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8-08-2015, 16:24


Chenonceau, the archetypical Loire chateau, was begun in 1512 when Thomas Bohieu bought the old castle of Chenonceau and demolished the existing building except for the great tower. The tower still stands in front of the entrance to the chateau. Between 1513 and 1521, while Thomas was engaged in his work as a tax collector for King Charles VIII, Catherine Breconnet, his wife, oversaw the building project (Figure 29). The palace-castle stands on piers of a former mill on the river bank. The builders paid homage to the castle form by adding sham battlements, steep roofs, dormers, gables, and corner turrets with conical roofs to what is essentially a simple rectangular building. The library and chapel are corbelled out over the water, but they are the only elements breaking through the flat walls. Service areas, such as the kitchen and storage, are below water level in the supporting piers. The builders had little time to enjoy their home, and when they died their son gave the chateau to Francis I (1515–47) in payment for debts. The king used the property as a hunting lodge. The French king Henry II (1547–59) gave the chateau to his mistress, the famous beauty Diane de Poitiers. Diane was intelligent and practical as well as beautiful, and she turned the castle lands into a very profitable agricultural estate and planted formal pleasure gardens beside the moat and river. The next resident, Catherine de Medici, devoted herself to a rich and worldly lifestyle, using Chenonceau as a place to hold magnificent parties. The bridge across the river with its two-story gallery was built later by Philibert Delorme for Catherine de Medici. Francis II (1559–60) and his bride Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots) as well as Charles IX enjoyed Catherine’s hospitality. On one occasion, the moat became the setting for choirs of young women who, dressed as nymphs, splashed in its water and then danced through the gardens pursued by young men disguised as satyrs. Fireworks over the river officially ended the evening’s entertainment.