Éminence Rouge

The topics of this blog are Armand-Jean du Plessis, Cardinal Duke of Richelieu, and the IDEAL CITY built on his command next to his magnificent CHÂTEAU on the borders of Touraine, Anjou and Poitou, in France.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Sainte Chapelle at Champigny-sur-Veude

the classical frontage to the Sainte Chapelle on a mid-summer's evening
The next village north of Richelieu, as the little river Mable runs towards the broad Vienne, is called Champigny-sur-Veude, although the little river has by now changed its name to the river Veude. The King's brother Gaston d'Orléans formerly owned a major castle here, most of which was finally demolished after the cardinal duc had acquired the property from the Bourbons as he established his huge ducal domaine.  The Pope himself intervened to protect a fragment, the as-called Sainte Chapelle. This building is one of the few that were constructed as reflections of the famous mediaeval Sainte Chapelle in the centre of Paris.  While the Champigny chapel, with its famous stained glass windows telling the history of Saint Louis for the family of the Bourbon-Montpensier, is in a late gothic manner, the family constructed this rather strict Roman porch modelled as a triumphal arch.

A fine crash of Gothic and Neo-classical taste.

All evidence of the castle itself, with the exception of the 'commons', has since disappeared.

a remnant of the castle walls

a concert within the chapelle showing the stained glass windows

the vaulting and support columns
some of the stained glass windows


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Cape and Rapier 2014 - the procession

17th century citizens

girl musketeers (whatever next!)...

the King's carriage

pony sandwich

Daddy Longlegs and Mummy Longlegs
[Order Phalangida: numerous genera and speciesincluding the common Phalangium opilio.]

a set of hurdy-gurdies

Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Cape and Rapier Festival will shortly take place - 19 & 20th July 2014

The tenth biennial Festival of the Cape and Rapier will take place over the weekend that falls after Bastille Day, 14th July 2014.  The little 'ideal town' suddenly is inundated with visitors and street life as the inhabitants put on a historic show in the squares and classical streets that are found within its walls.  The festival further attracts all sorts of historic re-enactment clubs and societies, whose members populate the town with musketeers, musicians, fine ladies, horsemen and horsewomen on their foaming steeds.
During the festival, the 17th century town seems to become a huge theatre set and smiles back at all the hubbub and bustle. So in contrast to its normal rather calm, lonely and under-populated character.

The festival has grown over its ten versions - 1994 to 2014 - and is becoming an ever larger and more convincing event.

Each year citizens are selected to personify the cardinal duc, and his master and mistress, Louis XIII and Queen Anne. They drive about in carriages and 'smile and wave' at the populace.


A movie of the last festival, the 9th, from 2012

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Newly restored cottages in the old cattle market

two refurbished 'cottages' in the place Louis XIII
The ville idéale was constructed with houses for all the social orders.  These modest houses are located behind the halle in what was originally the cattle market.  Now re-organised and re-named place Louis XIII.  Often constructed in pairs with an alley to the back yards, these dwellings are being bought and refurbished.

As they say - "they scrub up well"!


Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Caisse d'Épargne - 2

Around the newly restored market hall - la halle - are 4 pavilions, one on each corner of the compass. Although they have existed since the inception of the  town, they have been extended and enlarged in the manner of the 1830s.  This does not mean that they are any the less elegant, indeed they are very graceful.  Two of the four pavilions are under refurbishment; one as new offices for the Commune of Richelieu, and this one for the Caisse d'Épargne (The savings Bank) that has probably been there for quite a time, taking the monies from the market trading.  The ground floor premises are being refurbished and the timber infills of the semi-circular arches replaced in style.  The Abbé HP hopes that the two pavilions that face the market square will be fully restored, in particular the rather neglected façade of the PMU brasserie, with its rusty first floor balustrade, just waiting for a lick of paint!.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Caisse d'Epargne - 1

Now that the Halle itself has been restored, and is back in use, the restoration project continues with the adaptation of the four flanking pavilions.  While these seem to have been in the original concept of the 1640s, they have been much enlarged and were largely rebuilt in the early part of the 19th century, judging by their architectural manner.  This particular north-west pavilion, located on the main market square in a very prominent location, has been used by the Caisse d'Epargne reducing in occupation over the years to a simple cash machine point, handily located next to the market stalls and the twice weekly demands of the trader's for financial facilities.  

It is a beautiful building that could offer so much more than it does at present.

Pity it is not a restaurant to match the PMU bar on the south-west pavilion adjacent on the square.

The north-west pavilion flanking la halle

The old Caisse d'Epargne gets enmeshed in redevelopment

Monday, 7 April 2014

The finished state of the Cinéma Majestic in rue Henri Proust

Click on the label 'Cinema' at the foot of the post to see then complete redevelopment sequence...

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The election for the new mayor 2014-2020

Our priorities for 2014-2020:
1. The construction of a new retirement home with medical support
2. The renovation of the primary school 'Jean de la Fontaine'
3. The restoration of the church façade and restoration of the inner cloister
to form the municipal library and events space
4. The completion of the green path to Chinon on the former railway tracks

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Repairs to the town's north-western wall

The wall from the inside; tub trees from the Grande Rue pass their winters there.
Even from the first, in the 1640s, the north-west sector of the cardinal duc's ideal town was to be occupied by a nunnery.  The town's church was on the western side of the north-south axis of symmetry, as were the schools that used the nuns from the nunnery as teachers.  One might say that God got the western side, and Commerce the eastern.  The duke was, after all, a cardinal of the Roman Church.

The nunnery's location prevented the extension of the outermost little alley along the perimeter wall and because of this absence, no houses were built along the Crown-funded perimeter wall.  The internal face was left clear, as was the outer, as the absence of dwellings within meant no encroachments built into the moat without, as is the case on the other three sides of the town.

In later years at the closure of the numery, the site was acquired by the local council, and today accommodates the town's multi-purpose hall, scene of many of the town's municipal and public events.

The copings of the wall are reinstated, metre by metre.
The copings of the wall were steadily deteriorating and the local builder Franck Beun has started to reconstruct these, removing and then reinstating the last metre or so, and then rendering the crest.  Plants (and even trees) cannot now start to grow into the old wall, allowing damp and winter ice to split and fragment it.
The mobile scaffold seen from the exterior,
looking past the corner tower, the so-called 'Tour Sainte Anne'.

Franck Beun's nice work scaffold

The view of the works from the inside

SE pavilion to la Halle - 2

Out go those 'modern' windows

Will they copy the upper windows onto the ground floor, as formerly?
Here's how they turned out (August 2014)

wooden normal windows replace the aluminium predecessors

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

148 nice houses for sale in Richelieu!

the pavilion at the south east corner

Property in Richelieu!

It seems at present that almost every house in the Cité Idéale is for sale!  The French property market - like that that of France in general - is in a poor state, with sales and prices falling.  

Richelieu is itself a small poor town, tucked away from more prosperous areas of 'sweet' Touraine, outside the UNESCO categorisation of special interest that applies to most of the famous châteaux of the Loire and the banks of the fleuve sauvage itself.  
(The Loire is the major un-dammed river in France, from the Massif Central to the Atlantic - a grand storm drain.)

The Good Cardinal Duke placed his New Town on his ancestral site and hoped to make it important enough by his patronage to compensate for its 'unnatural' location.  Once his properties were built, he 'reduced' any contemporary property competition in the locality, to a radius of 25 kilometres.  Monsieur's (the King's brother) château at Champigny was demolished, for example. 
All to no avail. Armand-Jean, cardinal-duc, died young at 57 years. Loudun, Chinon, ancient towns  in logical locations continued to eclipse the pompous little new town.  The King's gift of tax-free status within-the-walls became a device to avoid payments to the State right up to the Revolution (i.e. for 150 years!).  Grand houses were divided up to provide tax-exempt paper 'main residences'.  The grandiose identical 28 hôtels-particuliers were chopped up and fragmented. So the grand houses, so redolent of the 17th century, were corrupted and bastardised.

Seven succeeding dukes and the little Corsican all failed to bring much life to the town, which drifted on as a provincial town, small and less prosperous than its neighbours, but stubbornly conceited and self-conscious.  In the 19th century the château was flogged off by the cart load.  Only the romantic intervention of the Parisian banker, Michel Hein, re-assembled the parc of the former château to create today's current 'tiny-town' linked to a 400 hectare empty hunting park.

Curiously, this sad story actually preserved the town in all its completeness, all consistent in its Louis XIII period counter-reformation manner.  Too pathetic to live, but too stubborn to die. ZOMBIEVILLE!  The un-dead.

But the town remains today unique, complete, and full of authentic 17th century houses aching to be restored.

The typical prosperous Parisian, stacked in his swanky apartment without garden or outside space, is not attracted to these 17th century town row houses as résidences sécondaires, as the Parisian dreams of rural gardens or larger land ownership, in order to escape the nightmare of over-developed Paris, with its famous pavement cafés and obligatory street life.  So, surprisingly, today there are few metropolitan owners within the walls (pace….!), although the entire concept of the cardinal and M Le Mercier was, from the first, an essentially Parisian conceit.

For those who live in Touraine, the properties in Richelieu are just too far away from any area of activity.  For the French, it is so much easier to live in Chinon or closer in to Tours where activity and employment are more accessible.  Too far away to commute to Tours - one bus in the morning and evening for teenage students, otherwise 50kms a day by car.  For young aspirant people…..?

For those who would wish to live within the town, where do they work?  The industrial zone is collection of derelict or failed commerce - with the exception of local building ventures.  The only larger employer, a furniture manufactory, has gone bust, after trying to re-locate production to Romania.  French businesses all sweat under the national politics of the modèle sociale (which makes French labour-costs too expensive to survive) unless one is a fonctionnaire - a state employee.  And how many state jobs like this are needed in a small distant provincial town?

Well, one might say, Richelieu is at least the centre of an immemorial agricultural economy.  True, but this places the cité idéale with a thousand competitors.  If one is a farmer, why not live on the farm?  Richelieu is hardly Madame Bovary's Rouen!

But let us not get negative!

So, to whom is this situation advantageous?

  1. The more modest houses within-the-walls are for sale in 2014 at about 75-100k€, unfixed.  These houses are often perfectly fine, often located leaning up gainst the town's outer walls - the original builders didn't have to pay for the rear walls as they were financed and built by the Crown. They are small and so easy and cheap to fix, relatively to the larger properties.  Sometimes they are a problem, as Bâtiments de France want to reduce the 19th century excrescences into the town's moat.  The entire town within-the-walls is 'listed', and so each structure requires Historic Building consents.  Restoration is expensive in France as, while the builders and artisans are good at their job, their prices are high because of 'social costs' - being more than 100% of the labour rate. But pretty small houses are possible at no great cost.  This suits local people and sometimes landlord letting to local and municipal tenants.  Maybe some modest pied-a-terre résidences sécondaires.
  2. Larger and more expensive properties in the main streets might cost 200k€ or more.  Often the smaller cottages are paired, with common access to the rear.  It might be artful to combine two such houses to enlarge the resultant property and to 'clean up' the title, allowing private space at the rear.  Restoration costs rise by the square of linear dimension; be careful as the houses get larger!  Although some of these structures have had their street facades 'improved', they are mostly from the 17th century, all beams and tuffeau stone.
  3. The 28 hôtels particuliers - individual mansions - are, of course the property jewels of the Cité Idéale.  Created in a standardised format for the court of the cardinal duc - as Dumas would put it, his creatures - Richelieu hoped that in his age he could continue his grandiose life style with his friends and court about him.  When he suddenly died in 1642 all his political allies had to reset themselves to Louis XIII and his succeeding Regente, Queen Anne, and the new premier ministre cardinal Mazarin while they all awaited the majority of Louis XIV.  So the houses were sold up to the locals of Poitou who relished their royal tax relief advantages through the period of over-taxation French history calls la fronde.  The huge noble houses were often split up in 'multi-occupation' and ownership, mezzanine floors were inserted into high piano nobile floors.  In short they were trashed to suit the diminished stature of the years that followed.  Thank goodness PVC windows had not yet been invented!
  4. So purchase problem number 1 - get the entire building into a single ownership so that the interior courtyard world is spacious and private.  Then problem no 2; expect Bâtiment de France to give you a hard (capricious and expensive) time. Problem 3 - have a very deep pocket. Problem number 4 is that these are LARGE houses so the restoration costs are out of the normal range except for the truely rich, simply as a result of their area.  These truly rich do not care to hang out in a dingy half-ruined city. Some hôtels have been cut up into HLM (council houses) for the desperate; some have been modernised and cut up into small flats for private sale.  Financially this latter has worked, no doubt, but surely this is a tragedy for such noble buildings. It might be the only path for those hôtels in very poor condition.  There is less national subsidy available, despite the listing of the entire town, than might be expected.

MORE to come soon