Sarzay Castle – Chateau du Sarzay: DIY Castle Restoration
We had a second family summer outing last week, this time to Sarzay Castle – chateau du Sarzay. It’s only about half an hour away, very close to La Chatre. I have no idea why it’s taken us five years to get round to going there. But – we made it.
And it was brilliant. Sarzay is said to be one of the most photographed chateaux in France. Its five towers are very picturesque. I took nearly 100 photos while we were there, and I know Caiti outdid me. So we’ve contributed to its reputation!
These five towers are all that remain of 38 originally. 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 and it was dwarfed by the later 32 that his descendant Jean de Barbançois added, nearly a hundred years later in 1440. These are proper towering towers! If only they were all still standing. That would be a mesmerising sight.
Over time 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 it 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 used it in one of her novels and referred to it 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.
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. But the French government decided to do everything in its power stop him. Civil servants insisted that things be done just so, for no particular reason it seems, and put up as many obstacles as they possibly could.
Hurbain was even summoned to court for not filling in the correct paperwork before doing some repairs. He was fined, but the fine was suspended meaning he never had to pay it. However, he has a criminal record as a result of his incredible work to save a fantastic chunk of France’s heritage that the official bodies that should have been looking after were letting fall into ruin.
(This article about Sarzay is well worth a read.)
The restoration is ongoing. And I’m humbled. We’ve renovated two houses and it exhausted us and nearly drove us crazy. Hurbain is restoring a caste. OK, only five thirty-eighths of it are left, but they’re colossal.
It’s the DIY feel to the place that we all loved. Every room in the tower that’s open is stuffed full of treasures the family found there – knives, axes, pots, barrels, furniture and a seemingly endless supply of boar heads!
You can get right to the top of three of the towers and look out of the little windows at the top. It’s fantastic.
We visited the chapel and finished up in the Knight’s Hall where there was rather disappointingly a display of artwork. I’d hoped for suits of armour. But some of the pictures were lovely.
Finally we browsed the huge display of antique odds and ends out in the courtyard. We didn’t know what most of it was, but it all looked fascinating. We positively identified a huge stone knife sharpener, various tools and pans, and the watering cans were easy enough.
If you’re in the area, you simply have visit to Sarzay. You’ll be captivated, like we were.
And maybe you can work out what these are: