Warning: history follows!
On the eastern edge of Paris, outside the Périphérique (the highway that surrounds central Paris) one can step back into the 14th century with a 15-minute Metro ride. Today, rather than take that 15-minute Metro, we took a 30-minute bus ride into the 14th century and it was amazing.
In the 12th century, the French monarchy decided it really needed a hunting ground near Paris – I mean, after all, who wants to go to an actual forest to hunt? So inconvenient – and so built a hunting lodge, with an enclosed hunting ground to keep the game close-by – I mean, after all, who wants to actually hunt for something before shooting it? So tiring – at the Bois de Vincennes. In the 14th century, Charles V converted the hunting lodge to a fortress, with an enclosed community, strong walls, defensive towers and, in the middle, a huge keep, also known as a donjon, that would protect him against any invaders that penetrated the first set of walls. And despite the audio-guide’s assertions that Charles V did that to protect himself against the English in the Hundred Years War, all other histories say he did it because he hated Paris and its residents and they reciprocated the feeling. Charles V, King of France, was scared to death that Parisians would attack and overpower his army.
Regardless, the Chateau de Vincennes stands today, much as it was when Charles V lived there from 1364 to 1380. The walls stand, two of the four gates into the fortress remain, and most impressively, the keep itself has been restored to as it was in the 14th century. Here’s the keep:
The main gate was called the Town Gate, because it opened into the town of Vincennes, not that anyone from the town of Vincennes was ever allowed to enter the fortress. This is the current view of the Town Gate from the town:
Here’s what the chateau area looks like from the top of the Keep’s walls. This shows maybe 20% of the area enclosed by the Chateau de Vincennes.
These places, while beautiful today, were cold and dark and essentially nasty, particularly during winters. Here is the fireplace in Charles V’s main chamber; that should have kept him warm:
Finally, Charles V build a church in the chateau, called St. Chapelle, same as the St. Chapelle on Ile de la Cité in Paris. Like the St. Chapelle of Paris, it was meant to hold a holy relic, in this case a thorn from the Christ’s actual Crown of Thorns.
In previous blogs, I may have stated my disbelief about all these relics. If you gathered together all the pieces of Christ’s Crown of Thorns or all the pieces of Splinters of the True Cross, you’d have a dumpster full of thorns and a tree trunk of wood splinters. When a King went on a Crusade, he had to bring back something to show what a good thing he’d done. And the people of the lands he invaded knew that, and many a monarch was sold many a fake.
Anyway, Chateau de Vincennes fascinated us. There was almost no one here; I guess it’s too far outside the tourist track to draw in many folks. But if you’re interested in seeing where a king lived in the 14th century, this is the place to go. It’s well worth that Metro ride.