Did you know Paris had a castle? Few people, even Parisians do. Tucked away in a small suburb just outside the city, Chateau de Vincennes is an imposing Goliath of a structure nestled between apartment buildings and shops. This fascinating juxtaposition between modern and medieval architecture only adds to the intrigue of this site. Luckily, visitors are free to pursue this well-preserved royal residence and to marvel at its holy chapel. This monument gives visitors the royal treatment without having to leave Paris.
Delve into the castle's history
The Chateau de Vincennes has its roots as a royal hunting lodge. At the start of the Hundred Years’ War, King John II (John the Good) started construction on a keep. The keep was finished by his son King Charles V. King Charles also added a protective wall and a manor. He was not able to see the holy chapel finished, as he died before its completion.
During times of revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries, monarchs took refuge at the castle. One of France’s best known kings, Louis XIV lived at the castle temporarily before settling at Versailles. Although no kings lived there afterwards, the castle still remained an arsenal from the French Revolution forward.
In modern times, several renovations and architectural digs have been carried out, helping to preserve and enrich the site.
Venture inside the castle
The most prominent feature of the site is the keep. Standing 50 meters high, it the tallest medieval keep in France. Its importance is made even clearer by the high wall and deep moat protecting it.
The tower spans six floors. Each floor has an identical layout, with a large central hall and rooms in the corner turrets. The first floor was open to the public and housed Charles’ study and the council room. It was here that visitors were received and meetings were held. The second floor contained bedrooms and the treasury and was reserved solely for Charles and his family. It was here that Charles stored precious manuscripts, jewels and gold.
An impressive store of valuable items was stored at Vincennes, per the king’s request. Here, up to 20% of the kingdom’s riches could be stored. The upper floors provided housing for the king’s court. The visit finishes in the basement, which was utilized for housing servants and material goods. Here, look for a deep well and the remnants of a large fireplace.
Admire the holy chapel
Just across the grounds from the keep, find the Sainte Chapelle (The Holy Chapel). It was founded by Charles V in 1379, although he died the next year and was unable to see its completion. His motivation for building it was to expand his political and religious influence. It was modeled after the Sainte Chapelle in Paris and was constructed in high Gothic flamboyant style. It’s vaulted ceilings, intricate stained-glass windows, and enormous organ were designed to create the impression of a holy Jerusalem on earth.
Pay particular attention to the windows. They were fabricated during the reign of Henri II in the late 1550s. Various scenes of the apocalypse are depicted in the windows. This choice was very symbolic one. Henri II was a devout catholic and he struggled with the increasingly powerful Protestant religion that was emerging during his reign. Thus, he chose the apocalypse as a symbol for the tension between good and evil that he felt due to increasing religious tensions.
Revel with the royals at Chateau de Vincennes
A visit to Chateau de Vincennes is perfect for those looking to explore French history without having to leave Paris. The chateau is located on avenue de Paris and is best reached from metro line 1, stop Chateau de Vincennes. The keep is open from 10.00 AM to 5.00 PM. The Holy Chapel is open from 10.30 AM to 1.00 PM and from 3.00 PM to 4.00 PM. Tickets are 8.50 EUR (9.00 USD). Visits are free for those under 18 and for residents of the European Union under 26.
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