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.

Monday 30 March 2009

Richelieu en Fête blog

The committee that organise festivals in the ville idéale of Richelieu have started their own blog at this address.  CLICK ON IT!

Sunday 29 March 2009

The projects of the Conseil général of Indre-et-Loire for the parc de Richelieu

The following is a quotation from the web site of the Departmental Conseil Général and give a statement of the work proposed for the parc de Richelieu.  It includes the statement that the old 19th century boat house will be resurrected in due course.  It was by all accounts a pretty thing, and its site is still ravishing, so we are relieved that someone somewhere loved/loves it.  We eagerly await the recreation works.  
Some of the parc's bridge's handrails have already been replaced by facsimilies and look very elegant.

" The park, which is open to the public, was handled over to the Conseil général d'Indre-et-Loire in 2005 to preserve, maintain, restore and develop the 100-hectare site to its full advantage. Work to be done includes:

>> Felling dead trees, including a 160-year-old giant redwood and several bald cypresses. These will be replaced by trees of the same species in order to preserve mid 19th century landscaping.

>> Replacing the guardrails on the bridges over the canals.

>> Dismantling and restoring the 1880 wooden landing stage: the landing stage has already been dismantled as it was threatening to fall into the canal. This remarkable Roman-style construction has been put into storage for use as a template and the rebuilt landing stage will be identical, respecting the original colours: oxblood red and ochre yellow for the balustrades. 

>> Building a shop and positioning information panels.

>> Other major works planned include restoring the main canal, restoring the main locks, rebuilding the pier, and restoring the retention channel."

Thursday 26 March 2009

the priory of Saint-Léonard, L'Île Bouchard

The town of Richelieu was constructed from 1632. The neighbouring mediaeval towns were of course much older, and their foundations are lost in the mists of time. Chinon,  once capital of the Plantagenet empire of Aquitaine/France/Britain, and the story of la Poucelle, Joan of Arc;  Loudun, notorious for its witchcraft trials and burnings in the 1600s, and 'innocent' murderer Marie Besnard 'l'empoisonneuse' of the 1940s; and for this particular subject, L'Île Bouchard, a small town straddling the Vienne river - an obviously important strategic location - with a defensible island in the middle of the wide river, formerly the location of the castle of the Lord of Bouchard. The castle was finally demolished (with so many other fortifications) on the orders of their local neighbour, Cardinal Duc de Richelieu.

Le Prieuré de Saint Léonard was set up in the 1100s by the Lord of Bouchard as part of a dowry agreement for the marriage of his daughter.  It prospered right up to the Revolution but was finally torn down in the 1790s.  But the revolutionaries were loth to destroy the altar and semicircular apse of the priory, which stand to this day.  It has been carefully preserved as a National (rather than Regional) monument because of the astonishing capital carvings that recount the life of Christ in primitive sculpture.  It is in Romanesque style and dates from the era of the Norman conquest of England.  Today it has a little park around it and is very picturesque, as you can see in the views.

Monday 23 March 2009

google earth's map of the town of Richelieu, 37120 France

The map and satellite view now shows the new market square and other recent changes.  The level of detail has increased.

Google's new system 'Street View' is now available for Richelieu although not every street within the walls is covered yet. (May 2009)
View Larger Map

the closest big fair in Lencloître - first Monday of the month

Sunday 22 March 2009


Wednesday 18 March 2009

a new roof

A house in the small square behind the market hall, place Louis XIII, has just had its roof restored with the installation of two period gabled dormer windows - lucarnes - with stone surrounds.

When an owner wants to carry out such a project, he/she and his/her builder must have a Permis de Construire before the work starts. Getting this permission with a Déclaration de Travaux entails the preparation of proposals, drawings, a quotation, and then some bureaucratic work at the Mairie. The entire town of Richelieu within the walls + 500m in every direction is protected Un secteur sauvegardé avec un Plan de Sauvegarde et de Mise en Valeur (abrev. - PSMV); from the loi Malraux of 4th August 1962 - and many of the grander houses are in addition specifically - inscrit - protected. The builder or the town hall gets in the conservation architect from the Service Départemental de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (abrev. - SDAP 37) - Bâtiments de France located in Tours. This specialist architect comes to the town once a month and checks out the list of small project applications that have been submitted at the town hall.  The application process takes about three months in all, so long as there is not a dispute.  The application's progress can be followed on the town hall notice-board and on a site notice.

The Bâtiments de France (abrev. BdF) architect will tell you what can be accepted, and for small projects, Mme. Adrienne Barthelemy's word is the law. Materials, dimensions and style included.  They seem generally to be both straightforward and pragmatic on small projects that are done 'in style' in authentic materials.

In this particular case the dormers have been constructed to match the 19th century façade of the building.  Cut stone surrounds with fronton - pediment, and mouldings, zinc gutters and flashings, ardoises - slates (Spanish? Chinese? French?), all-hardwood double-glazed windows, 

Tuesday 17 March 2009

les bustes

What does a power behind the throne do for fun? 

In le cardinal duc de Richelieu's case, the bling activity of A-list celebs of the day was the collection of classical statuary and artefacts.  This fitted into the renascent classical culture that was part of many strands of Early Modern political thought; the Italian Renaissance itself, the rediscovery of all sorts of Roman relics, the study of Roman history as a guide to statecraft, the Roman-led counter-reformation, the general aping of all things Italian, Roman - ancient or modern - and the influence of the trixy queen of Henri IV, Florentine Marie de Medici, Richelieu's own first 'boss'.

If one reads Marie Pierre Terrien's book on the town and its history, page after page describes the collection of statuary that was assembled in the château by the cardinal, by his creatures and agents abroad.  Even the world-famous 'Dying Slave' of Michelangelo.  The Louvre groans with busts and statues from Richelieu's collection to this day.

Richelieu identified himself wih Hercules - Herakles in Greek - he of 'the twelve labours'.  So statues of his own particular hero were very big deal.  A famous statue of Hercules had been found at the baths of Caraculla in 1546 - the 'Farnese Hercules' - and this was the ultra-cool bling item of the Italian art world of the day.

So what can be seen of this obsession today in his cité idéale?

Four busts can be seen mounted (garotted more like!) on the walls of the the the courtyard of the hôtel particulier of the 'sénéschal' - the patron's representative - of the town.  17 Grande Rue.

And in the Dome in the park, the last fragment of the original château, a plaster cast of the Dying Slave.  The original is (of course) in Paris.

All this has made me look at all this here-to-fore seemingly kitsch stuff with new eyes - I begin to long to start a new collection myself, ponder the location of each imagined bust and statue, consider the right height of the plinth, wonder which deity or hero might have the right allegorical resonance etc.........

the Farnese Hercules; a 17th century engraving of his rear, and a modern bust copy of the noble head.  
A gilded copy of the full-size statue was used by the celebrated gardener André Le Notre at the garden of Vaux-le-Vicomte for the banker Nicholas Fouquet.

Friday 13 March 2009

before and after - the mill on the Veude

The ideal city of Richelieu is placed on the little river Mable. At the next town to the north,Champigny-sur-Veude, the Mable runs into the river Veude.  This river in its turn will run into the Vienne, and then into mother Loire at Chinon. If one back traces this river Veude up-stream south to Richelieu and beyond, one finds a string of very old water-mill locations, all of  which must pre-date the foundation of the town in the 1640s.

Close to the cité idéale is the water-mill at Chaveignes, which has recently been under restoration - or rather rebuilding.  The road bridge just in front of the mill has two arches, one presumably for the former mill run, and the other for overspill: probably a weir.  The mill run has disappeared now, but from the wreck of the old buildings one can see where the undershot mill-wheel was.  The land's shallow fall would not allow a more efficient (and picturesque) overshot wheel.

The plantation of poplars shows where the original mill pond itself must have been located as it occupies the low levels of the plot.  Poplar plantations are often an indication of frequently flooded ground - today the forestry makes a few € from otherwise unusable farm land.

Water mills are always, by their nature, close to water courses, and solid building foundations are always problematic. The restorers have rebuilt the banks, and then created a charming new version of the 19th century mill as a portico to the re-born millhouse adjacent.  Many of the former building elements have been reused, having been demounted and then carefully rebuilt.

Thursday 12 March 2009

not all restorations are 'major'

This small building on the rue des Gaultiers is being restored, starting with hacking off the old crépi - render - with an electric jack-hammer.  We will follow to see if this is just a piece of virtuous maintenance, or the beginning of a fuller restoration to the evidently old building that flanks the little river Mable on the eastern side of the town.  The plot is quite a pretty one with a short garden leading down to the river, with the wall of the domainal park beyond.

I wonder what the large wall sign for Idéaline represented?

the quieter life of la France profonde

Wednesday 11 March 2009

The Relais du Plessis offers a special deal for springtime '09

The Relais du Plessis is a new group of new holiday houses constructed in Chaveignes, next to the town of Richelieu.  

We have received this e-mail advertisement for special offers of accommodation in this current 2009 springtime period.  Is it worth a try ? Local visitors say that the public and restaurant facilities are impressive and that the new cottages look very charming too.

Tuesday 10 March 2009


I have just changed this blog's www address (actually its URL - uniform resource locator) from the former cumbersome leblogdeleminencerouge to:

The name I picked long ago was a) long and cumbersome, b) in French - hard for some, c) required one to know that cardinals of the Roman church are addressed as 'Eminence', d) that cardinals have a red robe.  

Crucially, it did not include the word Richelieu, and so was not to be found in a Google search for Richelieu.  

Now that you have found the blog-site at the new address (presumably), maybe you should update your 'bookmark' for the site.

This NEW ADDRESS is surely better, even if it frustrates my current faithful readers for a while.

The problems of geometric order

Thr parc de Richelieu comprises one of the most extravagant garden designs of its day. The 17th century new château in the form of a 'country house' - unprotected and without defensive walls - was replacing the ancient fighting castles which had still been important in the endless civil guerres de religion of the French sixteenth century.

The manner of the landscapes that flanked these new opulent large-windowed neo-classical Wonderlands was drawn from contemporary Italian projects (the Villa Lante for example) that were seen as the correct architectural inspiration; part of the general strategic counter-reformation 'project' run from the Vatican. These villa gardens had in turn had been conceived from classical Roman precedent, filtered by 16th century architects such as Vignola and Palladio.

The new designs saw much allegoric symbolism in strict geometric layouts, often reinforced by avenues and allées of trees.

As the years passed by, the country houses of Whig England in particular would initiate a garden of the picturesque - called le jardin anglais in France - typified by the famous gardens of 'Capability' Brown and Humphrey Repton.  These were neo-naturalistic gardens based on a different neo-classical allusion, the pictures of Claude Lorraine, that portrayed a free 'natural' landscape with ruins and peasant swains.

One of the problems of the French classical garden of avenues is that so trying and tedious thing, the WEATHER. The Touraine winter storms of February 2009 were savage, if slightly less so than those in Aquitaine to the south-west. But the avenues of the parc de Richelieu suffered. Many of the avenue's trees were up-ended, and the gardeners had a major effort in reducing these formerly healthy trees to log. They will of course be re-planted, once the old root has been extracted (the line must be maintained, of course), but in the meanwhile the folly and conceit of avenue planting is only too obvious, with horrible gaps giving a lie to the frail ambitions of a layout of strict geometry. 

Had the designer laid it all out in the manner of a later irregular jardin anglais, few would find the storm's inheritance objectionable.

But now we, les richelais, will have to wait a long time till the 'gap teeth' of the parc's avenues are re-filled by major arboreal root-canal work.

Monday 9 March 2009


Doesn't his face suddenly look convincingly Napoleonic? - must be that bicorne!

13 Grande Rue - restoration continues

Our new friends, Catherine et Loïc, continue with the restoration of the dépendances - back extensions - of this Grande Rue mansion. The mansion was heavily adapted by a wealthy doctor in the nineteenth century, who 'updated' the old house to suit 19th century taste, as far as was possible in a row of otherwise identical 17th century hôtels particuliers. This makes it a rather 'inauthentic' but fascinating building, a 'palimpsest'* of overlaying architectural cultures. This type of situation is of particular interest to architectural historians and conservationists. 

Catherine is absolutely determined to save as much as can be saved of this complex patrimony.

Not much has been done to the house since those days and the new owners have a large restoration project in front of them. Prudently, they are starting with the old servant's quarters at the back that look out onto the long sunny garden. Beyond these quarters, after the carriage 'barns', is a truely 19th century polychrome fantasia which was a serre - a greenhouse - probably for growing medicinal herbs as well as flowers, and acting as a winter-garden for the grand house. Beyond that are the stables with stalls for three horses, probably a riding horse and a pair for the doctor's carriage.

Some of the ground floor rooms of the main house have decor intact from about 1840, with plasterwork, gilding and the most florid of wallpapers from the era of Napoleon III.

A long way to go, but what a house it will be.......

to be continued

The serre or conservatory

The garden from the first floor

Colour experiments

Older posts on 13 Grande Rue

* palimpsest palɪm(p)sɛst
a manuscript or piece of writing material (originally papyrus)  on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
figurative: something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Green bamboo

While walking during February in the parc de Richelieu, formerly the grounds of the cardinal's magnificent château, one craves the first signs of spring's arrival. But one searches in vain for the new green shoots of the native plants and trees, which are dulled to watercolour hues by winter's long sleep.

EXCEPT just next to the new embarquadère, where punts may be hired to view the park's canals and water systems from close up, there is a small grove of BRIGHT GREEN bamboo. The plants seem very happy and are growing like crazy. They have been thinned this year - maybe that stimulates all this VERDANT growth.