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 Chateau de Chinon in the Loire Valley

If you want to immerse yourself in the history of France and England then a visit to the mighty fortress at Chinon is a good place to start your journey. Its strategic position becomes obvious long before you actually enter the town, sitting as it does on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Vienne river. Chinon sits at the meeting point of three French provinces Anjou, Poitou and Touraine and as such has been an important defensive location since Gallo-Roman times. The Counts of Blois erected the first real castle on the site in the 10th century which they held until 1044 when they were overthrown by their bitter rivals the Counts of Anjou.

Royal lodgings at fortress Chinon in the Loire Valley

It would not be until 1154 that it began to take on part of its now famous fortress appearance, when it became the main residence of Henry II, the King of England who was also then Count of Anjou (Angevin King). It reigned supreme as the home of the Plantagenet king and his wife Aliénor (Eleanor) d'Aquitaine until 1189 when the king died grieving over the betrayal of his son Richard (Lionheart). In 1205,after an eight month siege, Philip-Auguste conquered Chinon and the province of Anjou was annexed to France. It continued to serve as a royal residence throughout the following centuries.

Templar shields on display at the castle at Chinon

The chateau has very strong links to the Knights Templar, a military order of the Roman Catholic Church, formed to protect Christians in the Holy Land during the early Crusades and now vey much the stuff of legends. It was here that the Grand Masters of the order were imprisoned in 1308 before being put to death in Paris by order of the Vatican. They also decreed that the order be disbanded. Much of what we now know of their trial was uncovered with the discovery of what is now known as ‘Chinon parchment’ in the Vatican archives. You can trace some of the history of the Templars through an interactive exhibit and trail laid out in the park and towers of the fortress.

 

 

Perhaps the most famous event at the chateau took place in 1429 during the Hundred Years’ War when Joan of Arc met with the indecisive and somewhat cowardly dauphin Charles VII. He had installed a small court there a couple of years earlier, taking refuge from the Burgundians and the English. Joan persuaded Charles to stand up against the English and reclaim his throne and was, eventually, given leave to form an army to change the fortunes of the French and to set up her own tragic destiny.

  Fortress Chinon

Entrance and visitor centre at chateau de Chinon    

The fortress extends over 500 metres along the ridge overlooking the river it is not known what the original construction would have looked like but we know it was made of three different strongholds separated by dry moats.

 

 

Fort St. George, the earliest construction by Henry II the English king, thus the name, has all but gone and it is now the site of the modern visitor centre and entrance to the fortress. Henry had built this outer fortification to house a garrison to protect what was the most vulnerable part of the fortress. The fort was connected to the central part of the complex via a wooden drawbridge, now replaced by a stone bridge.

 

Entrance to Fortress Chinon under the Tour de l’Horlage

The main feature of the central part ‘Chateau de Milieu’, of the fortress is the ‘Tour de l’Horlage’ (clock tower), standing 35 metres high, it is a dominant feature of the eastern side of the Chinon skyline. This part of the fortress also contains the royal lodgings, built originally for the dauphin Charles. When I first visited Chinon this was in ruins but has now been restored as part, I believe, of one of Europe’s most expensive projects of this kind. For some reason I preferred it as a ruin as the ‘house in the wall’ I feel, commands less respect. The new building now contains exhibition space and a history of the castle(s). Chateau du Milieu also contains the ‘Tour des Chiens’ (the dog’s tower) which once served as home to the pack of royal hunting dogs plus the Tour d’Argenton built by the then governor of the chateau back in the 15th century.

Tour d’Argenton at Fortress Chinon

Tour d’Argenton

Coudray tower at Fortress Chinon in the Loire Valley

The most westerly part of the fortress Fort Coudray contains the 13th century keep or Tower of Coudray and Tower of Boissy plus the Tower of Mill, built at the end of the 12th century. The keep,12metres diameter and 25 metres high, had been added by Philip Augustus to strengthen its military capacity. It has three floors and they have played there part in history with Joan of Arc being housed in one of them during her stay at Chinon and as a prison for the Knights Templar grand masters before being put to death.

 The great master Jacques of Molay was among those executed

 

The Tour du Moulin sits the south-west corner of the fortification and is 20 metres high and 8 metres in diameter. Its position, sitting high above Vienne river valley made it almost impregnable.

Tour de Boissy sits on the southeast corner of this part of the fortress overlooking the town. It sits thirty meters high but unlike the other towers is more rectangular in shape.

Tour de Boissy at Fortress Chinon in the Loire Valley

From the many towers of the fortress you can get exceptional views of the surrounding countryside and the Vienne river valley.

a view of Tour du Moulin and the river Vienne at Chinon   The town of Chinon from the chateau

Vineyards behind fortress Chinon   a view of Tour du Moulin and the river Vienne from fortress  Chinon

OPENING TIMES

January - February and November - December: 9.30am - 5pm

March - April and September - October: 9.30am - 6pm

1st May - 31st August: 9.30am - 7pm

Last admission 30 minutes before closing.

ENTRY PRICES

Full price: €8.50 Children 7-18 years €6.50 (under 7 free)

External links:

Official website

Chateau de Chinon on Wikipedia  

 

Directions and time to Chinon

 

 

To get directions and time to Chinon, type in your post code or your starting point,  i.e.: 'Paris'

 

  

 

 

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"Author: Jim Craig"