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Blois attracts many visitors because of the popular Chateau de Blois that is situated in the town, but Blois is also a very pretty town with plenty of historical sights to see and also a vibrant centre. It makes a very good base for visiting the castles of the Loire valley.
The Chateau de Bois sits at the top of the town on the edge of a large square. From this side it looks like a large manor house with its brick and stone facade. Above the entrance is a statue of King Louis XII mounted on a horse. The chateau has many interesting rooms to visit and its internal courtyard reflects 4 different periods of history in its architecture.
The square in front of the castle was once part of the castle and was surrounded by walls and contained stables, armouries and religious buildings. During King Louis XII the castle lost its military focus and various mansions were built around the square for those closest to the King.
The building that is now the Maison de la Magie opposite the castle entrance was built in the 19th century and the area became a public square following the bombing of the city in 1940.
The Maison de la Magie is now a museum dedicated to magic and the art of illusion. It contains many objects that belonged to Houdini and his life and work are a major part of the exhibition. There is also a show created by Ferard Majax called the "Hallucinoscope".
Below the castle is a lively old town with narrow streets and ancient buildings. Blois was in its heyday as a royal town in the 16th century and much of its architecture reflects this period though there are also buildings dating to the 12th century.
The ancient town includes many late Gothic and Renaissance palaces such as the palace of the Archbishop, surrounded by terraced gardens close to the Loire.
On the eastern side of town is the Cathedral of Saint Louis, dating from the tenth century, and in Gothic style. Inside it has magnificent windows which were created by a Dutch artist Jan Dibbets in 1992.
Opposite the cathedral, the ‘Maison des Acrobates’, dates from the fifteenth century. Behind the cathedral is the town hall and Bishop's garden.
As well as the cathedral Blois has various other religios buldings including the 13th century church of Saint-Nicolas on the site of a 9th century Benadictine abbey and the 16th century Saint-Sernin. The 13th century Couvent des Jacobins which is now a Museum of Natural History.
The Fondation du Doute is an interesting building which is a Contemporary Art Centre based around the ideas of the Fluxus Group. Conceived by the artist Ben, there are works by various artists including Duschamp, Dali and Man Ray. The "Café Le Fluxus" is a great place for a coffee or bistro lunch. It certainly makes quite a change to castle visiting in the area!
The city is also full of traditional restaurants, where you can sample the local cuisine, with dishes of snails, steak with duck sausage and the famous tripe, the ‘veritable andouillette’ and also rabbit, duck with lentils and pike with red cabbage, to be enjoyed with classic Loire wines, whites and reds.
Blois has several very nice gardens. The Bishop's garden (Jardin de l'Eveche) behind the cathedral has some wonderful views over the Loire as well as a lovely rosary. Near to the chateau the "Jardins du Roy" are a beautiful contemporary garden with box hedges cut in lines and waves and interplanted with roses in a very original way. Other areas include ponds and fountains and more contemporary style planting.
Another garden is a small potager next to the Pavillon Anne de Bretagne which is home now to an association of artists.
Sound and Light
The sound and Light shows at Blois castle takes place from the begining April to mid September every evening at 10 pm (10.30pm June, July Agugust). It is a pleasant way to see the castle lit up but these have become very popular in recent years and this one by comparison is slightly dated.
History of Blois
According to the most ancient traditions, abundantly confirmed by archaeological excavations, Blois was born in Roman times and by Giulio Cesare (100-44 BC), who made this place a winter camp for his legions. The Romans, when they settled in Blois, made it a fortified ‘castrum’ to counter the numerous incursions of the barbarians, and inside the ‘castrum’ stood a ‘castellum’ i.e. the fortress itself.
But it is very likely the area of Blois was previously inhabited by the Gauls known as the ‘Carnutes’, and the name of the town, Blois, is of Gallic origin. The name comes from the words ‘Bleiz’ and ‘Blaiz,’ which, in many Gallic dialects means ‘wolf’ - moreover, the ancient symbol of the city was also a wolf. Hence ‘Blois’ means, quite simply, ‘the country of wolves.’ The name of Blois came to us from the discovery of numerous coins of the Merovingian age on which you can read the old name, ‘Bleso Castro’, or ‘Fortress of Blois’.
The first known Lord of Blois was Guillome (who died in 584), and after that the feud belonged to Eudes, son of Guillom, and his successor, Robert II. In the tenth century a village arose around the fortress bringing together several primitive villages, the oldest of which was called ‘Bourg de Fois’, i.e. the ‘Village of the Treasury’. The second village, where a church dedicated to St. John the Baptist once stood, was called ‘Borgo de Arena’, because it was placed next to the banks of the River Loire, and the third was called ‘Burgus medius ('Middle Village'), because it was between the other two villages.
After Charlemagne, Blois belonged to his successors, Charles the Bald (823-877), Louis-Le-Begue (846-879) and Eudes (died 898). Then the territory was passed (but we do not know how) to Thibault-Le-Tricheur the Elder (910 ca.-975), who became Count of Blois (924), founding a dynasty that ruled the city until the thirteenth century. This was then replaced by that of Chatillon, who ruled until the fourteenth century, when Blois passed to the Dukes of Orleans (1403). Under Charles d'Orleans (1394-1465), a writer and poet, the city and castle became an important cultural centre. Under the reign of Louis XII (1462-1515) and Francis I (1494-1547), the city also became an important administrative centre, and started the reconstruction of the medieval fortress, which became a remarkable castle, the symbol of French Renaissance.
On the death of Gaston d'Orleans in 1660, the city had rather a moment of crisis which was later overcome when it became the seat of the bishopric (1697). The construction activity continued with great effect (a new bridge, new buildings and roads). In the eighteenth century, the city strengthened its position as the local administrative centre (the Prefecture and courthouse), but the urban transformation became more massive with industrial development, especially through the creation of a thriving shoe industry until 1960.
Places to Visit Nearby
Blois is very well situated to visit many of the Loire valley castles. Particularly close is the Chateau de Cheverny which has some excellent interiors and pretty gardens. The majestic Chateau de Chambord is also close and is worth a visit just for its amazing chimneys but it also has lots more to see! Amboise and the Chateau de Amboise are on a smaller scale but one of our favourites.