Paris is a delectably historical city that will never leave a weekend trip planner disappointed. I wanted to explore a castle within the city lines, perhaps lesser known than other French castles that come to mind. So after some research I found myself getting out of the metro Line 1 at the Château de Vincennes station and walking to the Château de Vincennes.
Arriving before noon, the grounds are almost deserted and the surrounding quiet easily transports one’s thoughts in to wondering about what it was like to walk here centuries ago. Though smaller and at first glance understandably more modest than the spacious splendour of the palace grounds in Versailles, the Château de Vincennes is steeped in history dating all the way back to the French kings of the 14th century. Several kings were married and died at this Château. Perhaps a little known fact is that it counts among the best-preserved medieval castles in Europe.
Vincennes used to be a town and later became a suburb of Paris as the city expanded. In its early beginnings as a hunting lodge the castle was surrounded by forest. As you walk through the courtyard, the eye immediately registers the symmetry of the architectural layout, and the components that made the Chateau a small world onto itself, as medieval castles were apt to be. On the left stands the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, with it’s vast interior and stained glass windows from the 16th century. The middle section of the grounds is currently not accessible to visitors, but if you proceed inside the donjon on the right, you will arrive at a good observation point and see two manors facing each other at opposite ends of a lawn. One was for Queen Anne of Austria and the other for Cardinal Mazarin, the successor of Cardinal Richelieu. I am feeling a strong urge to re-read a Alexandre Dumas novel.
The Chateau did not get to be the main royal residence it was intended to be, becoming overshadowed by Versailles, but it continued to exist and crop up during various historical events in France. Becoming a state prison in the 18th century, it also saw a fair share of notable names within its walls. One disturbing example includes Marquis de Sade.
The walk around the donjon leads to various rooms which are now empty, but the vivid desription boards conjure mental images, and just touching the century-old walls makes goosebumps crawl along your skin. Childhood memories of a favourite book about medieval castles come back as I register familiar points that lead to thinking what life was like for inhabitants of these structures: small, high-placed windows with wooden shutters, high ceilings, stone walls and narrow doorways.
A few minutes of careful ascending of the expected spiral staircase of the 52 meter tall donjon leads to the top, from where you see grounds and the city beyond, contrasting sharply with this almost intact remainder of history from centuries gone.