Bois de Vincennes was long a favored royal hunting ground, so a hunting
lodge then a manor were built there. The king was known to
dispense justice beneath one of the trees. In the 1300s, the
French monarchy was enduring a difficult period of the Hundred Years
War, having lost major battles to the English and faced insurrection in
Paris. Construction of a castle at the Vincennes hunting lodge
and manor would help defend Paris from the English and from domestic
enemies. The keep was built first between 1361 and 1370.
The outer walls, or enceinte, were built between 1373 and 1380
surrounding the manor house and associated buildings, making the
castle one of the largest in Europe. The place was
deigned as the seat of government, and it included a reliquary chapel
also. The victories of Henry V of England put him in possession
of the Chateau de Vincennes and earned him marriage into the French
royal family, cementing the English conquest of France. A conquest by the English was
not to be, however, as Henry died at Vincennes and France's
Charles VII liberated the country from the English, including Vincennes
itself in 1436. In the late 1400s a royal palace was built inside
the castle to replace the keep as a residence. The castle was
used as a refuge during the Wars of Religion.
Under the young
Louis XIV, the castle was transformed into a grand residence, with
the king and queen's pavilions built along with gardens and other
improvements, but the place was still not adequate for Louis' purposes,
and in 1682 Louis moved court to Versailles. Vincennes was
little used by the royal family after that, so it was used for other purposes
like housing for the military academy, a porcelain factory, an arms
factory, an arsenal, an artillery academy, and a prison. In 1804,
the Duc d'Enghien was executed in the ditch on orders from Napoleon. In the 1830s and
40s, some of the walls were modified as casemates, and in 1871 the
Commune took possession of the castle before the rising was suppressed
and some of its leaders executed in the castle ditch. In 1936 an
army headquarters was dug beneath the Queen's Pavilion, and it was here
that Gamelin commanded disastrously in 1940. The evacuating Germans in 1944
set fire to ammo dumps in the castle, blowing a hole in the wall and
burning the king and queen's pavilions. Restored after the war,
Chateau de Vincennes is now a museum and a military archives. In
its time, the Chateau de Vincennes was something like Paris's
the Tower of London. It is well worth a visit, but compared to
tourist attractions in Paris, the Chateau de Vincennes is undervisted
Built on the site of a hunting lodge, Vincennes remained uncluttered
until the late 1600s. Featuring a concentric defense with a wet
the keep (or donjun) was the primary royal residence. The donjun
served as the treasury and as a prison. By the late 1600s, rich
nobles were building chateaux as grand or grander than the king's.
The king decided to transform Vincennes into something much more
impressive. The moat was drained, and two residences were built,
one named for the king, the other for the queen. The chateau
would be the primary royal residence until Versailles was completed.
Sainte-Chapelle, based on the cathedral in Paris, housed relics
of the cruxifition.
Having arrived via Metro, we will walk through the nearest entrance at the Tour du Village
Tour du Village
Casemated walls modified in the early 1800s are visible above the bridge.
We walked through the entrance at right and face the Pavillon Officiers
visible in the center of the panorama. The open area at left was
site to the medieval manor house that existed and a well. Next we
will walk through the passage at right and inspect the walls.
Here you can see where the old wall has been replaced. An
explosion associated with the German evacuation in August 1944
destroyed this portion of the wall. Only in relatively recent
times has this been repaired.
Returning toward the entrance then beyond we see the site of the well. Originally water was piped into
the castle, but this could be cut off during a siege, making a well a
necessity. We will continue along the Pavilon des Armes then take a left to the Tour des Salves.
Tour des Salves
In the ditch we can see
a cross in remembrance of members of the Resistance who
were executed prior to the German withdrawal.
The castle's chapel was based on the famous cathedral in Paris shown in
the panorama below. Construction began in 1379 as the castle's
walls were nearing completion, but it was only completed in the 1550s.
Statues commemorate the execution of the Duc d'Enghien.
King and Queen's Buildings
These palaces were burned during German retreat. The restored buildings now house military archives.
From the Keep
After the destruction of Coucy Castle in the First World War, the keep
at Vincennes became the tallest in Europe with a height of around 50
meters. The plinth projecting from the bottom of the walls helped
prevent enemy mining and allowed objects dropped from the wall to
shatter or bounce further from it.
Crossing a drawbridge, we enter the keep by passing through a two
doorways. The niches above, now empty, had statues of the king
and queen with Saint Christopher in between.
The vertical panorama at left is the keep tower viewed from the
southeast corner. The cutaway view at right is from the northeast
To help hold together a building so large, iron bars to the extent of a
kilomter and a half in length were included in the stone in keep