Chateau de Chinon, the fortress of Henry II of England
The Chateau de Chinon was built on a promontory commanding the river Vienne and its valley.
Chinon has always been a major strategic location.
Traces of human occupation dating back to the Palaeolithic were uncovered on the site.
The Gauls built their oppidum on the promontory; the Romans turned it into a stone fortress.
Kairo, as it was known in those early days, was occupied by the Visigoths during the barbaric invasions of the 5th century.
Their descendant Henry II Plantagenêt, King of England, built the current fortress; he lived there until his death in 1189.
His eldest son Richard the Lionheart succeeded him, but died shortly after.
His younger brother, John Lackland, became king.
He was, however, sentenced to surrender all his French possessions after abducting Isabelle of France in order to marry her by force!
The Chateau de Chinon therefore returned to the Crown of France in 1205.
John Lackland tried in vain to recover his territories.
He eventually signed the Treaty of Chinon in 1214, in which he renounced its territorial claims.
Joan of Arc meets Charles VII in the Chateau de Chinon
King Charles VII lived in the Chateau de Chinon from 1427 to 1450.
The 18 years old Joan of Arc traveled from eastern France, in order to implore the Dauphin of France (the future Charles VII) to give her an army, because “she was sent by God to drive the English from France”.
The Dauphin was a neurotic and under confident man.
He was challenged by a coalition of English and Burgundians vassals, who controlled the north of France.
Very suspicious of this young peasant girl, he eventually agreed to receive her.
However, he hid among the people of his Court and asked one of his courtiers to take his place and receive Joan.
Joan refused to speak to the courtier and recognized the Dauphin among the crowd.
Joan was subjected to 3 weeks of cross-examination at the end of which he agreed to accept that she was ‘sent by God to save France’.
Joan was ready to play her role in the history of France!
After only a few weeks and a few unsuccessful attempts, she managed to have the Dauphin crowned King of France in Reims.
She also restored trust and faith among the French Army, who rallied behind her banner.
The English were defeated at Orléans and then lost their French possessions one by one.
Unfortunately, Joan was captured and delivered to the English.
She was burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431; she was canonized in 1920.
The Chateau de Chinon was deserted after the death of Charles VII.
The city, however, continued to grow and thrive for several decades before falling into oblivion.
The Chateau de Chinon is partly in ruins, as it was used as a stone quarry until the 19th century!
A quick tour of the Chateau de Chinon
Château du Milieu
The main enclosure is known as Château du Milieu (Middle Castle), it was protected by deep moats.
1- The Fort Saint-George defended the eastern side of the Chateau de Chinon, which was accessible by a drawbridge.
2- The drawbridge was replaced by the current fixed bridge during the 19th century.
3- The 14th century Tour de l’Horloge (clock tower) marks the entrance to the Chateau de Chinon.
Four rooms of the tower are dedicated to the life of Joan of Arc.
The bell, known by the name of Marie-Javelle, has been striking the hours since 1399!
4- The Great Hall, today partly ruined, is where Joan recognized the Dauphin through a crowd of courtiers.
5- The monumental fireplace is all that remains of the hall.
6- The 12th century Tour du Trésor (Treasury) has completely disappeared, with the exception of the vaulted basement.
7- The royal apartments or Logis Royal were connected to the Great Hall by an outdoor gallery.
There were four rooms per floor; some have retained their splendid Gothic fireplaces.
The walls of the Chambre Nattée, most likely the king’s bedchamber, were covered with tapestry, hence its name.
8- The arsenal is today decorated with 16th century tapestries.
It houses a huge model representing the Chateau de Chinon during the 15th century.
9- The moats were dug in the 13th century.
They isolated the Château du Milieu from the Fort du Coudray, which protected the western side of the fortress.
The 25m high tower was built by King Philippe-Auguste.
The graffiti they carved in the walls are witness to their presence.
Joan of Arc was held in a room of the first floor, now collapsed, during her cross-examination.
The moats hide a secret passageway, also partly collapsed.
Charles VII used it in order to visit his favourite Agnes Sorel, who lived in town.
10- The upper level of the 12th century Tour de Boissy was the chapel of the Chateau de Chinon.
11- The Tour du Château was the original dungeon.
12- The Tour d’Argenton was built during the 15th century.
Louis XI converted it into a prison, where he kept his prisoners in squalid small cages, which he nicknamed “his little cuties”.
13- The Tour des Chiens, as its name suggests, housed the royal kennels.
Beautifully restored, it now boasts prime views of the vineyards of Chinon at the rear.
The medieval town was known as Ville Fort and had been named after the former ramparts.
It spreads on the hillside below the Chateau de Chinon.
The picturesque narrow streets are bordered with timbered houses with corner towers, mullioned windows, carved beams and pitched roofs.
1 – The Maison Rouge and Hôtel du Gouvernement (the Bailiff’s Court) overlook the Grand Carroi, the market place and historic centre of Chinon.
2- The Rue Haute-St-Maurice replaces an old Gallic lane that ran along the hillside, below the Chateau of Chinon.
This is where you’ll find the Hôtel Bodard de la Jacopière and the Hostellerie Gargantua, where the Renaissance writer Francois Rabelais‘ father practiced as a notary.
The late 15th century Hôtel des Etats Généraux was named after the French parliament, which met there in 1428 in order to vote the funds of war so that Charles VII could continue the war against the English.
It now houses the Musée du Vieux Chinon and de la Batellerie (Old Chinon and River Transport).
3- The Musée Animé du Vin (Animated Wine Museum), in Rue Voltaire, traces the history of wine.
4- It is said that, when Joan of Arc arrived at Chinon to meet the Dauphin, she dismounted in the street that now bears her name.
5- The philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) lived in the Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
6- The 15th century Church of St-Etienne is worth a visit for its beautiful Flamboyant Gothic portal.
7- A steep lane lined with ancient troglodytes dwellings (caves) runs from the Romanesque Eglise St-Mexme and leads to the Eglise Ste-Radegonde.
This church was named after the wife of King Chlotar I (6th century), who often climbed the trail in order to visit an old hermit who lived in one of the caves.
The cave was later enlarged with a chapel built over the hermit’s grave.
Finally, one of the most popular festivals of Chinon is the medieval market that takes place in the old city in August.
Jugglers, fire blowers, minstrels and many other artists revive the medieval times with a series of lively street performances.
Nuclear Power plant
Chinon is also known for its nuclear power plant, Chinon A, built in 1963 in the nearby village of Avoine.
The Boule (ball), as it was nicknamed, was converted into the Musée de l’Industrie Nucléaire (Museum of Nuclear Industry) in 1986.
The electricity is now generated by four generators of new generation, which serve the regions of Brittany, Pays de la Loire and Centre France.
Location: Department of Indre-et-Loire
Coordinates and map for Chateau de Chinon: Lat 47.167862 – Long 0.236657