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Guédelon Castle (wikipedia.org)
202 points by bane on April 11, 2020 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

This reminds me of a road trip I took with a girlfriend in 2010 or so. We drove south out of St. Louis, MO, going nowhere in particular, and ended up near the Arkansas border. I could have sworn I was dreaming, but nearby there was a bona-fide 13th-century French castle under construction, using period-appropriate tools and techniques, in the middle of the Ozarks!

It was absolutely surreal. There was a working farm to grow food for the laborers, stone was sourced from a nearby quarry, there was a smithy on-site, and even some tools were original to the period and were imported from France.

Just looked it up - I guess it closed down. Too bad, but maybe unsurprising: https://www.onlyinyourstate.com/arkansas/ar-ozark-medieval-f...

That one's mentioned in the linked article too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ozark_Medieval_Fortress

Way cooler pics on the official website-


Wow. Wow! Thank you. I have so many questions but lack the architecture vocabulary to even know where to start. :O

I learned a great deal from reading a novel: Pillars of the Earth. This book is about construction of a medieval cathedral and spans generations.

I really enjoyed the book when I read it as a young person. Now that I'm older, I have some issues with the writing (detailed portrayals of violence). Just realize it is R rated stuff - similar to GoT. On the plus side, you will definitely learn about architecture :)

Indeed! I just went and volunteered last year (first trip to Europe)! You can do a 7 day rotating internship with them (provided you have a good base in french). They really let you do almost everything, I worked in masonry, carpentry, tile making, grout making, etc. They are a great group and the project is really cool, I made a bunch of friends during my time there too. I strongly recommend the experience.

Warning, you need to speak French.

>French is the main language spoken on site; for safety reasons, it is important to speak French.

I'm not sure why this is news but if people are upvoting, great! I'm a huge medeival buff. I first learned about this castle in a very cool documentary on youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydoRAbpWfCU&t=714s


This documentary series is part of a larger collection of BBC series in which the cast does accurate historical reenactment of farm work. They're worth seeing and you can find all of them on Youtube or Vimeo.


FYI the link starts at 714 seconds in. For anyone else who wants to watch; start at the beginning of the video.

Edit: spent the last hour watching it. Very interesting and worth the watch.

I grew up in the East of France and Guedelon was a popular field trip destination for school students. I remember going there once in middle school and once in high school.

The workers, architects etc were all very enthusiastic, and boring stuff like medieval masonry, measurement systems, plans etc got really interesting with them.

The most impressive aspect is that they can build with period tools this while still complying with whatever the French equivalent of OSHA would be.


> Despite all the medieval reenactment, Guédelon is still subject to modern construction regulations. There’s one telephone in the castle, for example – a legal requirement in case of emergency. The wooden scaffold poles are held with modern metal fixings. Some of the cordage, straps and pulleys on the winches are industrially produced. The workers may be dressed in smocks but, as Renucci explains, they have to wear steel-toecapped boots and hard hats (concealed beneath straw hats or a beige cloth). The masons require safety glasses.

In the future, there are going to be some terribly confused archaeologists.

There’s a coin and a parchment under one of the initial stones. But yeah, once people forget, there’s going to be this castle 700 years out of the time sequence.

Wow, unusual topic for the front page of HN. I visited about 5 years ago. It was my wife's idea to go (it's quite far from other attractions, so you have to plan a visit), but we both really enjoyed it. The castle is the highlight of course, but there's quite a lot more to the site than that, and it's easy to spend a full day there.

One thing I remember thinking on one of my first trips to Europe was "Why doesn't someone 'restore' a castle to a specific era?" It would be such a cool experience.

Granted, many that are in reasonable shape have evolved over time so doing so would maybe remove a lot of history.... that's not desirable. But there are plenty in ruined states that might be good candidates.

It was such a contrast to where in the US some historical sites are rebuilt wholesale and seeing them operational and alive is a lot of fun.

Many castles have been renovated and restored, some of them to a state close to one period of the past, others with a new style, etc. In France, a whole lot of monuments were restored during the 19th century mainly.

For example the castle of the Dukes of Brittany in Nantes, was renovated in the mid 19th century to remove the modern additions and get it back to its supposed 16th century state (the period when it was actually used by the Dukes of Brittany).

The castle of Belle-Île was also restored, in the 20th century, to its 18th century state, this one entirely through private funds.

Another castle I know well is the Suscinio castle, which was a complete ruin and was restored in the second half of the 20th century, but not to its former state.

And for another restoration effort with yet another kind of result, het Gravensteen in Ghent was restored in the 19th to its supposed 12th century state, but they got it mostly wrong. That's what happened with most restoration efforts during this period, as far as I know.

Today, the most common stance is often to preserve ruins as they are, keep them from degrading further and do the least work possible on them because we are well aware of all the botched restoration efforts of the past.

Nice list, I'd mention the Haut-Koenigsbourg castle which also got renovated in the 19th century as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C3%A2teau_du_Haut-K%C5%93ni...

> One thing I remember thinking on one of my first trips to Europe was "Why doesn't someone 'restore' a castle to a specific era?" It would be such a cool experience.

They are restoring historical sites to specific eras all the time. Not sure how common it is with castles, though.

The way they are doing Guédelon is incredibly expensive: they aren't just restoring to the specs, but they are using period techniques, too. That means it takes longer and has fewer skilled workers available.

(They made some exceptions for modern safety laws.)

The BBC has filmed several programmes where a group of historians relive life from different periods. One of these series was filmed there: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04sv5nc

Apropos of castles, I've been on a look out for a hypothetical game I describe as "the thinking player's Stronghold". You would have control over a region and would need to choose the best place to site the castle, ensure supplies and build the correct structure for your location. I imagine that it would need to be modified as the attackers' technology developed.

The idea came to while walking around various forts. They're various interesting and I don't think any base-building game has really delved into them properly. Stronghold is quite superficial and Dwarf Fortress seems to focus more on the economy.

I played a lot of “Castles” (Interplay, 1991 [0]) on my 386. It was pretty simple and mostly involved getting resources and building your castle to withstand an eventual attack. It’s almost an exact description of your requirements.

It’s odd that no one has made a game that fills this same need for me in the past 30 years.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castles_(video_game)

not exact match, but there's this: https://store.steampowered.com/app/346010/Besiege/

I would love to see something similar done for a gothic cathedral. And I don't mean a one-man show like Justo Martínez [0] or a "modern" cathedral like the Sagrada Familia, but an actual authentic gothic cathedral like it would've been professionally built in the 14th century. These buildings are just so interesting and beautiful [1]. I remember seeing an arte documentary a few years ago in which several French gothic cathedrals were analyzed. Apart from their structural complexity, there constructions were surprisingly modern. In many of them, concealed iron rods or chains were used to ensure stability and make it look like the stones are somehow magically kept in place - or to safe the building. For example, an iron chain was tightened around Amiens cathedral [2][3] to fix structural defects which resulted from a mistake made during construction. An interesting aspect of their esthetic appeal is also their regularity, which is kind of a side effect of using a catalog of standardized building elements which were mass-produced by the stone quarries to keep the costs down. For example, if you look at this picture [4], you can actually spot a lot of these basic form elements which could be re-used for other windows or doors.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justo_Gallego_Mart%C3%ADnez

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/ce/20...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiens_Cathedral

[3] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Philippe_Dillmann/publi...

[4] https://img.fotocommunity.com/rosettenfenster-8359847c-0966-...

Not a whole cathedral from scratch, but in Saint-Denis, near Paris, they plan to restore the Basilica spire [1] that was taken down on 19th century, using medieval techniques as in Guedelon

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_Saint-Denis

If you like this , maybe you will like how they are rebuilding a whale ship from the XVI century trying to use traditional techniques and materials. : http://www.albaola.com/en

How does ~26 years to construct compare to 13th century castles? I'm not sure if I'd expect it to take less time due to inadvertently using modern techniques or take more time due to the less available labor.

I remember one of the architects explaining it to me in 2003 or 2004. If memory serves :

Basically the construction could be faster if well organized and continuous (I believe he said less than 10 years).

However they voluntarily kept the pace relatively slow, for pedagogic purposes, and because it would be more realistic, because the construction of a Middle-age castle could be slowed or interrupted by a variety of factors impacting the availability of manpower, money, or commodities,including farm yields, wars, climate, etc...

Thank you, I think "good organization" would be one of those modern innovations most difficult to avoid, along with literacy, worker transportation, and abundance of fresh/clean food/water. Seems like they're trying to account for it though.

Good organization could be managed at tge time if one was powerful enough. I just checked Château Gaillard on Wikipedia, it's a typical medieval stronghold, quite advanced for its time. It was built in the exceptionnally short time 2 years along with the nearby town by Richard the Lionheart, with huge suns of money.


That's an impressive feat, but I imagine things like daily weather forecasts, copiers, and every worker having a pager/phone would have sped up production still. So much of modern day convenience allows organization far beyond what they could manage.

I'm struck by how yellow/orange the soil is in this part of France.

A large part of the visual variety of towns and villages appearance in Europe is due to the colours of the local stones, or the absence of good building stones that's the reason why Toulouse is built of bricks, for instance:


or why some places have wooden churches:


And other black volcanic stone ones:


Or gleaming white castles:


Burgundy is known for its yellow stone, clearly visible here in Beaune:


Or here near Solutré:


Most of our soil is also this color in Australia.

What's the color in other parts?

Not sure about France, but we have black soil in lots of parts of Germany. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernozem

For France, see https://www.britannica.com/place/France/Soils

Beautiful. In 200 years time, it will be buildings like this that people will look upon fondly and want to be around.

It's striking to me that it already looks like an old castle, at least from a distance.

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