Essential Architecture-  Loire Valley Châteaux



Theobald I, Count of Blois


Loire Valley, north-western France.




French Renaissance




  View of Chinon
  The Tour de Coudray
Chinon is a town and commune of the Indre-et-Loire département in France.

Chinon is located in the Vallée de la Vienne (Vienne River valley). It is situated on the banks of the Vienne River, at 47°10′N, 0°14′E

The importance of Chinon derives from its position on the bank of the Vienne river, just before it joins the Loire. From prehistoric times, the rivers of France formed the major trade routes, and the Vienne joins the fertile southern plains of the Poitou and the city of Limoges to the mighty thoroughfare of the Loire, thus giving access to the sea at the port of Nantes on the western coast, and to the Île-de-France in the east. Chinon offers an easy crossing point by means of a central island in the Vienne, and the rocks dominating the shore provided not only a natural fort, but also protection against the annual flooding of the river. banging high on a plateau, a huge ruined castle dominates the town. The site appears to have been used for a Gallo-Roman castrum. Towards the end of the 4th century, a follower of St Martin, St Mexme, established first a hermitage, and then a monastery on the eastern slope of the town. This foundation flourished in the Early Middle Ages, with a large and highly decorated church, a cloister and a square of canons' residences. Unfortunately the all too familiar pattern of Huguenot damage in the sixteenth century, followed by closure and partial demolition during the Revolution of 1789 and onwards has left only a much-damaged facade and tower, although the building is now being restored as a cultural centre.

The mount of Chinon was fortified as a stronghold by Theobald I, Count of Blois in the year 954. In the 12th century Chinon, located in (then)Kingdom of Anjou, which was then independent of the kingdom of France, was a primary residence of Henry II (Angevin King and King of England) and served with Poitiers and Bordeaux as a key southern capital of the vast Angevin holdings. Henry was responsible for construction of almost all of the massive chateau, built over 1,300 feet long and 250 feet wide with a clock tower (14th century) rising 115 feet high. King Henry died in Chinon castle after being defeated by his sons Richard and John in a rebellion aided by Phillip Augustus of France; he, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were all buried at nearby Fontevraud Abbey.

The castle is divided, along its length, into three enclosures, each separated by a deep dry moat. The easternmost is known as Fort St.-Georges, the central called the Château de Milieu, while the westernmost is known as the Fort du Coudray. In the early 13th century, following the Capetian annexation of Anjou, a cylindrical keep similar to those at Rouen and the Louvre, was added by Philip Augustus, King of France, to the entrance of the Fort du Coudray.

In the keep or donjon, called the Tour de Coudray, Templar knights were imprisoned during the brutal suppression of the Templar Order that occurred in 1307. Some of the prisoners carved odd symbols into the walls of their cells: Hearts, Stars of David, grids, and other geometrical patterns. It is unknown if they were random symbols, or represented a code of some type.

The chateau was a residence of Charles VII, the Dauphin of France in the early 15th century. Joan of Arc arrived at the castle, at the beginning of her quest to liberate France from the English; March 8, 1429; it was here that she recognized the Dauphin from amongst his courtiers, a feat which helped to persuade him to accede to her urging to declare himself king and raise an army to liberate France.

In 1562 the chateau came into the possession of the Huguenots and was turned into a state prison by Henri IV of France. After that it was abandoned until 1793 when, during the Reign of Terror, the castle was temporarily occupied by Vendeans. Soon though, it was left to decay until Emperor Napoleon III began a partial effort at restoration. Today, it is managed by the Town of Chinon and is a major tourist attraction. Since 1840, the castle has been recognised as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. (The ministry lists a total of 221 Chinon sites on its database.)

In recent years, its wines have come to be recognized as some of the best produced in France. Carved into the banks of the Vienne River, and open to public visits, are the caves, or wine cellars, for Chinon's famous Cabernet Franc-based red wines.

Chinon was also the birthplace of François Rabelais, (c.1493-1553), a renowned Renaissance writer, famous for his Gargantua series.

Chinon is the setting for the historic fiction story The Lion in Winter.

^ The History Channel, Decoding the Past: The Templar Code, video documentary, November 7, 2005, written by Marcy Marzuni


Ministry of Culture database entries for Chinon (French)