We decided to take a day trip to the Château de Vincennes on the far east side of Paris. Dating back to the 12th century, a little before the Louvre, Vincennes is one of the few castles which, from the Middle Ages to our time, has consistently found itself at the center of French History. In 1178, Louis VII (1137-1180) signed a deed at Vincennes which proves that there was a royal residence there. Thus, the first major construction period probably dates back to the middle of the 12th century, that of the original manor, followed by consistent repairs and additions up to the middle of the 14th century. A few kilometers east of Paris, in a wooded estate belonging to the monarchs, Vincennes was a sort of secondary residence or hunting lodge which Saint Louis, Louis IX (1226-1270), turned into his main place of stay after the Palais de la Cité (La Conciergerie). This is how it remained through the 13th and 14th centuries. Between 1361 and 1380, the construction of the donjon (central keep and tower) and of the enceinte (enclosed outer area) of the Château of Vincennes was without a doubt one of the biggest building endeavors in Europe. Before he was King of France, from 1364 to 1380 (during the Hundred Years War), the young Charles V, born at Vincennes, was Regent during the captivity of his father, Jean II the Good, in England (1356-1360) and met with the Parisian revolt of Etienne Marcel and the Jacquerie. He had to accept the disastrous Franco-English Treaty of Brétigny (1360). With the help of Du Guesclin, he took part in the reconquest of almost all the territories relinquished to the English, managed to defeat Charles the Bad, in 1364, and pushed back the Free Companies into Spain.
Benvenuto Cellini was one of the enigmatic, larger-than-life figures of the Italian Renaissance: a celebrated sculptor, goldsmith, author and soldier, but also a hooligan and even avenging killer. Much of Cellini's notoriety, and perhaps even fame, derives from his memoirs, begun in 1558 and abandoned in 1562, which were published posthumously under the title “The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini”. As noted by one biographer, “His amours and hatreds, his passions and delights, his love of the sumptuous and the exquisite in art, his self-applause and self-assertion, make this one of the most singular and fascinating books in existence.” He confessed to three murders and was several times imprisoned, in one instance breaking out of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome by climbing down a homemade rope of knotted bedsheets.
The architectural heritage in the Loire Valley's historic towns is notable, especially its châteaux, such as the Château d'Amboise, Château de Chambord, Château de Chinon, Château du Rivau, Château d'Ussé, Château de Villandry and Chenonceau. The châteaux, numbering more than three hundred, represent a nation of builders starting with the necessary castle fortifications in the 10th century to the splendor of those built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux here, the nobility, not wanting or even daring to be far from the seat of power, followed suit. Their presence in the lush, fertile valley began attracting the very best landscape designers and architects. The Loire Valley is an area steeped in history and because of its riches, one that has been fought over and influenced by a variety of adversaries from the Romans to Atila the Hun. The formation of the region as we know it today began after its conquest by Julius Caesar in 52 BC. It is however, Emperor Augustus who is credited with bringing peace and stability to the Loire Valley. This stability saw the growth of towns such as Orleans (Genabum), Tours (Caesarodunum), Le Mans (Noviodunum), Angers (Juliomagus), Bourges (Avaricum) and Chartres (Autricum). The Roman's greatest influence however might be considered to be the introduction of the first grape vines to the region, as shown in the wine AOC map shown above.
The interior of Chenonceau is full of history and a remarkable collection of art. The entrance hall, shown above, is covered with a series of rib vaults whose keystones, detached from each other, form a broken line. The baskets are decorated with foliage, roses, cherubs, chimeras, and cornucopia. Made in 1515, it is one of the most beautiful examples of decorative sculpting from the French Renaissance period. The entire interior is full of inventive architecture, art treasures and above all the history of France.