With a friend visiting (featured in the pictures), I rediscovered the interior of a a small Renaissance castle in my village, la Bastie d’Urfé. Despite being unpretentious is part of its charm, I believe it is hard time to internationally advertise its incredible features, so let’s make it the subject of my first post here.
Welcoming you is a sphinx, the symbol of knowledge. In the 16th century, Claude d’Urfé hold here the second biggest book collection of the kingdom – just after the king’s. What a challenge to imagination, compared with today’s cultural and economical poverty, and the region being disconnected from power and influential circles. Also worth mentioning: his grandson Honoré wrote and set here what’s considered as the first French novel, L’Astrée. A best-seller in its time, and precursor of endless and multiple characters TV series, it is forgotten nowadays.
As during the many childhood visits, I first run to peer through the iron vine. The excitement and amazement are still here. Inside awaits a magical and fascinating world: antique gods, the four seasons, geometrical forms… made out of local little stones, river pebbles, shells, and stalactites and coloured sands on the ceiling. Even on hot days, it’s always fresh in here, you only need to imagine the sound of the water running out of the sculptures’ natural orifices, like it used to. Typical of the Italian renaissance, this grotto is as unique as it seems, the only one in France.
In fact, the “refreshment room” is an entrance to the chapel, with a preparation and purification role, both symbolic and physical. I am an atheist and reluctant to mysticism, but this philosophy including multiple beliefs, pagan and Christian, touches me almost as much as the profusion of the decoration.
This magnificent blue and white roof remains intact inside the chapel, with a tiny square (bottom part of the picture) reading “anima sane in corpore sano”, humanist motto. Unfortunately, the walls and floor are empty. Abandoned and derelict, the castle was partly dismantled in the late 19th – beginning of 20th. The marquetry panelling is now at the MET, New York and the ceramic pavement in le Louvre, Paris, see here and here.
My dream is to see everything together on site again, and as a start the State recently recovered the main door from the Rothschild family while they suffered financial and tax problems. It seems very feasible to me but, strangely enough, unlike in postcolonial relationships, the mere idea of return policy doesn’t seem to exist in the first world. Or maybe the province is considered like a colony of its capital city?
I was shocked when an Egyptian told me: “I don’t mind our historical treasures being in Europe or in America. Actually, they are better taken care of. Here things disappear from the museums.” But maybe he got a point actually. A former private owner sold the carved ceiling of the outside gallery for firewood. And the many restorations made lately seem great, but how come that they dared to glue some plastic golden beads on the ceiling of the grotto? Yes, the 50 cents type, the argument being that original Murano beads are too expensive. Outrageous and insulting to the visitors, especially when the money issue would never have been one in Paris or in any famous site. I can’t believe that nobody thought of using glass beads, when there is a talented glass plant in the district, which is also the last one in the country…