Some of the Loire Valley châteaux are grandiose. Some have a historical significance. And then there are some that are neither grandiose nor historically important, but they have a “je ne sais quoi” kind of appeal. These are my favorite ones. Long before I went to visit the the Loire Valley châteaux I knew that I’d be more impressed by the ones surrounded by water, no matter how large or how small. Their elegant allure makes them great photography subjects. Such is the case of Château d’azar-le-Rideau.
Unlike other water castles which are surrounded by water filled moats, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was actually built on a small island in the middle of the Indre river, making it look like it raises straight out of the waters. Located between Tours and Chinon, the château is like something out of a fairy tale, a perfect example of the charm and elegance of the Renaissance era.
The current castle sits on the site of a former medieval fortress built in the 12th century by a knight in the service of Philip II Augustus, known as seigneur Ridel (or Rideau) d’Azay. During the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War the original castle fell victim to a dispute between the two political groups and was burned to the ground. The fortification remained in ruins till mid 1500s, when it was acquired by Gilles Berthelot, Mayor of Tours. Although the château was intended as his residence, Berthelot wanted the building to reflect his wealth and status. He built the château in an Italian renaissance style, but added some medieval elements – like the bastion corners and the turrets – which were a symbol of prestige. The rebuilding process was slow and tedious. The ground was so damp, that the château had to be built on stilts driven into the mud.
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was never finished. Amid betrayal and unfortunate circumstances, Berthelot was forced to flee the country and go into exile, where he died a few years later. Francis I of France confiscated the unfinished château and gave it to Antoine Raffin, one of his knights, who attempted some minor renovations, but never completed the project either. Out of the entire building plan, the only parts ever built were the south and the west wings, which explains the distinctive L-shape of the château.
Over the centuries, the castle changed hands many times, hosted a couple of royal visits, and even came close to being burned again. But although small and although unfinished, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau remains a beautiful encapsulation of a long-gone era of grandeur and power.