is no trace of this style.
The two rooms which have best retained their original decoration are the great chapel and oratory, both masterpieces of sculpture. It is said that during the reign of Francis I, 1800 workers worked continuously for twelve years in the construction of Chambord, without being able to finish it. It was continued under Henry II and under his successors until Louis XIV, but it was never been completely finished.
The salamander, the emblem dear to Francis I and the motto: " Nutrisco et Extinguo” are seen many times in the castle. Other motto such as “Donec totum impleat orbem” (until it fills the whole world) mark the work done by Henry II (1519-1559), and finally the sun and the inscription: "Nec pluribus impar" (above all / alone against all) show that Louis XIV (1638-1715) also embellished the Royal Palace.
This luxurious and unparalleled castle, after having had many owners over the centuries (the Prince of Wagram, Duke of Bordeaux and others) now belongs to the French State.
Chambord is now an important tourist destination not only for the presence of the castle, but also for certain natural attractions (such as a wildlife reserve to hunt deer and a place frequented by fishermen, especially for carp fishing).
Once you have come through the welcome centre and the ticket office located within the surrounding wall, the courtyard and the chateau itself are yours to explore…
In the centre the main building, the keep rises up with its four massive corner towers. Built in reference to the medieval chateaux, it is used as a symbol of military might. Inside, four large entranceways create a Greek cross, the centre of which is occupied by the famous double-helix staircase. This centre-focused layout had not been used before in France for a royal palace; cross shapes were typically reserved for religious buildings. This choice inscribes the vision of the sacred nature of the king of France in the very stones of the building.
The cross layout creates four living quarters that were very similar on every storey. Only two wings were set apart specifically, the royal wing in the East and the Chapel wing in the West. These two areas are accessible from the courtyard by the open corner staircases or from the upper storeys by hallways.
The visit continues through the three storeys of the keep as you ascend the central grand staircase and through the wings, travelling down the hallways that connect them to the keep.
The buildings that enclose the courtyard create a low wall which at different times in its life was covered; it was used for a variety of purposes throughout the ages. Terraces originally covered the kitchens and there were service rooms that were never finished. From the 17th to the 19th century mansards above the kitchens and the stables were used to accomodate the domestics.
The double-helix staircase is undoubtedly the most distinctive architectural feature of the château. Although it cannot be seen from outside the château, the central place which it occupies in the keep like a jewel in an elaborate box sets it off in a way that had never been done before. It is made up of an open central space, around which two stairways are wound, one on top of the other, to reach the main storeys of the building. It is a construction of marvellous ingenuity similar to sketches made by Leonardo da Vinci. This staircase where, magically, two people can ascend in sight of one another but without ever meeting, continues to fascinate visitors today as it has since its construction.
François I’s apartments
On the first storey of the royal wing, you will find the former lodgings of François I, including a bedroom, small private rooms or cabinets attached to it and an oratory with a remarkably sculpted vaulted ceiling. The wing also includes the old great hall, called the “Council” room, which was closed off by Gaston d’Orleans in the 17th century to create his apartment there (sorry I don't have the picture).
The 17th century
On the first storey of the keep, work carried out at the request of Louis XIV closed off the north arm of the cross shaped room to make his apartments. This created a row of three large rooms. After crossing the old guards’ room, courtiers passed through the first and second antechamber before reaching the royal parade room to watch the rising and the setting of the Sun King, as it was the custom. In the neighbouring north tower, where it is believed that François I had his apartment before the royal wing was constructed, was the Queen’s apartment, and its décor today recalls the 17th century.
In the south arm of the cross, a theatre was temporarily installed where Molière presented his famous plays Monsieur de Pourceaugnac and Le Bourgeois gentilhomme for the first time to the king (sorry I don't have the picture). .
The 18th Century
Several apartments today recreate the magnificent style of the 18th century, a time when the château was used as a residence by figures close to Louis XV and by the governors of the château (the Maréchal de Saxe’s official apartment, the Conti apartment, laurel chamber and governors’ chambers). Major efforts were made during this period to make the building warmer and more comfortable. The ceilings were lowered, the walls hung with fabric or covered with wood, the floors finished with parquet and the rooms used as living rooms in François I’s time were divided with wooden partitions into several smaller rooms (antechamber, bedrooms, studies, or rooms for dressing, etc.). The château also was filled with rich furnishings and with every year became more liveable than in the past (sorry I don't have the picture)..
Symmetrical to the royal wing in relation to the keep, the western wing houses a chapel, solidly set in a corner tower and which cannot be seen from the outside. Despite that, it is the largest room in the château, covering the height of the entire 1st and 2nd storeys. The lightness and simplicity of its layout along with its size impresses the visitors. Construction of the chapel was begun during the reign of François I, continued under Henri II and was finally finished at the end of the 17th century. The decorations sculpted into the walls and the vaulted ceiling still bear the marks of these three different periods (the letter F and the salamander for François I, crescent moons for Henri II, then the letter L and sunbursts for Louis XIV).
On the second storey of the keep, the cross-shaped room brings sighs of surprise – every one of its arms lie under immense relief vaulted ceilings, decorated with the symbols of François I, the letter F, salamanders spitting water to damp evil fires, salamanders swallowing good fire and knotted rope motifs. Repeated hundreds of times, these emblems in high-relief communicate the king’s desire to leave his mark on even the farthest corners of the keep. Furthermore, these vaults bear the weight of the paving-stone covered terraces above, including an ingenious system for draining rain water.
Arriving on the terraces brings more astonished sighs from visitors. More than the 360° panoramic view the terraces provide of Chambord park, they make visitors feel as if they were guests in a celestial village. The roofs of the surrounding wings spike up, dotted with points at staircases, chimneys and dormers with abundant decoration. This exuberance of rooftop summits breaks with the reserve of the façade and beautifully caps the imposing mass of the keep. At the centre, above the double-helix staircase, the lantern tower rises up, the highest point of the château (56m), topped with the symbol of the kings of France, the fleur de Lys.
Chambord's hunting room
As large, high rooms and open windows meant heating was ineffective. Also, as the castle had no adjacent village there were no servants or food source - apart from wild game - nearby. During Francois' life the castle was totally unfurnished and on the few occasions when he visited his retinue brought everything they needed - which was a lot- with them.
In 1549 the château was still unfinished and it took two more French kings, Henry II and Louis XIV to finish the job.
In 1549 the château was still unfinished and it took two more French kings, Henry II and Louis XIV to finish the job.
History of Chateau Chambord
Stepping back to these early origins of Chambord, some coins dating from the Merovingian age include the Latin inscription: "Cambortese Pago", i.e. ‘Village of Cambort’, while Chambord's early name of Cambort also appears in documents dating back to Charles the Bald (823-877) in the late ninth century, when the town was confirmed by the King to the monastery of Corbion, with the following statement: “In pago aurelianensis villula Cambort”; i.e. “I confirm the possession of small Cambort villa, located in the village of aurelianense territory.”
Moving forward in time, medieval documents refer to Chambord by different names, "Camborium", "Cambortum" and "Camboritum", these names coming from the Celtic words "Cam", which means "curved" or "meandering", and "Rhyd", which means "passing over a river winding and twisty". Hence the name Chambord indicates a “bridge located on the bend of a river.” And indeed, in earliest times there was a bridge at Chambord that connects the banks of the river Cosson, and Chambord also stands on a "curve" of the river Cosson.
Around the castle that had been constructed by the Blois Counts there stood a small village, but when Francis I built his castle he demolished many of the houses. By the mid-17th century the village of Chambord became a parish and the sovereign granted various privileges and exemptions from taxes to its citizens, but still the village did not experience a significant increases in population and even today the village of Chambord is only sparsely populated.
How to Get to Chateau de Chambord?
Opening Hours for Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord is open every day, year round except December 25 and January 1.
Opening hours are 10 am to 5 pm from October to March and 9 am to 6 pm from April to September.
Tickets for Château de Chambord
Admission to Chambord Castle is €11 for adults, free for children under 18 (and European Union residents up to 25). Guided tours and audio tours are optional. Reservations are not possible (except for guided tours).
Admission is only charged for the chateau building itself – the park may be entered for free.
Getting to Chateau de Chambord by Car
Driving to Château de Chambord is easy from most parts of the Loire Valley. The chateau is off minor country roads not far from Blois. Visits to Chambord thus combine easily with seeing the chateaux at Blois, Cheverny, and Chaumont.
The closest highway exit is Blois on Autoroute A10 from Paris via Orléans to Tours.
Parking at Chambord is €4 per day – it is possible to pay upon arrival to avoid queues at machines later in the day. Parking P0 is the closest to the chateau but P1 and P2 are not much further away on paved level walkways.
Parking for motorhomes are €7 per day or €10 if parking overnight.
Distances to Château de Chambord from other cities are around:
- 20 km / 0:30 from Blois
- 60 km / 1:00 from Orléans
- 80 km / 1:00 from Tours
- 110 km / 1:40 from Bourges
- 160 km / 2:00 from Le Mans
- 180 km / 2:20 from Paris
Driving times from Château de Chambord to some other chateaux in the Loire region are:
- 20 km / 0:30 from Chateau de Cheverny
- 35 km / 0:50 from Chateau de Chaumont
- 50 km / 1:00 from Chateau de Amboise / Close Lucé
- 50 km / 1:00 Chateau de Valencay
- 60 km / 1:20 – Chateau de Chenonceau
- 100 km / 1:30 from Chateau de Villandry
- 100 km / 1:30 from Chateau de Azay-le-Rideau
Public Transportation to Château de Chambord
Public transportation to Château de Chambord is very limited. The nearest train stations are Blois or Mer from where limited bus services during the summer season are available. TGV trains to Blois leave from Paris-Gare d’Austerlitz.
Route41 offers a Circuit des Châteaux bus usually from April to early September. These buses depart from Blois station (Gare SNCF) daily at 9:30 and 11:30 am for the 40-minute ride to Chambord. The return buses from Chambord depart at 14:10 and 16:10 and stop en route at Cheverny and Beauregard. The single fare is €6 and gives a discount of around €2 on admission to the chateaux in Blois, Cheverny, Chambord, and Beauregard.
Day-trip excursions are frequently available from Paris or other major Loire towns to Château de Chambord. Get Your Guide can give some ideas on the prices and type of tours available but many other options exists. Reservations are seldom required far in advance and double-check what is included in the excursion fare should the price vary widely from the average.
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