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The Chambord gardens: in the glory of the past

Gardens "à la française", at last

 

For forty years, a simple grass lawn served as the garden of the Chambord castle. Major work gave life back to the French gardens style designed during the Renaissance for the royal residence.

 

Forgotten garden

Beautifully built between a watercourse and a forest, the Chambord castle is still fascinating. The palace was built by Francis I of France and it's the biggest, if not the most beautiful, in the Loire Valley. But the absence of its famous French gardens, which fell in disuse during the French Revolution, wore down the landscape around the castle for a long time. As early as 1817, reports mentioned unpruned trees and bushes, alleys flocked by weed and wild flowerbed. Several restoration projects of the park were offered through the centuries, though none were completed, until the gardens were abandoned as a "transition" space of grass in 1970. This "transition" would last for about half a century!

It was in 1682 that Louis XIV first thought in creating an ornamental park. He even wanted to divert the Loire River from its natural course towards the castle. Before him, Francis I also had dreamt of an island suddenly appearing on the Loire river for his castle. It was impossible. Architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart thus designed a project that follows the curves of the Cosson, a watercourse that runs through the property east to west. In 1734, after colossal work to establish pipes and dry the local swamps, the park surrounded by water finally came through. Many engravings of the time then pay a tribute to this garden with formal and classical care, a "French garden". 

 

A saviour from America

During his visit of the Chambord castle, a wealthy businessman, Stephen Schwartzman, was seduced by the engravings representing the gardens during the Renaissance. The director of the domain, Jean d'Haussonville, seized the opportunity and presented his project to restore the gardens. He started working on it as early as 2012 with a team of historians, geologists, landscapers, but also archaeologists and scientists in charge of collecting all information necessary to a truthful reconstitution of the gardens.

As a sponsor of the Louvre museum and the museum of decorative arts, the American sponsor committed himself to finance the 3.5 million euros necessary to restore the gardens. According to the director of the domain, "he made his mind because of the size of the project, unique in a unique place". About 100 people worked for five months and planted no less than 600 trees, 800 bushes, 200 rosaries, 15,250 plants and 18,874 meters square of grass to give life back to the gardens.

The gardens pay a tribute to the splendour of Chambord

Since the first day of spring 2017, visitors may visit the restored gardens and discover the first time what the kings had only imagined. More than ever, the place deserves the 800,000 visitors per year and its place among the most visited places in France. It is now a complete model of architecture, engineering and creativity of the Renaissance. A visionary masterpiece which author is still unknown. The archives of the royal construction site did not survive the raids of the French Revolution, and no modern text in relation with the construction shows the name of the person who imagined this architectural emblem. Historians agree, though, that Leonardo da Vinci had influence in the design of the buildings. He may have designed the incredible palace that displays its former glory 500 years after its construction.