MAJESTIC AND IMPOSING
Who hasn’t laid their eyes on this tower while making their way down Rue de Gasny towards the centre of the village?
Some will allow their minds to wander, swept away by verses of romantic poetry at the sight of the crows swooping around its architecture, while others will marvel at the impressive presence of its sun-drenched remains overlooking the Seine Valley.
Implanted in the chalky cliff, the Château de La Roche-Guyon’s keep bears witness to the power of feudal lords and the importance of this location during the Middle Ages. The keep was built in 1190 at the request of King Philip II, to control the border around the River Epte, which separated the Kingdom of France from the Anglo-Norman Duchy of Normandy. The massive, defensive fortress on the plateau comprises a cylindrical main tower measuring 12.2 metres in diameter and 35 metres tall, defended to the north by a spur and closely encircled by two surrounding walls or “chemises”. From above, it is shaped like an almond. It is connected to the cave castle in the valley by a staircase hollowed out of the rock.
After falling out of use during the 17th century, the keep was brought back to life by a major project to create a fashionable English landscape park that was commissioned by the Duchess of Enville and her family. Once a protective structure, the main tower was refurbished as a lookout point that was essential to strolls with the La Rochefoucauld family’s circle of friends. From the top, visitors could admire the vast expanse of the duchy’s lands. In 1778, the Rohan-Chabot family most likely ordered that a neo-Greek gate be created at the northern end of the outer wall, a development that definitively transformed the keep into a folly.
In 1793, the tower was not immune to the ravages of the French Revolution. The imprisoned Duchess of Enville was forced to order the demolition of this strong symbol of the Ancien Régime. The workers though grew weary of this major undertaking and soon shut it down, leaving the tower as it stands today.
And let’s not forget the source of inspiration that the keep was and continues to be to the artistic community. During the 18th century, the painter Hubert Robert, a close friend of the Rohan-Chabot family, produced several views (landscapes) of La Roche-Guyon. In 1909, the keep was deconstructed under the brushes of the cubist painter Georges Braque.
And the literary world would not be left on the sidelines. Victor Hugo fell for its romantic charms, drawing inspiration from the tower for his novel Hans of Iceland.
Since 1996, the boldest have been able to climb the cave staircase to the tower. When you reach its rooftop, you will be rewarded with superb panoramic views. So, stop hesitating and take the first step!