Definitions

château-deau

Château

[sha-toh; Fr. shah-toh]

For other senses of this word, see château (disambiguation).

A château (plural châteaux) is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally - and still most frequently - in French-speaking regions. Where clarification is needed, a fortified château (that is, a castle) is called a château fort , such as Château fort de Roquetaillade. Care should be taken when translating the word château into English: it is not used in the same way as "castle" is in English, and most châteaux are more appropriately described as "palaces" or "country houses" in English than as "castles". For example, the Château de Versailles is so called because it was located in the countryside when it was built, but it does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is usually known in English as the Palace of Versailles.

The urban counterpart of château is palais, which in French is applied only to grand houses in a city. This usage is again different from that of the term "palace" in English, where there is no requirement that a palace must be in a city, but the word is rarely used for buildings other than the grandest royal residences. The expression hôtel particulier is used for an urban "private house" of a grand sort.

Concept

If a château is not old, then it must be grand. A château is a "power house" as Sir John Summerson dubbed the English (and Georgian Irish) "stately homes" that are social counterparts of châteaux. It is the personal (and usually hereditary) badge of a family that represents the royal authority at some rank, locally. Thus this word is often used to refer to a residence of a member of the French royalty or the nobility, but some fine châteaux, such as Vaux-le-Vicomte were built by the essentially high bourgeois, but recently ennobled, tax-farmers and ministers of Louis XIII and his successors.

A château is supported by its lands (terres), comprising a demesne that renders the society of the château largely self-sufficient, in the manner of the historic villa system of Rome and the Early Middle Ages. (Compare manorialism and hacienda.) The open Roman villas of the time of Pliny the Elder, Maecenas or emperor Tiberius began to be walled in, then fortified in the 3rd century, and evolved into castellar "châteaux." Even in modern use a château still retains some enclosures that are the distant descendants of these outworks: its fenced-off forecourt, with gates that could be closed and perhaps with a gatehouse or keeper's lodge, and its supporting outbuildings, like stables, kitchens, breweries, bakehouses, and lodgings for menservants in the garçonnière. Aside from the entrance cour d'honneur, the château may have an inner cour ("court"). Beyond, on the private inner side, the château faces a park that is enclosed, no matter how simply or discreetly.

In Paris, the original châteaux of the Louvre (originally fortified) and Luxembourg (originally in the suburbs) have lost their château name and have becomes "palaces" as the growing city enclosed them.

In the United States, the term château took root selectively. In the Gilded Age resort of Newport, Rhode Island, even the châteaux were always "cottages". But north of Wilmington, Delaware, in upscale rural "Château Country" centred on the powerful Du Pont family.

In Canada, especially in English, "château" more often refers to a hotel than a house. It applies only to the largest and most elaborate of the railway hotels built during the golden age of Canadian rail, such as the Château Lake Louise in Lake Louise, Alberta, the Château Laurier in Ottawa, Ontario, the Château Montebello in Montebello, Quebec, and most famously the Château Frontenac in Quebec City.

In other French speaking regions in Europe such as Wallonia in Belgium the word Château is also widely used and has the same significance. There was a strong French influence on the architecture of these noble dwellings in Belgium. Fine examples are the 17th century Château des Comtes de Marchin and the 18th century Château de Seneffe.

French Châteaux

Loire Valley

The Loire Valley (Vallée de la Loire) is home to more than 300 châteaux. They were built between the 10th and 20th centuries, first by the French kings and soon followed by the nobility, which have caused the valley to be called "The Garden of France".

Dampierre-en-Yvelines

(illustration, right), built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, 1675-1683 for the duc de Chevreuse, Colbert's son-in-law, is a French Baroque château of manageable size. Protected behind fine wrought iron double gates, the main block and its outbuildings (corps de logis), linked by balustrades, are ranged symmetrically around a dry paved and gravelled cour d'honneur. Behind, the central axis is extended between the former parterres, now mown hay. The park with formally shaped water was laid out by André Le Notre. There are sumptuous interiors. The small scale (compared to Vaux-le-Vicomte for example) makes it easier to compare it to the approximately contemporary Het Loo, for William III of Orange. These really are "Mansart roofs."

Bordeaux

There are many estates with true châteaux on them in Bordeaux, but it is customary for any wine-producing estate, no matter how humble, to prefix its name with "Château". This is true whether the building itself is a magnificent palace or a shack. If there were any trace of doubt that the Roman villas of Aquitaine evolved into fortified self-contained châteaux, the wine-producing châteaux would dispel it. On the other hand there are many beautiful châteaux in the Bordeaux region still depicting this Roman villa style of architecture, an example of this being Château Lagorce in Haux.

See also

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