Visit Chateau de Chambord in the Loire Valley

Photo of Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord tourism, attractions and sights of interest

The Chateau de Chambord is located ten miles east of Blois, and four kilometres from the Loire, in countryside surrounded by woods. The Counts of Blois had originally built a palace to be used for hunting - until 1518 it belonged to the Counts of Blois, at which time Francis I decided to demolish it and build a luxurious mansion. Francis I, who delighted in this very practical exercise, could not have picked a better place to construct a castle.

Chambord is the most impressive of the castles of the Loire. In fact, it has great size, with about 400 rooms, more than 80 staircases, 365 fireplaces, and an exceptional number of towers, high ceilings, pointed domes graceful pinnacles. The castle is situated in a vast park with an area of about 5000 hectares. The encircling walls are about 30 kilometres long.

The castle consists of a large rectangular area, surrounded on three sides by buildings in the form of wings attached to the body of the main building, which occupies half of one side. Designed in the shape of a cross, it has a central tower flanked by four towers and surrounded by a courtyard. The external structure of the castle of Chambord has a very clear defensive logic, being formed by a donjon, shaped like a quadrangle, flanked by four towers, which contain within itself another quadrilateral, in turn flanked by four towers.

The Chateau de Chambord can be considered as an old French castle, decorated with an Italian Renaissance style, and it presents one of the most striking of the buildings of mixed style to be built in France at the beginning of the reign of Francis I, before the ‘French style’ was better defined.

Because of the Italian style, the construction of Chambord has sometimes been attributed to Francesco Primaticcio (1504-1570) – but there are no reliable documents to that effect, and much evidence that Primaticcio was not in France during the years that Chambord castle was built. It’s very likely that the architecture of the castle of Chambord is the work of French artists who were very influenced by Italian architecture, and while in the use of this new decorative style they showed some occasional inexperience, at other times they also proved very skilful.

An example of this is in the arrangement and decoration of the central staircase, which still today has a high reputation - the bastion and stairs was built in a very original pattern consisting of two spiral ramps, combined so that those descending the staircase do not meet those who are climbing the staircase – an idea of considerable originality and ingenuity. There are also many other hidden rooms, passages and apartments in various parts of the large building that are also well suited to the mysterious habits of the prince and courtiers.

External staircase at Chateau Chambord

The Chateau de Chambord is made with a kind of white stone that is soft while you work but which then becomes very hard when placed in contact with air.

The character of this huge building is a delicate architectural layout applied to a huge mass. But what particularly distinguishes this castle, already very impressive by itself, are the wondrous spires, chimneys and pinnacles that arise on many of the roofs and terraces in which we can recognize the persistence of the Gothic style  - interestingly, inside the apartments, which were once decorated with frescoes by Jean Cousin (1495-1560), and where Francis I had made a portrait gallery of the most learned men of Europe, there is no trace of this style.

The two rooms which have best retained their original decoration are the great chapel and oratory, both masterpieces of sculpture. It is said that during the reign of Francis I, 1800 workers worked continuously for twelve years in the construction of Chambord, without being able to finish it. It was continued under Henry II and under his successors until Louis XIV, but it was never been completely finished.

The salamander, the emblem dear to Francis I and the motto: " Nutrisco et Extinguo” are seen many times in the castle. Other motto such as “Donec totum impleat orbem” (until it fills the whole world) mark the work done by Henry II (1519-1559), and finally the sun and the inscription: "Nec pluribus impar" (above all / alone against all) show that Louis XIV (1638-1715) also embellished the Royal Palace.

This luxurious and unparalleled castle, after having had many owners over the centuries (the Prince of Wagram, Duke of Bordeaux and others) now belongs to the French State.

Chambord is now an important tourist destination not only for the presence of the castle, but also for certain natural attractions (such as a wildlife reserve to hunt deer and a place frequented by fishermen, especially for carp fishing).

History of Chateau Chambord

It has been said that ‘if Francis I has created the Castle of Chambord, he has not invented it’. And indeed, on the same site there already stood an ancient castle founded by the Counts of Blois.

General view of Chambord castle, Loire France

Stepping back to these early origins of Chambord, some coins dating from the Merovingian age include the Latin inscription: "Cambortese Pago", i.e. ‘Village of Cambort’, while Chambord's early name of Cambort also appears in documents dating back to Charles the Bald (823-877) in the late ninth century, when the town was confirmed by the King to the monastery of Corbion, with the following statement: “In pago aurelianensis villula Cambort”; i.e.  “I confirm the possession of] small Cambort villa, located in the village of aurelianense territory.”

Moving forward in time, medieval documents refer to Chambord by different names, "Camborium", "Cambortum" and "Camboritum", these names coming from the Celtic words "Cam", which means "curved" or "meandering", and "Rhyd", which means "passing over a river winding and twisty". Hence the name Chambord indicates a “bridge located on the bend of a river.” And indeed, in earliest times there was a bridge at Chambord that connects the banks of the river Cosson, and Chambord also stands on a "curve" of the river Cosson.

Around the castle that had been constructed by the Blois Counts there stood a small village, but when Francis I built his castle he demolished many of the houses. By the mid-17th century the village of Chambord became a parish and the sovereign granted various privileges and exemptions from taxes to its citizens, but still the village did not experience a significant increases in population and even today the village of Chambord is only sparsely populated.

Map of Chateau de Chambord & places nearby

Castle Town village

Selected places to visit in or near Chateau de Chambord, Loire Valley