In a Nutshell
Located in an abandoned quarry in Burgundy, France, you’ll find a forest clearing containing a medieval construction site. The task – to build a castle using only period-appropriate building techniques. Construction of the 13th-century castle began in 1997 and is set for completion in 2023. The castle is being built with no ‘modern’ intervention. Even the clothes that the workers wear are from the time period. The building site is open to visitors and volunteers and has become one of the region’s most popular tourist attractions.
The Whole Bushel
The castle is built along a strict 13th-century timeline. Construction theoretically began in 1228(1997) and will end in 1253(2023). The mission is to create a castle with building techniques only available during that time period. They have used everything from horse-and-cart wagons dragging heavy rocks to human-powered winches that lift stone bricks. Even the workers get to the construction site by horse-powered carts.
The construction site in Burgundy, France was chosen for its proximity to building materials. It is located in an abandoned quarry, providing ample amounts of nearby limestone. Every detail of the construction is recreated from old manuscripts and documentation. Many of the techniques are perfected through trial and error. The exact mix of the mortar had to be experimented with to get an adequate consistency. Most notably, the right-hand section of the chateau roof tiles is a little blacker than the rest – a by-product of being left in the oven for too long.
To add to the authenticity of the castle, a hypothetical owner was created. A nobleman by the name of Guilbert de Guédelon was given permission by the king to build this castle. He doesn’t have unlimited funds or a large team of workers so the castle is small. These constraints are placed on the construction of the castle to give it character and limitations. For example, the stonemasons were cutting blocks too perfectly. This would be impossible for an owner without a small army of workers. Needless to say, the stonemasons had to roughen it up a bit.
The construction site employs 70 people and has some 650 volunteers a year. The organizers are focused on transformation and revival of heritage skills. Many have achieved hands-on certifications after training at the castle They work together in harmony to maintain the illusion of a medieval life. Even gender roles are being stuck to – men doing stonework and women laying flooring materials. The area attracts over 300,000 visitors a year and holds workshops centered around 13th century everyday life.
Guédelon Castle is a collective venture into the past. Its purpose is scientific, educational and historic. The lost techniques of the past are slowly being uncovered, providing insight into sustainable building practices. The modern-day medieval castle is an impressive feat of architecture in reverse.