The French craftsmen who are building a castle

I was planning to post a blog about fantasy tourism, which is something that both New Zealand and Ireland have tried to harness recent years.  However, I’m trying to steer away from the fantasy genre because, for all its swords and chivalry, it ain’t history. But then I remembered this place. It is a castle, at a place called Guédelon, to the South of Paris, in France.

It’s not exactly a “building a classroom in Africa” deal, but there are opportunities for visitors and students to take part in the building process. Tourists can learn about the medieval techniques and materials being used, and the 300,000 annual visitors support the costs, which includes the employment of 55 workers and other permanent members of staff.

“La Voûte” © Guédelon, used for educational purposes

Work began in 1997, and isn’t scheduled to be complete until the 2020’s. One of the main guys behind the project is one of France’s leading chief architects of historical monuments, Mr Jacques Moulin. He’s kind-of a big deal, but he’s also pretty controversial. As a restorer, not everyone digs his style, and this may have cost him important jobs in the past. That may be part of the reason why he is running this project. And let’s be honest here, if you had the chance to prove yourself to your doubters by building a dirty great castle, you would, wouldn’t you?

The other positive side of the project is that it can be used as an educational tool both for people who want to learn how castles were built, and for more experienced professionals who want to test their own theories out. It is very much a centre for experimental archaeology, which is a discipline that sounds more fun the more I hear about it.

So I guess the question that arises is this: How valuable to our understanding of history is work like this? For the people who actually get involved in the building it could be a formative process; something that really makes them think about life in 13th-Century France. it’s certainly something that I would like to try out. I can imagine that when the project reaches its conclusion, the project organisers will want to start anew. In terms of tourism, I reckon it’s much better than traipsing around New Zealand or Ireland, trying to see whether you recognise any film sets.

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