Guédelon: A Back in Time Adventure to the muddy 13th century
I've always been fascinated by time travel. I've always loved books that take you back in time, where there are 2 stories running simultaneously at different time periods. And I'm a total medieval freak, where the whole manor/castle social system intrigues me. I've managed to "go back in time" twice, each time via the internet, with a grandson. And each of these "adventures" just happened to be back to the Middle Ages, in France.
The first Back-In -Time-Adventure was with grandson Jackson, (now 20, but at the time 15). He introduced me to a really intriguing medieval internet game, where we picked a place (central France), a time, (1200-1300) & a person (ambitious lord of the manor), & created their world (housing, marriages, strategies, etc.) I learned a LOT (from the game & from Jackson!) & I really felt like I was "almost there".
My second grandson medieval adventure was in 2020, the COVID spring. My third grandson, Henry (now 13) was 8, at home "e-learning". My grandma role was to connect with him on anything that would provide a diversion for the two of us. We zoomed 2-3 times a week, did a few fun art & building projects, & we traveled through time a bit, exploring life in Cave Man, Roman & Medieval times. He'd been a big LEGO fan, & had played a number of medieval building games, so we had a lot of fun time in the Middle Ages. What a gift that time was!
One day Henry told me that he'd found a really cool video about a medieval castle they were building in central France. Would I like to watch it with him? Of course, I would! So together we looked online at a château-in-the-making called Guédelon, in Burgundy, France. I was totally hooked, & determined to get there one day! Three years later, on Sunday, June 26, Les & I, along with our Swiss friends Ruth & Hans, visited Guédelon, "A Castle in the making", in Treigny, Burgundy, France.
I already knew a bit of the story from Henry's video. A man who owned a weathered Renaissance château was doing a huge renovation, & wanted to know what was behind the walls he was restoring. He hired Nicholas Faucherre (a fortification expert) & Christian Corvisier (a "castellologist") to study the castle. Their report said that buried behind the Renaissance brick walls was an early Medieval castle, built according to architectural ideas of Phillipe Augustus (crowned King of France 1179). Phillipe created a solid military structure & centralized civil authority, based on fortified castles. He had specific ideas about castle building, & his reign impacted castle building for the 13th century, which experienced a "castle-making boom".
The 2 man team of experts were convinced that "Reconstructing Saint Fargeau Castle would be an amazing project!" They were, however, talking about the MEDIEVAL CASTLE inside Michel Guyot's Renaissance château. In other words, to re-create the medieval portion of Saint Fargeau on a new site.
An idea was born! Michel couldn't get it out of his mind. In 1995, when his Renaissance château project was nearing completion, he dreamt of rebuilding the medieval fortress, & bringing a medieval construction site to life. Quarrymen, stonemasons, & carpenters would use the same techniques that were used on the medieval St. Fargeau Château inside his restored Renaissance one. He started doing research on medieval craftsmanship & construction. By 1996. he brought together a team to visit a nearby abandoned stone quarry called Guédelon, which appeared to be untouched for a thousand years. After hacking their way through the overgrown site, they agreed that "there was a good feeling about this place".
By some quirky coincidence, on our trip to the Loire Valley June 24-27, we visited Saint Fargeau Château, the day before we went to Guédelon. We'd already planned our trip to Guédelon, but had no idea that Saint Fargeau (an after lunch add-on!) was in any way connected to Guédelon, or that Michel Guyot, the owner of Saint Fargeau, was the co-founder of Guédelon. See our photo album called Château Saint Fargeau to see & read about his odd approach to showing off a château.
In 1996, Guédelon was not only a quarry, it was also a forest. And what are the 2 most important materials for building a medieval castle? STONE & WOOD. So these intrepid people, led by Michel Guyot & Maryline Martin, took on this huge project, & in 1997, the somewhat skeptical public was first shown plans of a 13th c castle, using 13 c techniques, tools, & materials.
It started out as a charitable trust, then became a commercial business, cutting through tons of bureaucracy, planning permissions, & health & safety requirements. The goal was three-fold: create a tourist attraction for the area, provide a window into the medieval world, & boost the local economy. It has also provided new research into medieval construction techniques. Archeologists, historians, architects & "castellogists" participate in the advisory committee.
The Guédelon building site was first opened to the public in 1998. The group was overwhelmed by the huge number of visitors, & started a vast recruitment plan. By the end of the season, instead of the 35,000 people they had anticipated, 65,000 people arrived. Since 2001, Guédelon has been entirely self-financing through ticket sales & income from the gift shop (it's fabulous!). Over 300, 000 visitors come each year, 60,000 of them school children.
Of course, we visitors all ask: "What happens when Guédelon is finished?" The whole idea of this project has been to explore each phase of the construction. & share what the staff has learned from it. Often people say they will return when it's finished, & the workers often reply, "That will be too late!" Each year brings its own special events, which will never be witnessed again.
New ventures are being considered: the woodlands & lakes offer possibilities, like millstreams, watermills, flourmills, paper mills, etc. The Adventure continues!
I am so glad we went when we did, while they were still building, & learning from it. It really was a true immersive experience. I really did feel like I went back in time to the 1200s. You see people working in all kinds of jobs you never stopped to think about. And all kinds of weather too.
Check out the HUGE photo album, created from the many photos I took. Try to imagine being there: the smells, the noise, the dust, the rain, & of course, the MUD! The mud really helped to make it REAL!