Chateau Amboise

We saw this reddish fortress and chateau from across the river as we come into town from Fourchette the first time – it was actually the first chateau we saw in France. It’s high, beautiful, and strange. We entered by a ramp that starts off a side street from the main, riverside stretch. Our first climb, going through the gate, was up past the guard room (now ticket office) and on through one hairpin turn into the main grassy area of the fortress. We imagined cantering horses up this cobblestone incline, maybe calling for the gates to be swung shut behind us, to guard us against an approaching enemy. We talked about how if there was a threat, the people of the village might all hide inside the walls of the fortress. The ditches outside were dug by the Romans.

The children went directly to the highest precipice they could find, one of the sentry towers, and leaned way over, causing my heart to stop eight times. Our first stop was the chapel, where Leonardo Da Vinci’s grave can be found. Dan meditated for a few moments there, explaining to Benny that Da Vinci was one of the most interesting people in the world. The chapel has two fireplaces, one directly adjacent to Da Vinci’s tomb. So, it’s a beautiful eternal repose, with stained glass and fresh flowers, but also at times a warm one.

Inside the chateau, we saw the guard room and the sentry’s walk, where Benny practiced promenading up and down watching out for bad guys, and also peering off across the river into the distance, to see if he could see any approaching troops. From way up there, you could really see so much of the village, and you could see a lot of what was going on, too – not just the buildings. So we imagined the citizens of Amboise felt protected but also observed.

We read about Charles the VIII, who hit his head on a door jamb and died several hours later. This was very memorable and interesting for all of us. We wondered if his mother had ever told him to stop running in the house. Maybe his misfortune was being too tall – although the ceilings are high and impressive, Dan has to duck to get through the doorways sometimes.

For a student of architecture (which I am not), Amboise would be an interesting study in the transition between the gothic style and the renaissance style. The brochure taught me a bit, although I’m not that crazed about cornices and buttresses and whatnot, I did find it interesting to note the differences within the chateau. There’s a gothic wing and a renaissance wing, and even from the outside you can see the difference in the way the windows are ornamented.

The most interesting thing about Chateau Amboise was the Tour Minimes, or the Cavalry Tower. We stood on top of it for a while and gazed out over the city, which was exciting, but the inside of it was even more cool – a spiral climb wide enough to drive two carriages, with a central column that was open. The big attraction was that you could ride your horse or drive your carriage from street level right up to the castle gardens via this tower – I must say it would have been a loud experience.
At the top, in the gardens, we saw a memorial garden dedicated to a Muslim dude and his family, who were imprisoned at Chateau Amboise for four years after France colonized Algeria. It looks out on the most enormous “cedar of Lebanon” ever and also the Chateau. After cantering about in the garden for a while, we descended into the city.

Chateau Amboise was not on the “must see” list when we came to France, but because it was so close, we decided to see it anyway. I’m so glad we did, it was very interesting and beautiful, maybe my favorite chateau of all the ones we saw. Maybe I’m susceptible to narrative, but the stories behind these structures really come through in the stones – from Francois I, such a passionate supporter of da Vinci and renaissance art, to the hangings that took place off the balconies to punish would-be kidnappers of Francois II, I get very affected when I stand where they stood and see what they saw. The kings and queens of France aren’t interesting because they were better than or more important than regular people. But they are so well preserved, both visually and in their agendas and actions, that they are ultimately more accessible than your regular Joe.

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