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Stone by stone, craftsmen build medieval-style castle

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Stone by stone, craftsmen build medieval-style castle
POSTED: 10:10 a.m. EDT, August 31, 2006
By Angela Doland
Associated Press

TREIGNY, France (AP) -- Once upon a time, deep in the forests of Burgundy, a man was haunted by a vision. He dreamed of building a castle, with turrets, great walls and a moat. Some people wondered if he was mad.

This was, after all, 1996.

And yet Michel Guyot set out to build his castle the hard way -- the medieval way. With only hammers and chisels to carve the stones. With only horses to cart the rock. Without power tools.

Ten years later, Guedelon castle is about one-third finished, with imposing sandstone walls that rise up out of the red Burgundy soil. It's a living history lesson and a successful tourism project: Last year, 245,000 visitors admired the work of Guedelon's stonecutters, carpenters, potters, rope-makers and blacksmiths.

The 50 paid craftsmen, plus volunteers, wear tunics and use rustic tools. Except for the occasional hardhat or pair of safety goggles, there's little to remind visitors that this is not the 13th century, but the 21st.

On a recent visit to Guedelon, I watched in awe as a man climbed into a wooden contraption that looked like a huge hamster wheel. He ran frantically, spinning the wheel and activating a pulley system that lifted a load of stones atop a tower.

When he was done, our tour group broke into applause, and poor Jean-Paul climbed off the wheel, huffing and puffing and fanning his tunic. It was all so ... medieval.

Guyot, an archaeology buff, mounted the project after restoring a castle in nearby Saint-Fargeau. Building a castle from scratch was a childhood dream -- a sandcastle on a huge scale.

"I told myself that acts of folly are the only things that one doesn't regret in life," Guyot said. "With projects like this, you just have to go for them, full-speed ahead."

Slow going
Though some pronounced the project outlandish, others quickly understood his vision. It took only one year to secure financing and get going. Work began in 1997. Guedelon, which brought in about $2.6 million from tourists last year, no longer relies on outside funding from the state or corporations.

Historical accuracy is key. Jacques Moulin, France's chief architect in charge of historic monuments, designed a blueprint for the castle based on 13th century architectural canons. Archaeologists and art historians survey the project, which is helping castle specialists test hypotheses about medieval building techniques.

"You learn that you can lift 1,300-pound beams without modern machinery," said Maryline Martin, the site director. "All it takes is common sense and manpower."

Guedelon's craftsmen say it's satisfying to build something slowly, as a team, especially in the fast-paced Internet age. Clement Guerard, a stonecutter, says measuring out and carving a complicated stone may take up to eight days.

All the stones -- ferruginous sandstone -- come from a quarry on the site of the castle. The wooden scaffolding comes from the surrounding forest.

"Using only the nature that surrounds you, you can build a chateau," said Guerard, who restored historical buildings before joining Guedelon.

On my visit, the "ping" of chisels on rock filled the air, and our tour group was occasionally moved out of the way by a passing horse-drawn cart. Our guide blended humor with the history lesson and had us play the role of invaders to explain how even the smallest architectural details helped protect castles.

Some examples: A staircase turns clockwise, forcing invaders to transfer their spears to the left hand and giving the defense an advantage. An extra-tall step requires them to take off their chain-link armor to scale it. Anyone who actually makes it up the stairs alive would have to bend over to pass through a low doorway -- giving the castle's hatchet-armed defenders a prime crack at their necks.

Our guide was waiting for me outside the doorway -- in position to karate chop my neck. If it was the 13th century, I would have lost my head. Instead I had a great view of the bustling work site.

Some of the walls are already covered with moss, a reminder that the project is slow-going. If all goes well, the castle will be finished in 2023. After that, the craftsmen plan to build an abbey, then a village.

"This will never be finished, because it's not about the end result of having a castle," Guyot said. It's about the dream of building -- stone by stone.
post #2 of 16
That is seriously awesome.
post #3 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kai
That is seriously awesome.

What he said.

Jon.
post #4 of 16
There is a book about eccentric people that has a chapter about a guy that is doing the same thing somewhere in the US. The difference is he is doing it alone. I don't know how far he's gotten.
post #5 of 16
This isn't Marc's brother, is it?
post #6 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ATM
There is a book about eccentric people that has a chapter about a guy that is doing the same thing somewhere in the US. The difference is he is doing it alone. I don't know how far he's gotten.

There was a guy here in Michigan that built a castle. I can't remember exactly where it is, but I saw it on the news and it was pretty sweet.
post #7 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by ATM
There is a book about eccentric people that has a chapter about a guy that is doing the same thing somewhere in the US. The difference is he is doing it alone. I don't know how far he's gotten.

I recall seeing someone building a fort in Florida some time ago on the Discovery Channel. I think the project was finally abandoned some years ago.
post #8 of 16
Stone is my favorite. It radiates grandeur, strength, and permanence. Charming story.
post #9 of 16
We can be sure of quality here; unlike the suburbs' starter castles.
post #10 of 16
Label, you said it! I left behind homes in my old neighborhood that are irreplaceable, today. All built by Italian craftsmen . . . used to take two years, to complete one house.
post #11 of 16
This is a pretty cool idea. But, be that as it may, I'm glad we can build homes in a few months nowadays.

It must have been a lot easier to build those castles back in the day with all the slave labor and not really caring whether workers died on the job because their lives were expendable.
post #12 of 16


Great point, odoreater . . . but, oh! Even as recent as the Great Depression, WHAT those hands and arms, could do! photo: my old neighborhood, on Gary's West Side.
post #13 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ivan Kipling


Great point, odoreater . . . but, oh! Even as recent as the Great Depression, WHAT those hands and arms, could do! photo: my old neighborhood, on Gary's West Side.

Ivan, my dad used to live in Gary before he moved to New Jersey to seek out his fortune. We went back to visit because my aunt (my dad's sister) still lives nearby and driving down broadway, the scene was reminiscent of scenes from Vietnam War movies. It was really pretty shocking.

I come from a construction family and I appreciate great craftsmanship, but I also like the fact that more people can now own homes because homes are built quicker and cheaper (though even the cost of quick cheap homes is getting out of hand now).
post #14 of 16
Oh, my God!! We might be around the same age! In what neighborhood did he live, if you don't mind my asking? The West side of Gary, was posh. Very posh. The house I pictured here, cost 45,000 dollars to build, during the Depression. It belonged to a wealthy, publishing family. The Snyders.

It breaks my heart to see what's happened to Gary . . . although some rebuilding, is being done. Truly, houses like these were meant to stay in families, forever. So sad . . .


I walked past this house, every single day.
post #15 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ivan Kipling
Oh, my God!! We might be around the same age! In what neighborhood did he live, if you don't mind my asking? The West side of Gary, was posh. Very posh. The house I pictured here, cost 45,000 dollars to build, during the Depression. It belonged to a wealthy, publishing family. The Snyders.

I'm not sure what neighborhood he lived in (I'll have to ask him and find out), but I don't think it was anywhere that would be considered posh. He was just 17 at the time (he's 53 now), had just moved to this country and was working at one of the steel mills.
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