Our first trip away from Tours was east to the town of Amboise by train, and only took about 20 minutes or so. While the day started overcast and cold, we (us with Mike and Kathy) were hopeful that the sun would appear and moderate the chill.
There were two good reasons to visit Amboise, one was the spectacular Château Royal d’Amboise and the other was Le Château du Clos Lucé which was especially intriguing because of its connection to Leonardo da Vinci.
We arrived in Amboise and made our way to the TI (tourist information office) to get local information about what to see. The young ladies there were most helpful, filling us up with loads of material for us to consider.
As we meandered through Amboise, it became evident that it is a small town, but in the late 15th Century, it was home to the French royal court.
The stroll to Clos Lucé took us down a “main” street, Rue Victor Hugo. Along the very narrow, cobble-stoned road where Medieval half-timbered buildings stood in testimony to the centuries since its heydays, the town had posted large, acrylic-mounted photos of various sights from around the area.
Occasionally, looking through gaps in the walls and fences one could catch glimpses of troglodyte sites – former dwellings, cellars, bread ovens, barns, and grain silos dug into the tufa cliffs by the peasants who, in the Middle Ages lived in these cave dwellings, the underground refuge of the Middle Ages.
Château du Clos Lucé was the residence of Leonardo da Vinci between 1516 and his death in 1519. Da Vinci died in the arms of King Francis and was buried in a crypt near the Château d’Amboise. The structure has been restored, and today contains a fascinating museum of da Vinci’s life, work, and inventions.
Jeannie and I were reminded of our self-contained bicycle tour of Tuscany in 1995 when we pedaled into Vinci, the place Leonardo was born in 1452, and visited the museum dedicated to his achievements.
By the age of 20, he qualified as a master in the guild of artists and doctors of medicine. Then, over his entire life, his accomplishments in the arts, sciences, medical anatomy, civil engineering, hydrodynamics, geology, optics, tribology and so much more still inspire awe.
After many decades in the service of patrons such as the Borgias and Sforzas, and dignitaries like Pope Alexander VI, King Corvinus of Hungary, and other powerful people of the age.
In 1516, at the invitation of King Francis I of France, Leonardo departed Italy for the Château du Clos Lucé in Amboise where he continued to work in some capacity until he fell ill and bedridden for several months. Leonardo died at Clos Lucé in 1519 at the age of 67, possibly of a stroke, and his remains were interred in the Collegiate Church of Saint Florentin at the Château d’Amboise.
After a wonderful visit to Clos Lucé, its museum, and the gardens there, we needed nourishment and stopped for lunch at a small Italian restaurant just across from the grand, wide stairway that leads up to the Château.
Intrigue, marriages, murder, war, executions, and revolutions have all played roles in the Châteaux of the Loire. The location of Château d’Amboise took advantage of the strategic position on a large outcrop above the river where it provided views over the Loire at an important crossing point that at the time was a ford. Its defensive location was utilized by locals before Roman times.
The initial construction of a castle here was completed in the 11th century, and by the 15th century, Amboise had an extensive castle seized by Charles VII for the French royal family in 1431 after its then owner, Louis d’Amboise, was to be executed for plotting against the King. Once in royal hands, the château became a favorite of French kings, from Louis XI to Francis I.
Charles VIII decided to rebuild the castle extensively, beginning in 1492 at first in the French late Gothic Flamboyant style, but later using Italian builders the first Renaissance decorative motifs seen in French architecture, and the current form of the castle took shape. It was also at this time that he expanded the terraces and gardens next to Amboise Castle. These were the first gardens in France to be in the “French style” that later spread across France.
Unfortunately, Charles VIII banged his head on a lintel and died at the castle, and the castle passed to Francois I and began its most illustrious period.
Over the following decades, the castle was home to many royals, including King Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Mary Stuart (queen of Scotland, who was to marry Francois II). But the relative peace wouldn’t last as the Wars of Religion between Protestants and Roman Catholics, (1562–98) took their toll. In 1560 heavy revenge was inflicted against the protestants who had plotted against the King, with more than 1000 of them being hung from the castle’s walls. The stench drove the nobles away never to return.
The glory days of Chateau Amboise were gone and within 100 years the castle was abandoned, and a substantial part was demolished because of the French Revolution.
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