The royal Château de Chambord at Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France, is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinct French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King François I in part to be near to his mistress the Comtesse de Thoury, Claude Rohan, wife of Julien de Clermont, a member of a very important family of France, whose domaine, the château de Muides, was adjacent. Her arms figure in the carved decor of the château.
Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for François I, who maintained his royal residences at Château de Blois and Château d'Amboise. The original design of the Château de Chambord is attributed, though with several doubts, to Domenico da Cortona. Some authors claim that the French Renaissance architect Philibert Delorme had a considerable role in the château's design, and others have suggested that Leonardo da Vinci may have designed it.
Chambord was altered considerably during the twenty years of its construction, (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by Pierre Nepveu. With the château nearing completion, François showed off his enormous symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old archnemesis, Emperor Charles V at Chambord.
In 1792, some of the furnishings were sold and timber removed. For a time the building was left abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at restoration. During the Second World War art works from the collections of the Louvre and Compiègne were moved to Château de Chambord. Now open to the public, in 2007 the château received 700,000 visitors.
Châteaux in the 16th-century departed from castle architecture; while they were off-shoots of castles, with features commonly associated with them, they did not have serious defences. Extensive gardens and water features, such as a moat, were common amongst châteaux from this period. Chambord is no exception to this pattern. The layout is reminiscent of a typical castle with a keep, corner towers, and defended by a moat. Built in Renaissance style, the internal layout is an early example of the French and Italian style of grouping rooms into self-contained suites, a departure from the medieval style of corridor rooms. The massive château is composed of a central keep with four immense bastion towers at the corners. The keep also forms part of the front wall of a larger compound with two more large towers. Bases for a possible further two towers are found at the rear, but these were never developed, and remain the same height as the wall. The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape.
The château was never intended to provide any form of defence from enemies; consequently the walls, towers and partial moat are purely decorative, and even at the time were an anachronism. Some elements of the architecture – open windows, loggia, and a vast outdoor area at the top – borrowed from the Italian Renaissance architecture – are less practical in cold and damp northern France.
The roofscape of Chambord contrasts with the masses of its masonry and has often been compared with the skyline of a town: it shows eleven kinds of towers and three types of chimneys, without symmetry, framed at the corners by the massive towers. The design parallels are north Italian and Leonardesque. Writer Henry James remarked "the towers, cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city than the salient points of a single building."
One of the architectural highlights is the spectacular double helix open staircase that is the centerpiece of the château. The two helices ascend the three floors without ever meeting, illuminated from above by a sort of light house at the highest point of the château. There are suggestions that Leonardo da Vinci may have designed the staircase, but this has not been confirmed. Writer John Evelyn said of the staircase "it is devised with four (sic) entries or ascents, which cross one another, so that though four persons meet, they never come in sight, but by small loopholes, till they land. It consists of 274 steps (as I remember), and is an extraordinary work, but of far greater expense than use or beauty."
The château also features 128 meters of façade, more than 800 sculpted columns and an elaborately decorated roof. When François I commissioned the construction of Chambord, he wanted it to look like the skyline of Constantinople.
The château is surrounded by a 52.5‑km² (13,000‑acre) wooded park and game reserve maintained with red deer, enclosed by a 31‑kilometer (20‑mile) wall. The king's plan to divert the Loire to surround the château came about only in a novel; Amadis of Gaul, which François had translated. In the novel the château is referred to as the Palace of Firm Isle.
Chambord's towers are atypical of French contemporary design in that they lack turrets and spires. In the opinion of author Tanaka, who suggests Leonardo da Vinci influenced the château's design, they are closer in design to minarets of 15th-century Milan.
The design and architecture of the château inspired William Henry Crossland for his design of what is known as the Founder's building at Royal Holloway, University of London. The Founder's building features very similar towers and layout but was built using red bricks.
Who designed Château Chambord is a matter of controversy. The original design of the Château de Chambord is attributed, though with several doubts, to Domenico da Cortona, whose wooden model for the design survived long enough to be drawn by André Félibien in the 17th century. Some authors, though, claim that the French Renaissance architect Philibert Delorme had a considerable role in the Château's design. In 1913 Marcel Reymond suggested that Leonardo da Vinci, a guest of François at Clos Lucé near Amboise, was responsible for the original design, which reflects Leonardo's plans for a château at Romorantin for the King's mother, and his interests in central planning and double helical staircases; the discussion has not yet concluded.
Regardless of who designed the château, on 6 September 1519 François Pombriant was ordered to begin construction of Château Chambord. The work was interrupted by the Italian War of 1521–1526, and work was slowed by dwindling royal funds and difficulties in laying the structure's foundations. By 1524, the walls were barely above ground level. Building resumed in September 1526, at which point 1,800 workers were employed building the château. At the time of the death of King François I in 1547, the work had cost 444,070 livres.
The château was built to act as a hunting lodge for King François I, however the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, comprising short hunting visits. As the château had been constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was actually not practical to live there on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people at a time.
As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation. After François died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century.
For more than 80 years after the death of King François I, French kings abandoned the château, allowing it to fall into decay. Finally, in 1639 King Louis XIII gave it to his brother, Gaston d'Orléans, who saved the château from ruin by carrying out much restoration work. King Louis XIV had the great keep restored and furnished the royal apartments. The king then added a 1,200-horse stable, enabling him to use the château as a hunting lodge and a place to entertain a few weeks each year. Nonetheless, Louis XIV abandoned the château in 1685.
From 1725 to 1733, Stanislas Leszczyński (Stanislas I), the deposed King of Poland and father-in-law of King Louis XV, lived at Chambord. In 1745, as a reward for valour, the king gave the château to Maurice de Saxe, Marshal of France who installed his military regiment there. Maurice de Saxe died in 1750 and once again the colossal château sat empty for many years.
In 1792, the Revolutionary government ordered the sale of the furnishings; the wall panellings were removed and even floors were taken up and sold for the value of their timber, and, according to M de la Saussaye, the panelled doors were burned to keep the rooms warm during the sales; the empty château was left abandoned until Napoleon Bonaparte gave it to his subordinate, Louis Alexandre Berthier. The château was subsequently purchased from his widow for the infant Duke of Bordeaux, Henri Charles Dieudonné (1820–1883) who took the title Comte de Chambord. A brief attempt at restoration and occupation was made by his grandfather King Charles X (1824–1830) but in 1830 both were exiled. In Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage Beyond the Sea, published in the 1830s, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow remarked on the dilapidation that had set in: "all is mournful and deserted. The grass has overgrown the pavement of the courtyard, and the rude sculpture upon the walls is broken and defaced". During the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) the château was used as a field hospital.
The final attempt to make use of the colossus came from the Comte de Chambord but after the Comte died in 1883, the château was left to his sister's heirs, the titular Dukes of Parma, then resident in Austria. First left to Robert, Duke of Parma, who died in 1907 and after him, Elias, Prince of Parma. Any attempts at restoration ended with the onset of World War I in 1914. Château Chambord was confiscated as enemy property in 1915, but the family of the Duke of Parma sued to recover it, and that suit was not settled until 1932; restoration work was not begun until a few years after World War II ended in 1945.
In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the art collections of the Louvre and Compiègne museums (including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo) were stored at the Château de Chambord. An American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed onto the château lawn on June 22, 1944. The image of the château has been widely used to sell commodities from chocolate to alcohol and from porcelain to alarm clocks; combined with the various written accounts of visitors, this made Chambord one of the best known examples of France's architectural history. Château Chambord was the inspiration for the Beast's castle in the 1991 animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast. Today, Chambord is a major tourist attraction and in 2007 around 700,000 people visited the château.