Chateau de Chenonceau – Wonder of the Loire Valley or Ladies’ Château

Chateau de Chenonceau - Gardens

The Chateau de Chenonceau spans the River Cher.

It was designed and owned by women only and is therefore also known as the Château des Dames – Ladies’ Château.

Its architecture is a perfect combination of elegance, beauty and refinement.

It is considered a superb illustration of French Renaissance.

French call it La Merveille du Val-de-Loire – the Wonder of the Loire Valley.

The Ladies of Chenonceau

Catherine Briçonnet

In the early 16th century, the Chateau de Chenonceau was not more than a fortified manor-house and its watermill.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Tour Marques
Tour Marques

Thomas Bohier bought the two buildings, which had fallen into an advanced state of disrepair, from the Lord of Marques.

Thomas Bohier’s wife, Catherine Briçonnet, commissioned the construction of the pavilion with four corner towers on the foundations of the mill.

The ruined buildings were pulled down except for the well and the tower.

The Marques Tower was restored during the Renaissance.

The well is still adorned with the coat of arms of the Marques family, a chimera and an eagle.

The courtyard, enclosed by a moat, is located on the site of the old fortress.

Catherine added a feminine touch to the plans by focusing on comfort and luxury.

The monumental entrance is a masterpiece of the Renaissance.

It is also adorned with the coat of arms of Thomas and Catherine Bohier and is crowned by a salamander, the emblem of François I.

Catherine commissioned also the construction of the first straight staircase ever built in France.

However, in 1535 their penniless son sold Chenonceau to King François I who turned it into a hunting lodge.

Diane de Poitiers

Chateau de Chenonceau - Tour Marques and castle
Tour Marques and castle

François I’s son, Henri II gave the Chateau de Chenonceau to his young mistress Diane of Poitiers.

A woman of talent and intelligence, Diane brilliantly took care of Chenonceau.

She indeed developed the vineyard and the farm and transformed them into a profitable business.

A woman of taste and luxury, she embellished the château, added the formal gardens and built a bridge across the River Cher.

The king was killed in a tournament in 1559.

Catherine de Medici

His widow, Catherine of Medici, knew how much Diane was fond of the Chateau de Chenonceau.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Grande Galerie
Grande Galerie

She therefore spitefully exiled her to the Château de Chaumont sur Loire!

However, Diane chose to retire to the Château d’Anet, another present from the late king.

Catherine of Medici re-landscaped the park and added new buildings.

But above all, we owe her the famous Italian Renaissance style two-storey gallery that tops the bridge built by Diane.

A woman of pleasure and luxury, the queen organized numerous soirees, balls, banquets and fireworks which gave an air of pomp to Chenonceau.

Louise de Lorraine

The castle became a place filled with grief when Marie gave the Chateau de Chenonceau to her stepdaughter.

Louise de Lorraine indeed retired to Chenonceau after the assassination of her husband Henri III.

Françoise de Lorraine

When she died, her niece Françoise de Lorraine inherited Chenonceau, which was later acquired by the Farmer General Dupin.

Madame Dupin

His wife, Madame Dupin, took over the property; she founded a salon frequented by the most brilliant minds of the era.

Kept in high esteem by the villagers because of her charity work, Madame Dupin saved the Chateau de Chenonceau from demolition during the French Revolution.

Madame Pelouze

Madame Pelouze fell in love with the chateau and purchased it in 1864.

She spent a fortune restoring it to its former glory.

She removed the caryatids statues that framed the facade’s windows and placed them in the park.

Chateau de Chenonceau

The elegant proportions and the gallery that spans the Cher are the castle’s most photographed features!

Chateau de Chenonceau - Renaissance entrance door
Renaissance entrance door

Each year, they indeed attract thousands visitors from all around the world.

The interior decorations and furnishing boast the same elegance, refinement and luxury that the outside.

The Guard-room is decorated with a 16th century fireplace and magnificent Flemish tapestries.

The chapel’s original stained glass windows were destroyed during WWII but were replaced in 1954.

Diane’s Bedchamber is a gateway into the world of the favourite of Henri II.

Elegantly decorated with 16th century Flemish tapestries, the room is dedicated to the archives of the château.

Copies of the signatures of Diane and Bohier are also displayed in a glass cabinet.

The Library and the Bureau Vert exhibit more paintings and tapestries.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Chambre des Cinq Reines
Chambre des Cinq Reines

Francois I’s Bedchamber is richly decorated.

It exhibits an impressive collection of paintings, furniture from the 15th and 16th centuries and a striking Renaissance fireplace with a mantle engraved with the motto of Thomas Bohier.

The impressive straight staircase climbs to the Five Queens’ Bedroom (Catherine of Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law).

This room is decorated with Flemish tapestries and paintings by Rubens and Mignard.

Finally, the staircase serves also the bedrooms of Catherine of Medici, César de Vendôme, Gabrielle d’Estrées and Françoise de Lorraine

Grande Galerie

The 60m long two-storey gallery that spans the Cher is known as Grande Galerie.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Grande Galerie
Grande Galerie

It was converted in a hospital during WWI and was used as a symbolic boundary between Free France and Occupied France during WWII.

A Wax Museum, open all year round, relates the story of the famous inhabitants of Chenonceau.

The Chateau de Chenonceau is today the property of the Miller family.

Department of Indre-et-Loire
Coordinates: Lat 47.324870 – Long 1.070301

Photos via Wikimedia Commons: Marques Tower  CC BY 2.0Chambre des 5 reines CC BY-SA 2.5 –  Chateau and  formal gardens  public domain

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