Newest Review: ... a defensive enclosure, the remains of which can still be seen. From the IXth Century, the Counts of Anjou take up residence there and th... more
This is one solid castle!
Château d'Angers (Angers, France)
Member Name: weetoon
Château d'Angers (Angers, France)
Date: 17/05/06, updated on 21/05/06 (1508 review reads)
Advantages: An impressive building .
Disadvantages: Not as well known as other Chateaux
This is by far the most impressive and unusual aspect of the Chateau. Situated by the river Maine (the Loire doesn't actually cross Angers), the Chateau dominates the surrounding town-scape with its ponderous black and white towers. These are very remarkable. Unlike other castles in the area which are mostly residential, this was very much meant as a fortified fort, as witnessed by its 17 towers, its thick walls (up to 3 metres) and minimal openings. The castle's situation by the river was another asset in its protection, as were the two big chains that rested at the bottom of the river through the day but were pulled taut at night to stop boats getting through. Two bridges in the town are still called 'pont de la Basse Chaine' and 'pont de la Haute Chaine' (High and Low chain bridge). The moats, now empty (I am not sure there was ever any water there as you can still see a well), have been put to good use. One of them contains a garden 'a la française' with magnificent flower beds. The other used to harbour a herd of deer until recently. If you like gardens, you are in for another treat once you get inside the castle.
~The history bit~
The site, particularly suitable for building fortifications because of its strategic position, was used as early as the IIIrd Century by the 'Gallo-Romans' to build a defensive enclosure, the remains of which can still be seen.
From the IXth Century, the Counts of Anjou take up residence there and the castle becomes a strategic and symbolic stronghold in the struggle between Anjou and the French crown. When one count of Anjou is crowned King of England (Henry II), he becomes too powerful a vassal. King Louis Philippe confiscates the Anjou lands which subsequently passed in and out of the king's domain several times, before being finally made part of the royal realm in 1480, when King Rene dies without heirs.
It was Saint Louis (King of France), who gave the castle its definitive appearance by building the enclosure we see today, taking the surface of the fortress from 5,000 to 25,000 square metres.
Henri II King of France, jealous of the size and imposing bulk of the castle (in those days, they didn't have cars to prove what great guys they were, so I guess castles had that role!), he ordered its demolition. Thankfully for us, a clever governor strengthened the fortress whilst pretending to destroy it. He lowered the towers by about 10 metres, and we are left to imagine how imposing they must have been before.
You can choose between a guided or non guided visit here. Entry costs €7 (about £4.75 at time of writing) for adults. Guided tours are mainly in French, but other languages are also available in the summer. The entry price allows you to visit the castle and gardens, and also to check out the famous Apocalypse Tapestry. The castle is also a good place for children to visit, however, depending what your children are like, you might like to avoid the Tapestry, as they might find it a little boring.
When you pass the drawbridge, you are struck by the contrast offered by the buildings inside the fortress. Although these sometimes predate the outer fortification, they are much daintier and you start getting a sense that within those austere walls, there was a more frivolous aspect to life. The Chapel Ste Geneviève is very beautiful in its own right, and after visiting it, we took a tour of the ramparts whilst waiting for our guided tour. This is really great, as you dominate the whole city and can even see quite far into the surrounding countryside. It was a longer walk than we had anticipated. At the same time, you can see the gardens, parts of which have been cultivated to resemble a medieval kitchen garden. Other bits are more formal and reminded me of the queen's gardens in Alice in wonderland.
Then came the jewel in the crown, the famous Apocalypse Tapestry. Housed in a purpose-built gallery, this is the longest known mediaeval tapestry (104 metres). Here, in the half-light you will discover an amazing piece of work, with an even more amazing history. It was made between 1373 and 1383 in Paris, taken around France and exhibited, to end up in the cathedral in Angers where it was eventually forgotten. They then tried to sell it but nobody wanted it! During the revolution, it is used to protect fruit trees from the frost. Later some parts were found in farms where they were used as curtains, bedspreads and even saddle mats! Despite all this, the 69 remaining panels (out of 84) are remarkably well preserved. The blues and reds are especially vivid. It was ordered by Louis the First of Anjou to illustrate the Apocalypse according to St John. But for us, rather than the biblical aspect of the tapestry, it is the details which show us what life was like in the Middle-Ages that is fascinating. We had a guide for that part, but I must admit I don't really remember what she was like.
The visit of the castle will probably take you between 2 and 3 hours, but rather than leaving Angers to go and see something else, I would recommend making a day of it. The town itself is very green, frequently winning prizes for its floral displays. There are plenty of nice shops and cafés, and if you are in the mood for more visiting, there is lots to see. La Cité, the mediaeval part of the town, with the cathedral St Maurice are well worth spending a bit of time, as is the Jean Lurçat museum, on the other side of the river. This contains a modern version of the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, complete with nuclear mushroom. There are also many beautiful gardens to relax in if such is your preference.
Although Angers is off the main tourist track, it is well worth a visit. You will find plenty there of interest, without the crowds you would have in better known Châteaux.
P.S The picture Dooyoo chose to illustrate the review is of one of the buildings inside the enclosure, rather than the very impressive towers.
Summary: Well worth a visit
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