Clos Lucé has nothing of the extravagance of the Loire Valley castles. In fact, it is not even a castle in the real sense of the word. But it can brag about something that none of the others can: Clos Lucé claims to have been the official residence of one of the greatest minds of all times, Leonardo da Vinci. And history comes alive when you walk the floors that Leonardo himself walked in the final years of his life.
The small château is located in the city of Amboise, France, about 500 meters away from the royal Château d’Amboise, to which it is connected by an underground passageway. The building is a two-story high mansion with a beautifully ornate façade of pink brick and tufa stone.
So how did this place get to be Leonardo da Vinci’s home? The Kings of France discovered Leonardo da Vinci’s talents during the Italian wars and have called on him many times. In 1516 King Francis the First invited Da Vinci to live at the Château du Clos Lucé and work for him. Da Vinci stayed there for the last three years of his life and designed some great projects, like the the draining of the Sologne marshes, or the intricate staircase with double turns at Chambord.
When he moved to Clos Lucé, crossing the Alps on the back of a mule, Leonardo brought with him from Rome some of his favorite artwork among which his famous Mona Lisa. That explains why this painting hangs in Paris today and not in Rome. In the years he stayed here he worked as a painter, architect and engineer for the king and even as an entertainment director, organizing festivities for the Court. It was at Clos Lucé where Da Vinci drew up the plans for an ideal town at Romorantin and designed the double helix staircase for Chambord.
Francis the First had a very high esteem for Leonaro, so in addition to Clos Lucé he also gave him a big allowance in gold and financed his works. The artist was free to think, dream and pursue his goals. And all the king was asking in return was the pleasure of hearing the maestro speak his words of wisdom:
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”
The house as it is today was built in the 1400s, but underwent some major renovations in the 1960s to be brought to the condition it was in during Leonardo’s time. You can try to imagine the daily life of this illustrious man as you visit his bedroom, his kitchen and his study.
The underground rooms display a great number of models ranging from military engineering projects and mechanics to flying machines and musical instruments. The models have been built by the IBM Corporation from Leonardo’s sketches and using materials available in his time.
One of the most interesting inventions that we’ve seen at Clos Lucé are the sketches of a musical instrument that looks like a piano, is played like a piano, but it sounds like a violin. Until recently the 500-hundred-year-old concept existed only on paper, but last year it was finally built. “Viola organista” made its first debut at a piano festival in Krakow, Poland. If you are interested in hearing how it looks and sounds, you can watch viola organista here.
The château is surrounded by a big, fascinating garden (The Leonardo da Vinci Park). The park is beautifully landscaped, with little creeks and waterfalls, a pond with paddle boards and even a vegetable garden. What makes it very unique is that here you can walk through an unusual display of full-size working machines designed by Da Vinci and recreated by engineers according to the maestro’s drawings.
On the walk you also see some of his paintings and sketches on big translucent panels hanging from the trees.
At the bottom of the park there is a columbarium built by one of the first owners of the property. The dovecote is still intact and could house 500 pigeons. In summer the garden hosts evening concerts and other special events.
Leonardo da Vinci died at Clos-Lucé on May 2, 1519 and was buried in the Saint-Florentin church at the Château d’Amboise.
Although not as impressive as other châteaux on the Loire Valley, the Clos Lucé gives a great insight into the genius of Leonardo da Vinci. And much like Château de La Ferté Saint-Aubin, Le Clos Lucé is a real recreational site that provides a good learning experience for young and old alike.
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