On why you should visit Chambord

On Tripadvisor, someone mentioned that Chambord, while beautiful, is sort of empty and lifeless and I of course could not disagree more. Someone else said it was more authentic than Versailles, with which of course I agree, although I do also agree that all historic architecture requires some imagination to thoroughly enjoy it. There are different kinds of imagination – Chambord leaves lots of room for imagination, because it is supposed to. It is an eternal paeon to imagination itself.

So here is my response to the view that Chambord is underwhelming or empty or lifeless:

For me, it would be Chambord in an instant. Versailles is too much of a re-creation for me, plus it never “came alive” due to the throngs of international visitors and guides and the crush of even trying to get near any stick of furniture, and the rooms all being decorated so similarly (and on purpose, apparently, in some cases), like a giant maze. It may be large and ornate, but it does not capture the spirit of French architecture represented at Chambord or Chenonceau or Amboise or even Blois.

It is Chambord that I have as my wallpaper on my iPad, it is my photos of Chambord that I treasure, it was my trip to the roof of Chambord that I tremendously enjoyed and will never forget, it is the touch of the hand of a certain Renaissance master that can be seen everywhere there, it is the inspired “skyline” that showed the way to the modern, it is those pictures that my friends linger over when I have my camera roll open. Everyone wants to know how to get there, everyone skips over every picture I have of Versailles.

To me, while the overall impression of Versailles is rather astonishing (and for me, perhaps more astonishing than truly beautiful, although the Hamlet area was enchanting), it quickly got repetitive. The fact that nearly all the original furnishings are gone (many to the Louvre) and replaced with reproductions did not impress me. Of course, I like Medieval and Renaissance things immensely (and it is true that in the time of Chambord, courts often traveled with whatever furnishings they needed, leaving very little to sit in the castle in the meantime – so you can picture it as it was, most of the time; and you can furnish it in your mind with the tapestries that would have been there and today are of the sort you can see in the Cluny or the Louvre…)

In Chambord, Fran├žois I held court and used the ideas he had learned from his friend, Leonardo. He had had many talks with Leonardo about architecture (and Leonardo had sketched many of the elements before him) and he began construction during his time of grief over Leonardo’s death. It is a living monument to the Master. You can see the floor plan of it in Leonardo’s notebooks, on display in Milan; he had toyed with the idea of a castle in that shape for more than two decades, but did not live to see it completed.

By the time Leonardo helped Fran├žois envisage not just a new chateau but a new social order, they both believed that moats and the like would never again be needed to defend the Crown – that the world had settled down into a place more reverent of art, more peaceful, more diplomatic (even though both knew wars continued and Leonardo knew that his beloved Milan had recently been pillaged). Still, in the heart of France, a purely decorative moat could be built, with swans floating on it, lit by torchlight – purely for effect!

The rooftop may truly be the first time anyone thought about what a “skyline” meant and how only the greatest places have a wonderful skyline – Chambord is one of those places. Some of the rooms there *are* decorated – in Louis XIV style because he helped his brother restore it and much is known about how they looked (but of course, just as with Versailles, the actual decor was stripped during the Revolution). The pieces they’ve used to redecorate it, though, are breathtaking.

To me, it is the very embodiment of what a castle should be, and I’ve wanted to see it since girlhood when a dear friend gave me a small book on French chateaux. There are many other surprising secrets and elements to it, but it is anything but cold and empty.