Every little boy pretends that there’s a castle in his backyard. Whether it’s embodied in a tree fort, a snow mound, or some old fencing, the premise is simple: defend the fortress under attack. My brother and I waged countless campaigns in defense of our makeshift forts. Of course, we always imagined that our forts were comprised of thick stone walls and the occasional moat. To boys growing up in the Midwest, the chance to see a real castle was just fantasy.
Imagine my exuberance in social studies class when the teacher popped in a video about the Rhine River in Germany. A tour guide matter-of-factly described dozens of fortresses guarding the banks of the river. Some castles had tall spires and tall ramparts, just like the storybooks. In the days before the internet, I actually begged to go to the library to learn more. On several trips to Europe since, I have had the opportunity to walk old battlements and peer through dungeon windows. Each visit had been fleeting, always on our way to the next attraction… until now.
I recently moved to the South of France, following my wife who has been hired to translate technical documents into English for a local energy company. Her contract will allow us to live here through the end of the year. We are staying in a small village near the Rhône River, and guess what? There’s a real castle in my backyard.
On a bluff overlooking the Ceze River valley, lie the remains of a 13th century castle, le Château de Gincon. From our apartment, a steep 5 km ascent through vineyards and thick brush brings you to the base of the edifice. Although only a few buildings survive in recognizable condition, the fortress is still intimidating.
In its heyday, this castle was fully equipped with a 3-story dungeon tower, a chapel and several spartan residences. As with most ancient structures, the castle was re-purposed many times throughout its history. In the 1600s, sheep herders made their home within the walls and a mine was dug underneath the dungeon.
The local cooperative of vineyards has begun a campaign to restore some of the castle. A series of plaques give information about the various buildings, and one residence is being fully restored. A paved road has even been constructed to allow less energetic patrons to explore the Château.
On the day I first visited, I had the entire castle to myself. It was easy to imagine the medieval scenes that once transpired where I was standing. I entered through the main gate, and marched up the cobble-stone ramps inclined for the horses. From the ramparts, I imagined a panorama without electrical lines and paved highways. Inside a restored residence, I marveled at how such structures were constructed without tower cranes and bulldozers. It was a wonderful child-like experience to let my imagination run wild.
I will continue to blog from France. The countryside has many sources of inspiration from Roman ruins and Medieval castles to cutting edge nuclear technology. I hope you will enjoy my perspectives from France.