Since the start of confinement, Jean d’Haussonville has been on call with a reduced team at the Domaine national de Chambord. Returned to nature, the site has never been so beautiful, but is preparing its necessary return of the public.
Chambord’s domain is deserted. The castle is closed, the hotel, restaurants and shops too. Everyone scrupulously respects confinement. No more walkers in the aisles, the parking barriers are lowered, road traffic nonexistent. At the village steeple, the evening angelus is the only one to break the long silence that envelops the countryside. Chambord has frozen a hundred years since mid-March.
“In 2021, we will celebrate two centuries of openness to the public, observes Jean d’Haussonville, head of the National Domain of Chambord since January 2010. What happens to us is like a repetition of history and is part of the imaginary of the place: an incredible building, which arises at the bend of a wood, far from the cities and out of time, splendid and lonely. Last year, we celebrated its 500 years of existence. On this occasion, we welcomed more than 1 million visitors for the monument itself, more than 2 million for the area as a whole – a historic record, what a contrast between yesterday’s affluence and today’s serenity! during the year, the castle usually closes only three times: at Christmas, New Year’s Day and for a day dedicated to staff members during off-peak periods. To my knowledge, the current closure is the longest that we have known since 1821, m is apart during the three wars. “
In 1870, Chambord was the scene of brief battles, as recalled by the village war memorial and the bullet holes observable on the walls of the building. During the First World War, the castle, put into receivership, served as a military hospital. Then, between 1939 and 1945, it became the main depot for national museums, in order to protect works from bombing, theft, and requisitions. Hundreds of cases from the Louvre and Versailles were stored in the keep. Even the Mona Lisa stayed a few months in Chambord.
“I did not check if the monument closed during the long strikes of 1968, continues Jean d’Haussonville, but our conservation service found an issue of the Liberated Parisian of the time which titled:” The season in danger “, Continuing:” June: already 90% of lost revenue. Almost all foreigners have canceled their trip. “At this reading, I could not help thinking: we can recover! In spring 2016, a gigantic flood forced us to close the domain for a week. All access roads were cut. Lost in the middle of the waters, the castle looked like Mont Saint-Michel. The image went around Paradoxically, it has contributed to raising awareness of Chambord. I am sure that we will get out of the pandemic that is hitting us like the rest. “
In this radiant spring, the small village of Chambord is like all the other villages of France. It gives the illusion of being deserted by its 87 inhabitants. Nature in general and animals in particular are the big winners of the crossing. The area has always been a huge nature reserve. On this enclosed territory of 5,440 hectares, traditionally flourish wild boars, deer, hinds, without counting very many birds. The world of hair and feather suddenly reveals itself in broad daylight.
“Near the Etang des Bonshommes, I catch wild ducks, says Jean d’Haussonville. I have never seen so many. Recently, I saw a hoopoe. It is a fairly rare migratory bird. I also noticed white storks and wood pigeons. A few days ago, I even observed an osprey, a protected raptor, reputed to be sensitive to pollution. With the calm that reigns today, we hear the song of birds until inside the castle. And the buzzing of insects has become much more noticeable. They make the air vibrate. In the meadows which line the avenue du Roi, the wide alley which joins the forest, the hinds graze peacefully and the pheasants stand up a few steps from you. “
At the National Estate of Chambord, life goes on, in slow motion. A security team conducts regular patrols and forest guards keep the park under surveillance as usual. Spring obliges, they indulge in hammering, that is to say that they mark the trees to be felled as a priority. To finish planting the vegetable patch, ten agents, including two members of the management committee, came to help the market gardeners. And a wine worker takes care of the vine.
“At the beginning of April, under the leadership of our partner, the Maison Henry Marionnet, we proceeded to the bottling of our second vintage, continues Jean d’Haussonville. Harvested last September, it marks the 500 years of Chambord. 17,000 bottles Nicole Bigot, the vineyard manager, and Guillaume Trouvé, the director of buildings and gardens, lent a hand to the operation. We are doing it with the means at hand. It is the same for the garden maintenance. The charcoal hedge that borders the flowerbeds will not be pruned this year. The structure of the French gardens, of which we reconstituted the original design in 2017, should not suffer too much, at least the time of a season. This is one of the (drastic) saving measures we have been forced to take. It must be said that we are facing an unprecedented loss of revenue. Neither will the grass be pa s mowed closely. Too bad or so much the better: it will make hay! “
Thanks to sponsorship and the diversification of its resources, Chambord is an exception in the management of public cultural property. Its business model is unprecedented, even if it meets very old criteria. Is he shaken by the situation? “All cultural events are postponed until next year, almost date to date, replied Jean d’Haussonville. Sting’s concert, scheduled for July 1, will take place on July 1, 2021. The 200,000 tickets sold remain valid . We will welcome Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey’s formation, also a year later, for our music festival 2021. “
“Our hopes rest on the investments made in the castle on the occasion of its 500th anniversary. The decorations imagined by Jacques Garcia to evoke the itinerant court of François Ier or the theater said of Molière which he designed (it recalls the creation from Bourgeois Gentilhomme to Chambord) are all new incentives to rediscover the monument. Paradoxically, Chambord has never been so beautiful. I discovered with emotion the images captured by a drone. The design of the vegetable garden, inaugurated in autumn last, fits perfectly with the axis of the castle. With the English gardens, the reflecting pool, the vine, it helps to magnify its surroundings … An Edenic vision. “
1519 Start of construction of the castle.
1981 Unesco classification.
2015 Replanting of the vine.
2017 Restitution of French gardens.
2018 Opening of the Le Relais de Chambord hotel.
2019 Celebration of 500 years.
2020 Planting of a permaculture vegetable garden.
2021 Bicentenary of opening to the public.
Animals roaming free in the park. On this enclosed territory of 5,440 hectares thrives a whole fauna: wild boars, deer, hinds … without counting very many birds.
Sign indicating the closure of the domain to the public. It is the longest since 1821, except during the three wars.
The vegetable patch. Its planting was completed during containment. The maintenance of the French gardens, renovated in 2017, is relaxed, for economy.
Round of a security team. Further on, the forest guards monitor the park. Life goes on, in slow motion.