We visited several chateaux throughout the Loire Valley in France. They are all so different and impressive in their own way.
Chateau de Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley Chateau, even though it was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I. His main palaces were located at Chateau d’Amboise and Chateau de Blois. That’s right. He had many palaces.
So, a hunting lodge? Keep in mind…it’s probably not what you might expect as a hunting lodge.
It’s grand…grand enough that the Loire River had to be diverted to make some more space for its construction. In fact, the grounds cover 50 square kilometers. As a hunting lodge, Francois I apparently only spent seven weeks here when he was hunting. That’s because his hunting party included around 2,000 people. Difficult, at best, to get that many people all here at the same time!
From the outside, it appears quite different than other chateaux. The overall look is not at all cohesive. Nothing along the roof line, archways, or skyline looks quite the same from one section to the next. It’s not your typical chateau…yet it’s impressive from a distance.
There is distinct French Renaissance for sure. Looking around we also saw what appeared to be traditional medieval defensive structures. Then, we caw classical Italian architecture similar to what we have seen in Milan, a Greek cross-shaped center design, and turrets and chimneys sticking out everywhere.
Inside was just as mixed with intricate, almost delicate sculpted ceiling medallions combined with stairways leading to nowhere.
There is a lot of unfinished work in rooms where the moldings are not quite complete, or the tapestries are only partially hung. After Francois I died in 1547, the castle remained in a state of abandon for almost 100 years. Several different kings or brothers of kings worked on it and owned it over the next century. That explains the different architectural lines, towers, staircases, rooms, turrets, moats, and roof lines…all with their own variation from side to side and front to back.
Since no records or plans exist on how the original chateau would look, it’s not easy to imagine what the first architect had in mind. Da Vinci’s sketches and influence is easy to spot here. After all, he lived here for a while and was invaluable to the king at that time.
We read about the central staircase. It is definitely the architectural highlight of this enormous chateau. Looking up from the ground floor we could it rises the entire height of the castle. Also impressive is that fact that it is a double helix. This means that two independent staircases are wound around each other. People going up and people coming down the staircase will not meet. Not a typical narrow staircase, each step is several meters across. We tried it out. Confusing yet interesting.
Making our way to the second floor, this is where this cross-shaped room is. Each wing consists of a huge vault adorned with the emblems of Francois I. These monogrammed “F” salamanders are carved and embossed as they spit out water. Supposedly, the spitting water was to extinguish the bad fire and the salamanders swallowing the good fire assisted them. We saw salamanders all over the chateau…sculpted, not real.
On our journey through the Loire Valley, this is one of the most notable chateaux we saw. In fact, it’s one of the most notable in Europe, especially since it consists of over 440 rooms.
Did I mention it was built as just a hunting lodge and not a permanent residency?
Could that be why there are 365 fireplaces throughout? Check for yourself and start counting.