2017 press pack

Deep in the forests of northern Burgundy, in a once disused quarry, a team of master-builders is building a 13th-century castle from scratch. Quarrymen, stonemasons, woodcutters, carpenter-joiners, blacksmiths, tile makers, carters and rope makers are working together to revive heritage craft skills and to shed light on the world of medieval construction.

The ultimate in grand design

The chapel under construction in late summer 2014 Ph. D.Gliksman

Throughout the seasons, Guédelon's workers rise to the extraordinary challenge of building a castle from scratch. This is the only construction site of its kind in the world; visitors from across the globe have witnessed the building of the curtain walls, the raising of the Great Hall’s roof timbers, the construction of the Great Hall’s antechamber and its mural paintings, the building of the castle kitchen, the storeroom, the rib-vaulted guardrooms, the chapel and part of the crenelated wall-walk.

In 2017, Guédelon celebrates the first 20 years of construction

20 years of hardwork,of intense emotion, of collective enthusiasm, and this is only the beginning! During this coming season, the first pepperpot roof timbers will be raised to crown the Chapel Tower. The masons will finish the western corner tower and restart work on the Gatehouse, the castle’s main gate. Trialled in the 2016 season, a new workshop has been installed in the courtyard: the mint. Learn all about making alloys and minting coins in the Middle Ages!

Guédelon, illuminating the Middle Ages

The double drummed treadwheel winch © Guédelon Ph. C Duchemin

It is impossible to visit medieval castles and cathedrals without wondering how these
buildings were constructed, where the materials came from, how they were transported,
which tools were used or how such heavy loads were hoisted.


Guédelon sheds light on these mysteries of the medieval world.

Guédelon, learning from experience

The workshop in which Valérie extracts pigments to paint the castle's interior © Guédelon Ph. D. Gliksman

At a time when environmental protection is of such concern, Guédelon provides practicallessons in sustainable building. This pioneering construction site offers information on wattle-and-daub or rubble walling, making and using limewashes, traditional terracotta roof tiles, oak shakes, flax and hemp ropes.

Inspired by the past, this building site is also of great relevance to the 21st century.

Guédelon, an act of folly

The land on which the future castle would stand © Guédelon

It was Michel Guyot, owner and restorer of Saint-Fargeau Castle, who first dreamt of building a castle from scratch. An archaeological survey had revealed a medieval stone fortress hidden within the 15th-century red brick walls.

His dream was to construct a castle as it would have been built in the Middle Ages: an idea which some found mildly amusing and others dismissed as outright folly.

Maryline Martin was the first person to believe in the viability of the project. She recognised the opportunity to embark an an exciting collective venture. It took several months to bring together, convince and moblilise the different partners: architects, archaeologues, donors...  The site - in the heart of Guédelon forest - was found: a site which offered all the resources necessary for the building of a castle: a stone quarry, an oak forest and a water supply.

The first team started work and the first stone was laid on June 20th 1997.

Guédelon, a shared passion

Florian, Guédelon's master-mason © Guédelon Ph. C.Guérard

Today, Guédelon employs 70 people, of whom 35 work on the building site itself. Some were already qualified, others have acquired their skills on site. At Guédelon, the ability to talk to the visiting public about the skills used in different heritage crafts is just as important as mastering the crafts themselves.

Each year, around 650 people choose to play an active role in the venture and learn more about the building techniques used on site. From a wide range of backgrounds – castle enthusiasts, complete novices eager to learn, or work-experience students – for a period of several days, they step into the shoes of a medieval master-builder.

The site is overseen by Florian Renucci, the master-mason.

He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the site and, along with the project's managers, ensures that the work carried out is as historically, architecturally and archaeologically accurate as possible.

Guédelon, experimental archaeology in action

One of the reference castles: Ratilly Castle 5 km from Guédelon Ph. C. Pierlot

Our task is to recreate the construction techniques and the logistical organisation of an early 13th-century building site. We base much of our work on medieval financial records, illustrations on illuminated manuscripts, cathedral stained-glass windows and the evidence of contemporary chroniclers. These sources provide us with an insight into the tools used and the building techniques employed. However, in order to ensure that our working practice matches as closely as possible that of the 13th century, the project's founders and the master-mason, insist upon the need to closely examine a number of existing castles: these 13th-century castles are the last reliable witnesses left to us by history.

Once examined, photographed and measured, their evidence helps us to avoid committing unnecessary errors which would later need correcting. This way of working has allowed us to reveal some of the medieval castle-builders' fascinating secrets. Among the castles which serve as models are Ratilly (89), La Motte-Josserand (58), Dourdan (91) and Yévre-le-Châtel (45).

Guédelon, living history

Making Damascus steel © Guédelon Ph. C. Guérard

Every day, the site attempts to resolve some of the many questions still unanswered regarding 13th-century castle construction. The serious nature of the project demands the involvement of the academic world, and our work is monitored by both archaeologists and historians. Their involvement is of mutual benefit: they provide the project with invaluable information, while in turn, they have the unique opportunity to observe a team of builders at work on a medieval building site. They can study the skills employed, how tools are handled, and how the site is organised.

The Guédelon advisory committee is comprised of:

  • Anne Baud: archaeologist and lecturer at Lyon 2 University
  • Jacques Moulin: head architect at Monuments Historiques - draughted the original plans for Guédelon Castle
  • Nicolas Reveyron: art historian and lecturer at Lyon 2 University
  • Nicolas Faucherre: archaeologist, art historian and fortification specialist
  • Christian Corvisier: architectural historian
  • Frédéric Epaud: archaeologist and CNRS researcher at Tours, specialist in medieval roof timbers

 

Passing on knowledge

Laëtitia explaing her work as a carter to school children © Guédelon

Unlike any other present-day building site, Guédelon warmly welcomes members of the public. The workers demonstrate and explain, to a wide audience, the skills of our forefathers. Stone quarrying, building vaulted ceilings, blacksmithing, raising roof timbers, making fired earth tiles and the use of lifting machinery are just some of the activities which visitors can witness at first hand during a visit to Guédelon. The workers are always on hand to talk about their craft and the castle's progress.

Many of our visitors are loyal to the venture and have a deep connection with the Guédelon; they regularly return to follow the construction's progress.

In 2016, Guédelon welcomed nearly 300,000 visitors, including 50,000 school children. The site is an excellent educational resource, bringing to life the history of the Middle Ages.

In just a few short years, Guédelon has become one of France's major tourist attractions. Employing 70 people, this venture, thanks to ticket sales and gift shop alone, is entirely self-financing.

Guédelon's hydraulic watermill

Philippe, one of the millers, grinding grain into flour © Guédelon Ph. D. Gliksman

A new archaeological challenge

Guédelon’s woodsmen, carpenters, stonemasons and blacksmiths have built from scratch a working reproduction of a medieval hydraulic flour mill. This mill is the fruit of three years' collaboration with archaeologists from Inrap (French National Institute for Preventative Archaeological Research) and is based on the archaeological remains of a 12th-century water mill found at Thevray in Jura.

Just as in the buiding of the castle, all the different crafts on site worked together with the aim of producing the same type of flour as might have been found in the Middle Ages. Set in a woodland clearing, just a stone’s throw from the construction site, you can now visit this working mill.

Our baker offers you the chance to taste bread made with Guédelon-ground flour and baked in the castle’s bread oven. (All the dates of bread-baking and other events are listed in our leaflet or on our website.)

2017 building programme

Aerial view of castle, 2014 © Guédelon Ph. D.Gliksman

In 2017, the carpenters will crown the first tower, the Chapel Tower, with its roof timbers.The banker masons and the fixer masons will finish the stonework on the pigeon loft on the western corner tower. They will also restart construction work on the gatehouse, the main gate into the castle courtyard.

NEW for 2017:
Nicolas will be minting coins the medieval way. The new workshop has been installed in the castle courtyard

Press contacts

Maryline MARTIN - CEO    maryline.martin@guedelon.fr

Sarah PRESTON - Press officer  sarah.preston@guedelon.fr  +33 3 86 45 69 15

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