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Château de Chambord: The Jewel of France

Pet project of King Francis I in the 16th century, Chambord is an artistic, architectural and mathematical masterpiece.

A great excuse for indulging my borderline obsession with historical documentaries is research--I write historical fiction, after all, and I have to keep things in the realm of accurate.

The things I love to research most are castles, manors, villas, cathedrals and churches: the opulent homes and places of worship of the most powerful and affluent figures in world history.

While perusing CuriosityStream recently, I came across a piece called Chambord: The Castle, the King and the Architect, and finally I had what I'd been looking for: an idea for a history-based blog series, and the subject of the first entry in that series, which I call simply Castles & Cathedrals.

This is Château de Chambord in Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France:

The château, also known as Chambord Castle (pronounced shahm-BORE), was commissioned by King Frances I of the House of Valois-Angoulême, who reigned in France from January, 1515 until March, 1547.

A cousin of his predecessor King Louis XII, Francis was not born to the throne, so when he found himself wearing the crown at age 20, he was keen to make his mark on history. One of the ways in which he would do this was by building this grand hunting lodge--which, despite its impeccable appearance, was never actually finished.

Chambord was built in the middle of a vast expanse of swampland in the Loire Valley. The mystery of why the king would choose such an unlikely location for his pet project has been lost to time, and it remains largely alone, rising from the marshland and striking an impressive figure with which any other structure would be hard-pressed to compete.

Officially attributed to Italian architect Domenico da Cortona, evidence suggests that legendary artist, inventor and designer Leonardo da Vinci may have contributed to the concept. Da Vinci is known to have spent some time with the king while designs for the château were in conception, and drawings that resemble the design were later found in one of da Vinci's sketchbooks.

Chambord is a masterpiece of symmetry and mathematics, consisting of four self-contained suites of apartments, all of which are absolutely identical--though the effect is marred somewhat by the 90-degree rotation of one of these suites. This inexplicable design choice is believed to have been included for the purposes of latrine sanitation.

The centerpiece of the royal hunting lodge is an ornate double-spiral staircase, consisting of two separate sets of stairs which never intersect: someone descending on one level would never meet someone ascending on the other.

Boasting around 800 elaborately sculpted columns, the castle was intended by King Francis to resemble the skyline of Constantinople. Inside, the ceilings feature exquisite carvings of the king's initial, F, as well as his sigil, the salamander. These were painstakingly crafted: though they are featured throughout the immense palace, no two F's or salamanders are alike.

Construction on Chambord lasted for 28 years, from 1519 until the king's death in 1547, at which time it was left unfinished. But before his passing, the king had the pleasure of doing something he never dreamed he might: hosting his former arch-rival Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who is said to have been duly impressed by the king's beloved lifelong project.

Chambord Castle is open to the public, hosting nearly a million visitors annually.

Check out this piece for more on this shining jewel of France.

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