Amboise Castle – First Renaissance château of the Loire Valley

Amboise Castle has a long history!

Amboise castle in the Loire Valley
Amboise castle in the Loire Valley

The Gauls indeed built a fortress on the promontory overlooking the Loire and its valley.

The Romans replaced it with a fortified camp, built a bridge across the river and charged a toll for the transportation of goods.

The Count of Amboise built a fortress in the 11th century.

Charles VII seized it in 1422 and his son Louis XI rebuilt it.

His grand-son Charles VIII was born and died in Amboise, and discovered the Italian Renaissance during his military expeditions in the 1490s.

Impressed by the elegance and refinement of this new style, he therefore commissioned a series of alterations and improvements which turned Amboise in a perfect illustration of Early Renaissance architecture.

Amboise Castle in the 16th century
Amboise Castle in the 16th century

These included the Gothic wing that faces the river, the Tour des Minimes, the Oratory of Anne de Bretagne and a wide array of lavish furniture.

Finally, the king commissioned Italian gardeners with the landscaping of the gardens.

Amboise Castle was almost finished when he died in 1498.

Amboise Castle – Gothic Wing

The Gothic wing overlooks the Loire.

It flanks the Tour des Minimes or Tour des Cavaliers (horsemen tower), the original entrance to the castle.

Riders indeed entered the premises riding on a ramp located inside the tower.

The top of the tower and the battlements boast prime views of the valley.

Amboise Castle - Renaissance fireplace
Renaissance fireplace

Flemish masters created the Oratoire d’ Anne de Bretagne, which is considered a superb illustration of Flamboyant Gothic style.

The Salle des Etats (Hall of State) is a large hall with  brick and stone walls and a vaulted ceiling supported by columns.

It was the scene of a historic event known as Conspiracy of Amboise.

In 1560 a group of Protestants indeed went to Blois in order to ask Francois II for the freedom of religion.

However, spies discovered that some of these Protestants plotted to assassinate the Duke of Guise, the leader of the Catholic party.

The king escaped to Amboise Castle with his Court, but the conspirators followed him.

However, they were captured, tried and hanged from the balcony of the Salle des Etats.

This balcony has since been known as Balcon des Conspirateurs (Conspirators’ Balcony).

The Edict of Amboise, an edict of pacification signed by the king in 1563, ended this episode of the War of Religions.

Abd-el-Kader, the leader of the Algerian resistance against the French presence, was jailed in the (converted) Salle des Etats from 1848 to 1852.

Renaissance wing

Charles VIII’s successor, Louis XII built the Renaissance wing at right angle with the Gothic wing.

François I was very fond of Amboise Castle and added an upper floor to the Renaissance wing.

The great patron of the French Renaissance, indeed spent his youth and lived there during the first five years of his reign.

A Man of pleasure, luxury and beauty, the charismatic king brought prestige to Amboise, where he gave lavish festivities.

Amboise Castle - Chapelle Saint-Hubert
Chapelle Saint-Hubert

The Protector of Arts and Letters and a knowledgeable and refined man, François I spent his life surrounded by the best minds of his era.

He therefore invited Leonardo da Vinci to move to the nearby Clos Luçé.

The king regularly visited the old artist, using a secret passage that connects the castle with Le Clos Luçé.

Louis XIII bequeathed the chateau to his brother Gaston d’Orléans, who spent most of his life plotting against his own brother!

As retaliation, the king sent his troops who fired on the chateau and sadly destroyed the ramparts!

Amboise Castle eventually returned to the French Crown.

In the early 19th century, Napoleon I bequeathed Amboise to the penniless Roger Ducros, a member of the Directory government, who turned it into a stone quarry!

All that is therefore left of the chateau are the Logis du Roi, Gothic and Renaissance wings, Tour Heurtault on the rampart and Chapelle St-Hubert.

The private apartments on the upper floor of the Renaissance wing were later redecorated in Empire style for Louis-Philippe.

Gardens and terraces were landscaped on the site of the former buildings.

They boast prime views of the Loire and roofs of the medieval city.

It is said that the Flamboyant Gothic Chapelle St-Hubert, built in 1491 for Ann of Brittany shelters the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci.

Amboise Castle belongs to the St-Louis Foundation, a trust founded by the Count of Paris in order to preserve the French national heritage.

Department of Indre-et-Loire
Coordinates: Lat 47.413336 – Long 0.985551

Photos via Wikimedia Commons:  Castle seen from the bridge  – Renaissance fireplace  –  Castle before 1579Chapelle Saint-Hubert  CC BY-SA 3.0

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