Deep in the forests of central France, an unusual archeological and historical experiment is taking place. A team of stonemasons, carpenters, blacksmiths, quarrymen, tile makers and workers of other professions are painstakingly building a medieval castle from scratch, using only tools, materials and techniques available in the Middle Ages. Stones obtained from a nearby quarry are transported by horse-drawn carts, and raised to the walls by workers walking on wooden treadwheel. Ropes are made of hemp, and instead of modern cement, mortar made from slaked lime and sand is used. There is no electricity or cranes here. Everything at Guédelon Castle from terracotta roof tiles to the nails is authentic to 13th century, the supposed period of construction.
The project is the brainchild of local château owner, Michel Guyot, who began to see the possibilities for Chateau de Guedelon or Guédelon Castle when he was renovating his own castle located 13 km away. He teamed up with businesswoman Maryline Martin, and began talking to archaeologists, architects, and art historians to realize his dream. Construction finally began in 1997.
A fictional character was invented —Guilbert, a low-ranking feudal lord who was granted by his overlord to build a castle. His modest status in the feudal hierarchy and his limited financial means that the castle is a modest one, a mere fortified manor house, far removed from the scale of the royal castles. The castle consists of four towers connected by high curtain walls with an inner courtyard and living quarters. The year of construction was taken as being 1228.
The castle is more than halfway complete. The Great Hall’s roof timbers, the antechamber and its mural paintings, the castle kitchen and storeroom, the rib-vaulted guardrooms and the crenelated wall-walk are done. In the coming years, workers will continue to work on the curtain walls and towers, while carpenters will build the towers’ roof timbers. The castle should be finished within another decade or less.
The hands-on experience has enabled academics to rediscover forgotten building techniques and test models, hypotheses, and theories. Many unsolved questions regarding 13th-century castle construction has been answered through experimentation.
Guédelon employs about 70 permanent workers, but each year around 600 people choose to play active role in the venture and learn more about the building techniques used on site. The site also attracts more than 300,000 visitors each year.
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