Last week we had an outing to the Chateau de Sarzay, a beautiful castle not too far away in neighbouring Indre. We’d last visited it in 2011 so felt it was time to have another look, and show it off to our visitor, Jackie. You can tell it’s worth seeing as it’s said to be one of the most photographed chateaux in France. Its five remaining towers are very picturesque.
These five towers are all that remain of the original thirty-eight. That must have been an incredible sight. The castle was begun in 1348 by Guillaume de Barbançois as part of the chain of castles that the French built to keep the English at bay during the Hundred Years’ War. Guillaume fought the English at La Chatre and followed up with a spot of recreational looting before retiring back home. He built six towers, the moat and pond, and a large surrounding wall. His towers were fairly short. The chapel tower is the only one of these left. We had a peep inside and it’s beautiful.
That tower was dwarfed by the later thirty-two that his descendant, Jean de Barbançois, added nearly a hundred years later in 1440. His timing wasn’t great as he finished work just as gunpowder began to be used in warfare. The days of the indomitable fortress were over.
The de Barbançois coat of arms was three leopard heads, although it’s thought these represent just a few of the heads of Englishmen cut off by various family members!
Over the years the de Barbançois fortunes declined, and in 1719 their castle and also the entire village of Sarzay were handed over to Charles de la Porte de Montval. This family had the castle until 1836.
Various other people owned Sarzay for short periods and then in 1912 it was designated as a national monument and left to crumble into ruins. It had been getting shabby before then. George Sand referred to it in one of her novels as ‘the pitiful wreck of ancient grandeur’. But, to be fair, it had lived through the Hundred Years War, the Wars of Religion (1562-98), the Fronde Civil War of 1648, and the French Revolution of 1789, and survived. At least, some of it.
But before it completely fell apart, along came Parisian Richard Hurbain in 1983. He brought the castle for 800,000 francs and promised to restore it. Bureaucrats heaped obstacles in his path and even took him to court over not filing the correct paperwork before doing some repairs, but although he was fined, the fine was suspended meaning he never had to pay it. However, he gained a criminal record as a result of his incredible work to save a fantastic chunk of France’s heritage which the official bodies, that should have been looking after it, were letting fall into ruin.
We had a fascinating visit. Every room in the tower that’s open to the public is stuffed full of treasures the family found there – knives, axes, pots, barrels, furniture, weapons and a seemingly endless supply of stuffed animals. We don’t think this snake was killed locally though!
We spent a wonderful hour, climbing the tower and looking around the restored rooms. There’s lots still to be done, but as we know from renovating two old houses, some things can’t be hurried. However, we saw plenty of progress since our last visit. Bon courage to the Hurbain family in their continued work in keeping this amazing building alive.
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