Architecture in the Loire Valley

Here is a brief overview of the Loire Valley architectural styles.

Loire Valley architectural styles - Early Renaissance
Early Renaissance

Most castles were built between the late 15th century and 17th century.

They therefore are mostly Renaissance and Classical, however, many have retained Gothic features.

Most monastic buildings were pulled down at the French Revolution, but many churches escaped destruction as they were converted in barns.

Gothic architecture was locally adapted and gave rise to style unique to the region, Gothique Plantagenêt or Angevin style.

Here are a few basic facts to help you discover these styles’ basic characteristics, without going into boring descriptions.

Loire Valley architectural styles – Romanesque

St Sauveur Basilica Romanesque porch
Romanesque porch

Romanesque appeared in the second half of the 10th century.

It reached its peak during the 12th century, when the monasteries were founded and the majestic cathedrals built.

Romanesque style expresses the ‘Sacred’ in a functional manner, based on harmony and balance.

Created in order to avoid structural fires so frequent at that time, it therefore introduced the systematic use of stone arches with buttressing.

Sculptures were kept to a minimum and placed at focal points.

Wide walkways and a large ambulatory facilitated large crowd movements.

Romanesque churches were, however, of human dimensions.

Loire Valley architectural styles – Gothic

Gothic lasted from the 12th to the 15th century.

Eight Crusades took place from 1096 to 1270 at the instigation of the Church of Rome in order to defend Christianity in the Middle East.

Loire Valley architectural styles - Gothic

Crusaders returned with the rudiments of a new culture, which influenced the transition from Romanesque to Gothic.

Impressed by the sumptuous Arabic palaces, they indeed introduced the concepts of art and comfort.

They improved their dark castles with hanging tapestries tapestries, furnished them with elegant furniture and opened large windows to let light pour into their vast halls.

The advent of Gothic religious architecture resulted in the edification of the great cathedrals.

Columns with carved capitals supported the arches.

Chateau de Chaumont sur Loire - Gothic wing
Gothic wing

Ribbed vaults, externally reinforced by flying-buttresses, transferred the weight on the media angle.

Freed from the extra weight, the walls could therefore be pierced with numerous large windows that let the light pour into the building.

Towers and high spires projected their slender silhouette towards the sky, the symbol of the elevation of the human soul to God.

Gothic churches are often of gigantic dimensions because they were built in order to accommodate a growing population.

Some replaced the old Romanesque churches, but most were built in villages or cities.

Loire Valley architectural styles – Angevin or Plantagenêt Gothic

Anjou developed his own version of the Gothic style in the late 12th century.

The Angevin or Plantagenêt Gothic style lasted for a century.

The major peculiarity of this transitional style are the vaults’ keystones placed 3m above the supporting arches.

Cloister's Gothic Flamboyant Gallery and Renaissance door
Abbaye de Cadouin – Cloister’s Gothic Flamboyant Gallery and Renaissance door

Loire Valley architectural styles – Flamboyant or High Gothic

The 15th century was ‘the’ High Gothic or Flamboyant century!

More colourful stained glass windows and rosettes opened the walls.

It also dropped the use of capitals, as the arches descended directly into the columns, thus creating an effect of continuity.

These were lavishly decorated with elaborate flame-shaped sculptures, hence its name, as Flamboyant means blazing.

The exuberant and lavish Flamboyant period is also known as the Era of Stonework Lace.

Loire Valley architectural styles – French Renaissance

Until the 15th century books were handwritten, therefore very expensive.

The invention of printing in 1450 made them affordable to a wider audience.

The Greek scholars, driven from Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, found refuge in the Italian courts.

Loire Valley architectural styles - French Renaissance
French Renaissance

Once there, they re-introduced the ancient Greek and Roman cultures.

This period of re-invention became known as Rebirth or Renaissance.

Charles VII, Louis XII and François I were the protagonists of the French Renaissance.

Indeed, they were so impressed by Italian culture during their various military expeditions in the years 1480 to 1515, that they brought it back to France!

The kings and their vassals invited the best Italian artists to come and work for them.

Elegant palaces soon replaced their old castles; times were indeed safe so there was no more need for massive, dark and cold fortresses.

Men of the 16th century were on a quest for absolute harmony, beauty, light, space, comfort, leisure and luxury!

Amboise Castle - Renaissance fireplace
Renaissance fireplace

Medallions and low reliefs therefore adorned the facades of their palaces, and large windows flanked with pilasters open them.

Dormer-windows and carved chimneys decorated the pointed roofs.

Italian staircases, one of the most stunning architectural features of the Renaissance, appeared.

Renaissance castles were not always built on a promontory, but often at the edge of a lake and elegantly blended with their environment.

Their gardens reflected the taste for nature tamed by man.

They indeed made great use of flower beds edged with boxwood (Jardin à la Française) as well as ponds, sculptured fountains and statues.

Loire Valley architectural styles – Classical

Antiquity fully inspired this style which sprawled on the 17th and 18th centuries.

Loire Valley architectural styles - Classical

Classical is defined by the elegance, majesty, sobriety, symmetry, balance and purity of form!

It indeed make great use of the three Greek architectural orders, Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.

These are indeed often superimposed on pediments in secular buildings.

Classical religious architecture is equally elegant.

Many churches enlarged during that period indeed boast impressive domes and volumes.

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