The Loire Valley: Castle of Ussé
The Château d’Ussé is said to have been the inspiration for the castle featured in the 17th-century French fairy tale La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty).
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The Loire Valley: Castle of Ussé
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.
With its bluish slate roof, multiple high towers, and white fortress-like walls, the Château d’Ussé has a more romantic, fanciful appearance than the neighboring châteaus of the Loire River Valley. Château d’Ussé’s association with the romantic also owes to its connection with the 17th-century French writer Charles Perrault, who was a guest at the château and whose fairy tale La Belle au bois dormant (Sleeping Beauty) revolves around a castle said to have been inspired by it. Directly behind the château stretches the dense Chinon forest, adding to the fairy-tale atmosphere.
In the 11th century, the Norman seigneur, or feudal lord, Gueldin de Saumur built a wooden fortress on the site of the present-day château, at the junction of the Loire River and Indre River in northwest France. Subsequent owners of the fortress rebuilt it in stone, and in the mid-15th century it was purchased by Jean V de Bueil, a general who led the French army in several important battles against the English in the Hundred Years’ War. With the war at its end, Jean de Bueil began reconstructing the fortress into a grand country residence at a time when similar residences were being built by French noblemen throughout the Loire Valley. At the end of the 15th century, the château was sold to an advisor to the King of France, Jacques d’Espinay, who continued the reconstruction and began building a chapel in the château’s gardens. Jacques d’ Espinay’s son, Charles, continued work on the chapel and château itself, adding distinctly Renaissance motifs and structural elements.
In the 17th century, the gardens at Château d’Ussé were redesigned by the famed landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who designed the gardens at the Palace of Versailles. Part of the Château d’Ussé was demolished to permit unobstructed views of the new formal, terraced gardens overlooking the Indre River. The château has not since undergone any significant structural changes, and its storybook Gothic-Renaissance exterior has been largely preserved.
Château d’Ussé, Rigny-Ussé
Tel: 0033 2 47 95 54 05