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Pierrefonds Castle Travel Guide

Castle of Pierrefonds (photo by Nicolas Fatous - Creative Commons Licence)
Château de Pierrefonds.

Introduction

The Château de Pierrefonds is one of France's most handsome and imposing medieval castles. Its white stones and towers with multi-level turrets on top give it a romantic atmosphere reminiscent of the ideal Cinderella castle. Originally built as a fortress 600 years ago, it was reconstructed in the romantic style in the mid-19th century.


History

Castle of Pierrefonds

A first castle was built on the site in the 12th century, as part of the County of Valois. In 1328, the House of Valois ascends the throne of France, with King Philip VI (1293-1350) and Pierrefonds thus passes in the royal domaine.

In 1392, King Charles VI (1368-1422) gives Pierrefonds to his younger brother Louis I of Valois (1372-1407), Duke of Orléans, who erects a new castle, designed by court architect Jean le Noir.

In 1617, in the troubled years of the early reign of Louis XIII (1601-1643), the castle belongs to François-Annibal d'Estrées, member of the discontent party led by Henry II of Bourbon, Prince of Pierrefonds. Pierrefonds is besieged and taken by the troops of the Cardinal of Richelieu, then dismantled so as to make it undefendable.

The castle would remain in a state of ruin for two and a half centuries. In 1810, Napoleon I acquires it at a ridiculously low price. With the rise of the 19th-century romanticism, the ruins rekindle people's interest. In August 1832, King Louis-Philippe gives a banquet there on the occasion of his daughter's marriage to Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, first king of Belgium.

Classified as a national heritage by the French Ministry of Culture in 1848, the ruins of Pierrefonds receive the visit of President Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte (Napoleon I's nephew, the future Napoleon III) in 1850. 7 years later, he commissions Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814-1879) to repair to the habitable parts, leaving some picturesque ruins.

In 1861, the Emperor wishes to make of Pierrefonds one of his residences and asks Viollet-le-Duc to restore the castle completely. Napoleon III died in 1873 and was followed by Viollet-le-Duc in 1879, but the renovation works did not stop until 1885. The restoration cost a total of 5 million francs, most of which was financed by the state. The interior decoration was left unfinished due to a lack of funds.

Although the exterior was rather faithfully reconstructed, Viollet-le-Duc created an idealised interior typical of the romantic period.

The castle has been used for the shooting of many films, including Les Visiteurs (1993) and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999) by Luc Besson.

Opening Hours & Admission

The castle is open everyday from 9:30am to 6pm. From early September to the end of April it is closed on Mondays, and opening hours are restricted to 10:00 am to 1:00 pm and 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm. Tickets can be purchased until 45 minutes before closing time. Annual closing days are 25 December, 1 January and 1 May.

Entry cost 6.5 €. Admission is free for children under 18 accompanied by their parents. It is free for everyone the first Sunday of each month from October to March.

How to get there

The village of Pierrefonds is located on the eastern edge of the Forest of Compiègne, 10 km south-east of Compiègne and 80 km north-east of Paris. There is no train station, so you will need your own wheels to get there. Coming from Paris, take the E15-E19 (A1) motorway, take exit 9 for Compiègne, then follow the road signs (D85 or D973) for Pierrefonds through the Forest of Compiègne.

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