The Loire Valley: Castle of Amboise
Rising above the town of Amboise and the River Loire in France, the Château d’Amboise is a Gothic-Renaissance castle that was favored by French kings.
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The Loire Valley: Castle of Amboise
The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape along a major river which bears witness to an interchange of human values and to a harmonious development of interactions between human beings and their environment over two millennia. It is noteworthy for the quality of its architectural heritage, in its historic towns such as Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur and Tours, but in particular in its world-famous castles, such as the Château de Chambord.
The basin of the River Loire occupies a huge area in central and western France, stretching from the southern part of the Massif Central to an estuary on the Atlantic coast. Some 200 km of the central part of the main river valley, stretching from Sully east of Orleans to the junction of the Loire and the Maine near Angers in the west. Essentially this is the 'new' Loire, for the river originally drained north-eastwards into the Paris basin. This length now lies in two regions, Centre and Pays de la Loire, and four departments. Along the Loire between Orléans and Angers, the valley is characterized by low cliffs of tufa and limestone and, often below one or more river terraces, there is a flood plain dissected by old channels. The valley has a long history of periodic catastrophic flooding, carefully recorded as stone-cut water levels at numerous places along it, and even today its inhabitants live perennially under threat of severe inundation. Much contemporary river management is concerned to minimize that risk.
For most of its length in the World Heritage site the Loire is confined within dykes. Its banks are also punctuated at intervals of only a few kilometres by a series of villages, small towns and cities. Notable among the urban settlements are (from north-east to south-west) Sully, Orleans, Blois, Amboise, Tours, Saumur and Angers. Land use is extremely varied, from urban density through intense horticulture to vineyards (some reliant on flooding) to hunting forest.
The Roman impact on the landscape was massive, and it today still strongly influences settlement location and urban form and road communications. The Loire was one of the most important arteries for communications and trade in Gaul. In the late Roman period St Martin, Bishop of Tours, founded an abbey at Marmoutier around 372, and this was to serve as the model for many other monastic settlements in the Loire Valley in the centuries that followed.
The sanctuary at Tours was one of the most important pilgrimage centres in Europe until it was superseded by Santiago de Compostela. The many monasteries served as focal points for settlement in the Middle Ages. Seigniorial power developed in the 10th century and made a profound impression on the landscape. Land allotment followed the patterns of feudal society and strongly fortified residences were built by the overlords; these, too, acted as focal points for settlement.
The Loire Valley was a frontier zone during the Hundred Years' War and the scene of many confrontations between French and English. The castles were rebuilt and extended to become massive fortresses, the forerunners of the chateaux of today. The ever-present danger to Paris from the English during the war resulted in the royal court spending long periods at Tours. With the end of the war in the mid-15th century the valley was an ideal place for humanism and the Renaissance to take root in France. This involved inter alia the dismantling of the massive medieval fortresses and their reconstruction as palaces for pleasure and recreation.
The 17th-18th centuries saw the development of a secular commercial economy based on industry, crafts, trade, shipping, the river, and the towns alongside the feudal survival of the Ancien Régime. The late 18th century also saw the first water-management controls introduced in the valley; these were intensified throughout the 19th century. The romantic representation of the valley in the 19th century by writers and painters led to the Loire becoming a magnet for tourists, first from France, then Europe, and then in the 20th century the rest of the world.
Set strategically on a rocky promontory above the River Loire in central France, the Château d’Amboise has been the location of various fortifications since ancient times. In the 11th century, the Count of Anjou built a medieval fortress on the site. Later, in the 13th century, Philippe-August, King of France, besieged the area and entrusted the property to the Chaumont-Amboise family. By the 15th century, the family had rebuilt the fortress and extended it into a château. In 1431, the château’s owner, Louis d’Amboise, was found guilty of plotting against Louis XI, and the French royals repossessed the château in 1434.
Château d’Amboise became a royal residence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Beginning in 1492, Charles VIII enlarged and rebuilt the château, incorporating French Gothic elements, in addition to Italian Renaissance motifs. The grounds were also landscaped with scenic Italian gardens, replacing a formal French garden. Charles broadened the terrace, on an upper level of the estate, to accommodate a large parterre (ornamental garden), which he surrounded with decorative latticework. Charles VIII also constructed the Tour des Cavaliers or “Horsemen’s Towers” and the king’s apartments. Charles VIII died after hitting his head on a low-lying lintel above one of the château’s doors, which prevented him from carrying out all of the projects he had planned for the château.
Over the following years, Château d’Amboise was home to many royals, including Louis XII, François I and King Henry II and his wife Catherine de’Medici. In 1516, François I, a great patron of the arts, hosted Leonardo da Vinci as his guest in Amboise. A few years later, in 1519, Leonardo died and his body was buried at the Gothic chapel of Saint-Hubert at Château d’Amboise.
Since François I’s reign, the Château d’Amboise has undergone periods of neglect, and sections of the original castle were demolished. However, beginning in the middle of the 19th century, restoration efforts have been underway. The site remains an architectural masterpiece and monument to French royal history.
Monté de l’émir Abd el Kader, 37403 Amboise
Tel: 0033 2 47 57 00 98