Château d'Ussé, The Castle That Inspired “Sleeping Beauty”

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Nestled on the edge of the Chinon forest and overlooking the banks of the River Indre, in the French commune of Rigny-Ussé, is the 15th century castle Château d'Ussé. The chateau was originally built in the 11th century as a fortress, but developed over time to become a jewel of Renaissance architecture, then later became a splendid residential home.

Château d'Ussé has received many famous guests within its walls, such as Voltaire, Chateaubriand, and Charles Perrault, the French author who invented modern fairy tales. Perrault’s stay at the Château d'Ussé was notable, for it was the castle —as legend has it— that inspired Perrault to write the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty.”

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

The original castle was built of stone and wood by the fearsome Viking warrior Gelduin I, around year 1,000 AD. Over time, the castle lost its military role and became an elegant residence. The Espinay family bought the castle in the 15th century and carried out alterations in the Italian Renaissance style. It remained their home for two centuries. In the 17th century, the château became the property of Louis Bernin de Valentinay, who modernized and embellished the residence, and also established a 600 hectare garden designed by the famous landscape architect of Versailles, Le Nôtre. It was during the time of the Valentinay family that Perrault and Voltaire came to Ussé as guests. It is said that Perrault was mesmerized by the ivy covered castle that appeared to loom magically out of the trees of the Chinon forest.

The chateau is now owned by the Blacas d’Aulps family, the descendants of the Duchess of Duras Douairière who purchased the castle in 1802. A large part of the chateau is furnished with 18th century furniture and tapestries, and this has been added to and embellished by successive generations. For the past two decades now, the chateau has been filled with mannequins dressed in period costumes from the 18th century. The mannequins change outfits each year to show how fashion changed during the course of the century.

The “Sleeping Beauty” connection has not been lost. In specially decorated rooms some of the main scenes from the fairy tale are enacted. The young princess’s christening, the terrible moment when she pricks her finger on the spindle, and the moment she is awoken by Prince Charming, are all beautifully decorated with life-like figures.

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Photo credit: Manfred Heyde/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

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Photo credit: Smithsonian

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A scene from Charles Perrault's Sleeping Beauty. Photo credit: Tango7174/Wikimedia

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Photo credit: www.chateaudusse.fr

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Photo credit: www.chateaudusse.fr

Sources: www.chateaudusse.fr / Wikipedia via Smithsonian

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