Guédelon walls

Guédelon – A 13th Century Castle in the 21st Century

Castles are fun! 

Just like lots of little girls, I loved imagining I was a princess with a castle.  While I often dreamed up my own castles, I had the distinct benefit of having seen both real castles and castle ruins during my childhood visits to Ireland.  So it was easy for me to imagine what my castle would look like.  And while I certainly enjoyed the ‘pretty dress and tiara’ part of princesshood, a shortage of knights in shining armor was no deterrent –  I could slay the dragons just as well, if needed.  Racing across imaginary ramparts and tearing up and down circular staircases was no problem. 

So for me, a trip to Guédelon was really fun! 

Guédelon castle

Guédelon tower

In Burgundy, a castle nearly hidden in the forest

 Tucked in the French countryside between the villages of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye and Saint-Amand-en-Puisaye, Guédelon is about a 2-hour drive south from Paris.

Guédelon carpentry

Castle and tower from the carpentry shop

Started in 1996, the idea was to build a 21st century medieval castle using only 13th century construction techniques.  The site was selected for its abundance of stone, sand and lumber – there was no need to transport supplies.  For the mill, there is an available water supply.  No machines, power tools or gasoline engines are used by the 40 or so craftsmen who are involved in the construction.

Guédelon building

Building walls using blocks and mud mortar

It is nothing short of a marvel!  A small “town” has sprung up around the castle itself – not homes, but rather buildings for the craftsmen and stalls/sheds to care for the animals.  Draught horses pull the wagons, sheep provide wool to make linens and thread, ducks and geese meander about.

Guédelon horses

Horses and carts for moving goods

Guédelon sheep

Sheep raised for wool

There is a carpentry shop, stone-cutting, the mill and a kiln for making blocks/bricks/tiles.  Natural dyes provide the colors for paint and wool – and all of it is created onsite and by hand. 

Guédelon spinning

Wool spun to make cloth

Guédelon paints and dyes

Natural dyes made by hand

The project pays for itself by charging admission to the nearly 300,000 visitors, many of whom are school children, who come every year to see the progress.  There is a modern café which serves hot and cold food and a very nice gift shop.  They all contribute to the maintenance of the project which is expected to be completed by about 2030. 

Cuédelon chapel

Painted walls inside the finished chapel

Work and Learn

Groups can schedule a “hands-on” opportunity to carve sandstone or to speak with craftsmen as they work. There are no set demonstration times for the various skills used in the construction of the castle, but rather visitors can watch and ask questions as the craftsmen go about their regular work.  Individuals who want to help with the project can take courses and spend 3-7 days working on the site.  There is an apprentice program for young people and even courses for professional training in heritage skills. 

Guédelon basket weaver

A weaver making a colorful basket

Guédelon stairway

Completed chapel tower

While there, I heard a group of visitors commenting on how much had been completed since their last visit.  I think it would be great fun to return to see the progress. 

Tourist Spot and Much More

But Guédelon is much more than simply a tourist attraction.  The work done there provides important historical, archeological and sociological insight.  The attention to detail for the windows, stairs, and arches demands serious research and intense architectural scrutiny.  The knowledge gained helps architects in both archeological excavation and building renovation/restoration. It’s an on-going history lesson! 

Guédelon castle keep

Interior of the Castle

Guédelon is open daily at 10 am from March until November.  If you’re looking for something unusual and fascinating I highly recommend a visit.  Especially if you love history and architecture.  Or maybe you just want to race across the ramparts and prepare to slay that rapidly approaching dragon…

For more information, visit the Guédelon website:   http://www.guedelon.fr/en/

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