Castle of Angers, France

Castle of Angers (French: Château d’Angers) is built on a rocky promontory overlooking Maine river. Discover here traces of a settlement dating back to Neolithic, defensive ramparts and the seventeen towers from Saint-Louis fortress, elegant buildings and gardens from the dukes of Anjou, and the famous medieval Apocalypse tapestry. Centre des monuments nationaux, a national public institution, opens to public and runs the Chateau d’Angers

The Château d’Angers is a castle in the city of Angers in the Loire Valley, in the département of Maine-et-Loire, in France. Founded in the 9th century by the Counts of Anjou, it was expanded to its current size in the 13th century. It is located overhanging the river Maine. It is a listed historical monument since 1875. Now open to the public, the Château d’Angers is home of the Apocalypse Tapestry.

Originally, this castle was built as a fortress at one of the sites inhabited by the Romans because of its strategic defensive location.

In the 9th century, the Bishop of Angers gave the Counts of Anjou permission to build a castle in Angers. It became part of the Angevin empire of the Plantagenet Kings of England during the 12th century. In 1204, the region was conquered by Philip II and an enormous castle was built during the minority of his grandson, Louis IX (“Saint Louis”) in the early part of the 13th century. The construction undertaken in 1234 cost 4,422 livres, roughly one per cent of the estimated royal revenue at the time. Louis gave the castle to his brother, Charles in 1246.

In 1352, King John II le Bon, gave the castle to his second son, Louis who later became count of Anjou. Married to the daughter of the wealthy Duke of Brittany, Louis had the castle modified, and in 1373 commissioned the famous Apocalypse Tapestry from the painter Hennequin de Bruges and the Parisian tapestry-weaver Nicolas Bataille. Louis II (Louis I’s son) and Yolande d’Aragon added a chapel (1405–12) and royal apartments to the complex. The chapel is a sainte chapelle, the name given to churches which enshrined a relic of the Passion. The relic at Angers was a splinter of the fragment of the True Cross which had been acquired by Louis IX.

In the early 15th century, the hapless dauphin who, with the assistance of Joan of Arc would become King Charles VII, had to flee Paris and was given sanctuary at the Château d’ Angers.

In 1562, Catherine de’ Medici had the castle restored as a powerful fortress, but, her son, Henry III, reduced the height of the towers and had the towers and walls stripped of their embattlements; Henry III used the castle stones to build streets and develop the village of Angers. Nonetheless, under threat of attacks from the Huguenots, the king maintained the castle’s defensive capabilities by making it a military outpost and by installing artillery on the château’s upper terraces. At the end of the 18th century, as a military garrison, it showed its worth when its thick walls withstood a massive bombardment by cannons from the Vendean army. Unable to do anything else, the invaders simply gave up.

A military academy was established in the castle to train young officers in the strategies of war. Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, best known for taking part in the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at the Battle of Waterloo, was trained at the Military Academy of Angers. The academy was moved to Saumur and the castle was used for the rest of the 19th century as a prison, powder magazine, and barracks.

The castle continued to be used as an armory through the First and Second World Wars. It was severely damaged during World War II by the Nazis when an ammunition storage dump inside the castle exploded.

On 10 January 2009, the castle suffered severe damage from an accidental fire due to short-circuiting. The Royal Logis, which contains old tomes and administrative offices, was the most heavily damaged part of the chateau, resulting in 400 square metres (4,300 sq ft) of the roof being completely burnt. The Tapestries of the Apocalypse were not damaged. Total damages have been estimated at 2 million Euros. According to Christine Albanel, the Minister of Culture, the expected date of completion for the restoration is the second trimester of 2009.

The outer wall is 3 metres (9.8 ft) thick, extends for about 660 m (2,170 ft) and is protected by seventeen massive towers. Each of the perimeter towers measures 18 m (59 ft) in diameter. The château covers an area of 20,000 square metres (220,000 sq ft). Two pairs of towers form the city and landward entrances of the château. Each of the towers was once 40 metres (130 ft) in height, but they were later cut down for the use of artillery pieces. The Tour du Moulin is the only tower which conserves the original elevation.

The exterior general appearance of the fortress dates almost entirely from the time of Louis IX and evokes in a monumental way the military role of the castle. On the other hand, the interior and the buildings of the court, later, built between Louis I of Anjou and the king René, recall the residential role of the court of Anjou between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The Champs gate
The gate of the Champs allowed the connection between the castle and the outside of the city. It is the most attractive architectural element of the castle. Its exterior facing is covered with tufa on its two thirds. The last third alternates between layers of tufa and layers of shale.

Two towers flank a carriage door, which gave access through a dormant bridge, then by a drawbridge that was to be operated by a single chain from an opening above the door.

The defense of door was done first by a series of archers arranged in staggered on the four floors which dispose each of the towers. Some of these archers will be taken back and transformed into gunboats. In the seventeenth or eighteenth century two of these gunboats were dressed with small semicircular corbelled balconies.

The entrance was then guarded by a series of four archers (two on each side) that end at the same level of the entrance. The latter was then defended by a double harrow system, all reinforced with a stunner between the two. The harrow in place today is an original wooden harrow with iron-clad hooves, probably dating from the fifteenth century to the sixteenth century. Finally, a door, of which it remains a hinge and the traces of the closing bar, came to reinforce this extremely well defended entrance.

Set back from the entrance is a thirteenth-century vaulted room that supported the guard rooms and now houses the Governor’s Logis. The interior of the towers consists of three vaulted vaulted rooms resting on six bases. These are more worked than on the other towers of the fortress and represent faces or plant motifs.

During the 600 years of King René, Ateliers Perrault Frères have built for the occasion a temporary bridge reminiscent of the past of the castle of Angers.

The City gate
The gate of the City formerly assured the communication between the castle and the city. Of less careful construction than the door of the Fields, it is essentially made up of shale and punctuated with links of tufa. The City Gate has two circular towers flanking the entrance. This passage was remodeled in the fifteenth or sixteenth century to be able to build two drawbridges: one, double-headed, for the carter passage, the other for the pedestrian crossing.

His defense was similar to the Porte des Champs. The traces of two harrows between which was installed a stunner are still marked. Several archers protect the entrance, some of which have been converted into gunboats.

Behind the door were the guards’ rooms, supported by a vaulted passageway. These rooms were reworked by Louis I.

The enclosure and the towers
The fortress built by Saint Louis in 1230 includes seventeen towers erected with an alternation of shale and tufa. They are about thirty meters high, about eighteen meters wide and connected together. An eighteenth tower existed before, outside the enclosure, towards Maine, Guillon Tower. It was used to supply the castle. The Guillon tower was demolished in 1832. The massive ramparts built from 1230 to 1240 at the instigation of Saint Louis have a circumference of about 800 m long. In all, it is an area of 25 000 m2 which is covered by the fortress. On the north side, the steepness of the plateau is such that the architects did not consider it necessary to complete the defenses.

The garden ditches
The ditches were dug since the construction of the fortress during the reign of Saint Louis. To the south, they separated the castle – built on the hill of the same name – from the Faubourg de l’Esvière. To the north, they imposed the boundary between the City and the castle. They were enlarged in the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. Two wells are located there: one to the east, the other to the north. Although Maine passes at the foot of the castle, there was never any question of putting the ditches in water, mainly because of the elevation of the land.

Under King René, the ditches were transformed into lists for the conduct of tournaments that the duke appreciated20. In the eighteenth century, ditches were home to gardens and vegetable gardens. The town of Angers became tenant ditches in 1912. From 1936 to 1999, deer and deer were installed there. Today, the ditches have been transformed into gardens.

The inner courtyard
The inner courtyard was divided into two parts. The organization of the buildings built between the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries divides the interior of the fortress between the barnyard, or courtyard of the garrison, and the seigniorial court, bounded by the Logis Royal, the chapel, the chatelet, and other disappeared buildings (common, kitchens) now replaced by the gallery of the Apocalypse.

The big room
The Great Hall of the Château d’Angers dates from the earliest states of the Count’s palace to the ninth century. It is an aula, a state room where the comtal power is exercised. The first room, large of 300 m2, is enlarged towards the eleventh century to finally reach 500 m. In the twelfth century, around 1130, probably after the fire of 1131, the Great Hall was redeveloped by piercing small semicircular windows and piercing the current door, also semicircular, decorated with broken sticks. The old Carolingian aula is once again modified towards the end of the fourteenth century: large windows with mullions and double crosspieces, furnished with cushions, are pierced. Between these large windows are pierced by small windows forming an alternation. A monumental fireplace is set up. The door of the twelfth century is preserved. Accounts dating from 1370 mention, on the side of Maine, the arrangement of windows and chimneys.

The Chapel Saint-Laud
A chapel under the name of Sainte-Geneviève probably already existed on the site before the end of the ninth century since around this time, it receives the relics of the bishop of Coutance, Laud, which will give it its name of Saint-Laud.

Around 1060, the Count of Anjou Geoffroy Martel creates a chapter of canons to ensure worship. The chapel was destroyed for the first time at the beginning of the twelfth century, rebuilt and consecrated by the bishop of Angers Renaud de Martigné on June 8, 1104. It was again destroyed in the fire of 1131 and rebuilt by Henry II Plantagenet. Although partially buried by the reconstruction of the castle of Saint Louis, it serves as a chapel in the castle until the fourteenth century, when it will be replaced by the new chapel built by Yolande of Aragon.

The remains of the chapel were discovered in 1953, during the earthworks of the gallery of the Apocalypse. The current chapel Sainte-Geneviève-Saint-Laud is a chapel of the twelfth century built overlooking the Maine but outside the enclosure of the thirteenth. It measures five meters by fifteen and was covered with a stone vault cradle and semicircular. There are still columns on the north wall with carved capitals. It is now visible overhanging at the end of the gallery of the Apocalypse.

The Royal Lodge
The Royal Lodge was built by Louis II of Anjou, around 1410. At the time, the buildings extended to the side of Maine to return to the Great Hall, thus closing the court. Only the house adjoining the chapel remains today.

The chapel
Inside the castle stands the chapel built at the request of Yolande d’Aragon, wife of Louis II of Anjou. Its construction began in 1405 and ended in 1413. It is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. With its unique rectangular nave and three vaulted vaults angevin, it reflects the architectural style of Angevin Gothic. The broad building (22.85 meters long and 11.90 meters wide) and low (14.90 meters under vaults) presents at the beginning of the fifteenth century, a typical decoration of the international Gothic (prismatic ribs, base in bottle). The three keystones are finely carved: the first represents the coat of arms of Louis II and Yolande, the second is decorated with the crowned shield of Louis II. The key of the third vault is a cross with a double cross, symbol of the True Cross of Anjou, reliquary owned by the house of Anjou and present on its coat of arms and was exposed in the chapel between 1412 and 1456. The current doors from the Gothic chapel are the original gates.

On the south face was placed the seigneurial oratory, or seigniorial loggia. This one, built under Yolande, was taken over by René, who improved it by adding a triple trifoliate arcade overlooking the altar. The oratory is decorated on the side of the chapel with stone decorations and moldings, all the salient ornaments were however destroyed during the military occupation of the building51. Only the traces of the negative remain today. It was accessed either by an outside door or by the chapel. A chimney, whose duct was concealed by a buttress and a pinnacle, allowed to heat the room.

The lighting is mainly done by the flat bedside window, facing east. Each bay is pierced by two windows, one to the north, the other to the south. The original stained glass windows were destroyed. However, one can still find in the south window of the first bay the remains of a stained glass window of the fifteenth century originally belonging to the abbey of Louroux. Transported in 1812 to the church of Vernante, it is donated in 1901 to the Museum of Archeology and reassembled in the chapel of the old hospital Saint-Jean d’Angers. He finally went back to the castle chapel in 1951. He represents King René and his wife Jeanne de Laval kneeling in prayer, flanking the Virgin.

King René’s gallery
King René’s gallery was built between the years 1435 and 1453 by Duke René d’Anjou. It consists of four gables each separated by a buttress. Under each gable were arranged two windows for lighting the two floors of the gallery, served to the southeast by a staircase. The architects of the Duke of Anjou, Jean Gendrot and André Robin, make a facade largely glazed and unusual in the fifteenth century. The gallery totals fifteen meters in length for a width of three meters twenty. On the fifteen meters long, eight meters thirty are open in eleven glazed windows. The four vaults of the four bays of the ground floor are preserved with their key carved but scraped since. The ribs fell on the caps that were destroyed. The first floor is in a better state of conservation, the fallout of the ribs and the decors with foliage decorations still being in place. The keystones are emblazoned, one representing the coat of arms of René d’Anjou, while another represents the cross with double cross called “Cross of Anjou”. The wooden frames have been restored from old models. At the end of the gallery, a walled door bears witness to the buildings extending the dwelling that have since disappeared.

The staircase has been placed in the angle between the chapel and the royal dwelling, and serves the first and second floor of the house. It also allows access to the attic of the chapel. The top of the staircase is covered with a palm vault composed of sixteen quarters of vaults separated by prismatic ribs. At each crossing of ribs is a key carrying for six of them two letters of the motto King René: EN. DI. US. IN. SO. IT (“In God, in itself”). The seventh key is erased and the eighth is a sun. The ribs fall on capitals in cul-de-lamp adorned with foliage.

When using the castle as barracks and prison, the gallery is covered by a sloping roof, the bays are walled and inside the bays are divided by tufa walls. The pediments having disappeared, restorations restored them, as well as the slope of the original roof.

The construction of the gallery and the staircase thus allows an independent access to the rooms of the Logis which were ordered until then. It also allows to have a double access and an opening on the housing of the Sénéchal d’Anjou and on the northern court where were held the festivals and the ceremonies.

The castle
The chatelet is the gateway to the seigniorial court. It was built by Duke René d’Anjou and completed in 1456. It is the work of the architect Guillaume Guillaume Robin.

Above the passage, it consists of two floors served by a turret staircase. The Châtelet is flanked by three overhanging turrets supported by buttresses and topped with a pepper-pot roof, like the chatelet of the Château de Saumur. These are off-axis relative to the gable of the building, giving it an asymmetrical appearance. The insulated pepper pans on the main roof are the result of a modification made during construction. The entrance porch has a lowered arch surmounted by an archivolte with brace and crosses. Towards the interior of the courtyard, it has a broken arch with archivolte with brace and crosses but one side rests on a capital while the other goes down to the ground. The building is built alternately with a schist and tufa apparatus using only the tufa for the salient elements (turrets, angles, frames). On the outer gable are engraved in a tufa blazon the arms of Duke René d’Anjou.

The interior consists of a floor and attic converted into housing. The floor will be inhabited by the son of René, John II of Lorraine, and will be mentioned as a prison in 1707.

The governor’s house
The present dwelling dates from the eighteenth century, the two wings flanking a stair tower dating from the late fifteenth century or early sixteenth century. During the construction of the current homes, a large bay window was pierced outside the wall, on the east side. The house has four rooms upstairs. In the second, the windows were baffled to optimize lighting and leave no dark corners. The house also has a floor under roof whose windows are surmounted by straight pediments.

The gallery of the Apocalypse
The gallery was built between 1953 and 1954 by the chief architect of Bernard Vitry Historical Monuments in order to accommodate the eponymous wall hanging. It is nine meters high and is slightly buried so as not to exceed the height of the ramparts. The gallery is placed square and is on the route of the old buildings that closed the seigniorial court. The first part is 40 meters long, the second. In order to harmonize with the surrounding buildings, exposed shale rubble covers all facades. Inside, the gallery marries the bulge of the towers of the enclosure.

The tapestry of the Apocalypse has been preserved since 1954, but the large windows that let in the rays of the sun and moon degrade the colors. Curtains were installed in 1975, then hang bars to prevent contact between the wall and the wall in 1980. First presented on a red background, it is replaced in 1982 by a beige background, then in 1996, during the redevelopment of the gallery, by a dark blue background. Constant temperature and subdued light is put in place to limit color distortion.

Today, owned by the City of Angers, the massive, austere castle has been converted to a museum housing the oldest and largest collection of medieval tapestries in the world, with the 14th century “Apocalypse Tapestry” as one of its priceless treasures. As a tribute to its fortitude, the castle has never been taken by any invading force in history.

The castle of Angers is managed by the National Center of Monuments which employs it.

Visit is free, with documents in nine languages or audioguides. Guided tours of the hanging of the Apocalypse are offered daily.