I am just back after a lovely holiday in France. One of the highlights was a visit to Guédelon Castle in Burgundy. This is not just any old castle, in fact it is not just any new castle either. It is a new castle being built in the style of an old castle, and crucially, using the old mediaeval techniques. The project was begun in 1997, and has therefore been ongoing for nearly twenty years. You can see the castle is taking shape, but there is a long way to go yet. The builders have taken the date of 1228 as the start date and designed the castle as a building of that era would have looked.
I first heard about it on the BBC TV programme ‘Secrets of the Castle’ in which the presenters travelled to Guédelon to learn about the ancient techniques being used. It was a fascinating series which inspired me to go and see Guédelon for myself.
The first thing that struck me about the site was the peace and quiet. In contrast to anywhere in the modern world where noise intrudes everywhere. Visitors can access all areas of the site and ask the workers about their jobs (if you speak sufficiently fluent French). I could not ask about anything, nor read all of the information although some was in English and I could decipher some French. However just seeing what people were doing was sufficient.
One of the most striking features of the place is the exquisite quality of the workmanship as you will see from these pictures:
The castle is sited in a forest on the site of a quarry. These two resources of stone and wood are the main components of the building and little by little the local landscape is hand crafted with quiet patience into a beautiful building. Clay is available on site too and used for tiles. Behind the castle building is an entire mediaeval village comprising a range of workshops all supporting the main building, including a blacksmith, woodwork, basket work, tilery, pigment production, dyeing.
There are also animals – pigs, sheep, hens, geese and lovely horses which pull a cart to transport building materials.
As well as being an exercise in experimental archaeology Guédelon is in their own words:
At a time when environmental protection is of such concern, Guédelon is also a construction site on which the Middle Ages offers insights into green construction for tomorrow.
Guédelon provides practical lessons in sustainable building. This pioneering construction site offers information on wattle-and-daub or rubble walling, making and using limewashes, traditional terracotta roof tiles, oak shakes, flax and hemp ropes.
There is much more information on the website and if you find yourself in central France I would recommend you set a day aside to pay this amazing place a visit.