Monday, 25 July 2016

ancinne régime

At first I thought that the high concentration of châteaux along the Loire, some three hundred and each more picturesque than the last, was at first something like a competition among the favoured and bourgeoisie, like the skyscrapers of San Gimignano that were built taller and taller to try to keep up with and out-do the Joneses, but I quickly realised that side-by-side comparisons of grand-opulence were not possible as the stately homes were located on vast, landscaped estates—well away from any prying neighbours. Once I thought there was another palace within view but found out that that was just the carriage house.
The monarch of France throughout the Middle Ages until the dawn of the Renaissance only ruled a very small kingdom—confined to the region around Paris, the Île de France, but consolidating power in the capital caused the landed-gentry to shift their power-base as well but rather than abandon their beloved countryside in Central France for the city, ancient fortifications were transformed into outstanding summer residences, maintained at great expense but keeping the fertile river valley (the Loire being the longest river in the country) in the hands of the aristocracy.
The walls, moats and high-ground locations betray their defensive roots but the structural elements of castle and keep were civilised after a fashion and converted into quite luxurious accommodations. Each rich with heritage and history, the three châteaux we visited were (from top to bottom) Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord and Chenonceau but we know we must return soon for more exploration.