The City of Chinon is situated in the southwest of the Touraine region, on the borders of the Anjou and Poitou. The site is remarkable being built on several levels between the Vienne River and the chalk cliff where the fortress was built. The site was already inhabited in the 7th century B.C., during the Iron Age. An oppidum, or fortified enclosure, on the clifftop encouraged people to settle here into the Gallo-Roman period. In the Middle Ages, Chinon developed especially during the reign of Henry II Plantagenet, Count of Anjou, crowned King of England in 1154. The fortress was rebuilt and extended, becoming one of his favorite residences. The growth of the city at that time was considerable. Chinon was included in the French royal estates in 1205, but it was during the Hundred Years’ War that the town took on a new lease of life. The heir apparent, the future Charles VII, had sought refuge in 1418 in those provinces that remained faithful to him and made lengthy stays with his court in Chinon. In 1429, Joan of Arc came here to acknowledge him. The fortress was then at the height of its glory. The city was largely rebuilt at the time and much of it has come down to us today, forming an important part of Chinon’s heritage. From the 16th century on, Chinon was no longer a royal residence, and in 1631 it became part of the estates of the Duke of Richelieu, who neglected the fortress. Apart from townhouses and convents that were built, the city changed little up to the Revolution. Changes occurred during the Revolution, when religious buildings fell into neglect, and during the 19th century. After the ramparts were pulled down in the 1820s, the quayside was developed and is now lined with private houses and buildings that show the changes and architectural diversity of the 19th century. Don’t miss the view from the quai Danton. Cross the stone bridge built in the 12th century by Henry II. The arches closest to the south bank date from this time. After the bridge was built, the suburb of Saint-Jacques began to develop on the left bank from the 12th century on. The city and the fortress, stretching along the river are best viewed from this side of the Vienne. Before visiting the town, take the elevator behind the Tourist Office to reach Fort Saint-Georges at the top of the cliff. Here is where the visit to the Royal Fortress begins. The Fort Saint-Georges has been recently restored and now serves as the gift shop. The entrance to the fortress begins at the 14th century Tour de l’Horloge. This tower is quite special being 5 meters wide and 35 meters high. Seen in profile, it gives the impression that it is a column. A bell, the Marie Javelle, dated 1399, has sounded the hour for the last 600 years from the lantern at the top of the tower. Inscribed on the bell is the following:
Celui qui m’a mis
M’a bien mis
Celui qui m’ostera
After walking under the gate of the Tour de l’Horloge, one enters the Château du Milieu with its gardens, towers, royal lodgings and the remains of the 10th century Saint-Melaine chapel built by the monks of the Abbey of Bourgueil. Not much remains. It was in this chapel that Henry II died on July 7, 1189. His body was abandoned by his servants and covered with a single cloak. His body was later transported to the Abbey of Fontevraud (I really wanted to visit the abbey but there just wasn’t enough time on this trip…) where it rests today. The royal lodgings were built in the 12th century to the 15th century. A complete ruin until 2003, it has been completely restored and can be visited. The Great Hall on the first floor, of which only the fireplace remains, is where Charles VII received Joan of Arc. The Tour des Chiens was built at the time of Philippe Auguste in the early 13th century. It served as a shelter for the royal hunting dogs. It is 23 meters high and has three floors with all levels connected by a winding staircase. Philippe de Commynes, Lord of Argenton, built the Tour d’Argenton in the late 15th century. It served as a prison. A bridge crosses the moat leading to the Fort du Coudray. It contains the donjon that dominates the western end of the fortress. It was built in the 13th century under Philippe Auguste and is 25 meters high and 12 meters in diameter. The three floors can be quite spooky as the winding narrow stairway leads ever downward to the lower vaulted rooms devoid of any light except that provided by the electric bulbs. It is also very cold down there and once served as place for food storage. It was within this tower that Philippe IV (Philippe the Fair) was imprisoned by the Templars in 1308 along with Jacques de Molay. They were both later tried and condemned to death. When Joan of Arc was in Chinon, she lived on the floor that is closer to the top. Other towers in the Fort du Coudray are the beautiful Tour du Moulin, Tour de Boisy and Tour de Blois. The historic center of town was registered as a conservation area in 1968, and since that time has been undergoing restoration in order to respect and preserve its historic architectural identity. François Rabelais was born near Chinon at La Devinière and grew up in Chinon in his parents’ house in rue de la Lamproie. He was the author of the spirited adventures of Pantagruel and his father Gargantua. Formerly surrounded by high walls that earned it the name Ville-Fort, the old city of Chinon, with its pointed roofs and winding streets, lies tucked between the banks of the river and the castle bluff. Numerous medieval houses show off picturesque details: half-timbered houses with carved corbels, stone gables with corner turrets, mullioned windows and sculpted doorways. The broad stone doorway of the 17th century Hôtel du Gouvernement, opens into an attractive courtyard lined with elegant arcades. Another remarkable building is the 15th century brick building, the Hôtel des États Généraux which now houses the Museum of Old Chinon. Just beside it is the 14th century half-timbered Maison Rouge with its red bricks and an overhanging story. Église Saint-Maurice is the only church in the fortified town and it bears traces of building work carried out in different periods. Sadly, it was closed when I was visiting and could only grab a shot of the Romanesque bell tower. Just behind the church is Place Saint-Maurice, which is surrounded by several medieval residences. The double staircase and fountain were set up in the 19th century. This was one of the most wonderful towns to visit. It was early in the morning and there were very vew people around. Quite pleasant, I must say.