The Château de Chambord is a glorious example of French Renaissance architecture; the largest and most visited castle in the Loire Valley (according to my Lonely Planet Guide).
And it really is spectacular: 156 metres (170 yds) long and 56 metres (183 ft) tall, 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and over 400 rooms.
I have to be honest and say that it was not my favourite castle.
The château's history goes a long way toward explaining my view.
King François I initiated construction in 1519 and the castle took 30 years to build, although technically, it was never completed.
The salamander, the emblem of François I, decorates many surfaces throughout the castle
Chambord was built as a hunting lodge (Comtesse de Thoury, the King's mistress, just happened to own the domaine next door. Isn't that a coincidence?) Some of the rooms are furnished in line with the hunting theme.
While the design credit for the castle is disputed, but many experts believe that Leonardo Da Vinci designed the super cool double spiral staircase that internally links all three floors of the castle. (You might recall from this post that King François I and Leo were good mates.)
The second floor level of the staircase has ornate vaulted ceilings.
The external staircases are rather lovely too:
Including this one, which lead us up to the roof.
They say that the roof was designed to look like the skyline of Constantinople.
Speaking of the roof, the ornamental outcrops were made from tufa limestone as it is relatively soft and lends itself to easy carving. Unfortunately it erodes after years in the rain, so had to be replaced more frequently than stone. Many examples of the original roof pieces can be seen on the ground floor.
More super soft limestone
As you would imagine, Chambord was crazy expensive to build and construction halted several times due to lack of funds (not to mention a few wars here and there).
By the time François I died in 1547 he had spent a massive 7 weeks total in the castle. Turns out when you build an enormous castle with huge rooms and high ceilings it is very expensive to heat. Then there was the fact that the château was miles from anywhere, so all supplies had to be brought along when visitors came. And finally, because the castle was never intended to be a permanent residence it was never furnished - hunting parties would bring the 1500's version of fold up furniture with them. Given these parties could be up to 2000 strong you can imagine the logistical nightmare they would have been to organise.
Ornamental wood fire heater
François' son, Henry II along with King Louis XIV both continued work on Chambord. During the French Revolution the castle was stripped - all removable furnishings were sold and floor boards were used as firewood.
Chambord fell into disrepair several times only to be revived by various kings and other royal relatives.
The birth of the Duke of Bordeaux (known as the Comte de Chambord). The château was given to him as a baby in 1821.
During the 18th century sections of the castle were partitioned and lower ceilings installed to make the building more inhabitable.
The French government bought the château in 1930 from the Comte de Chambord's heirs. Shortly before WWII broke out many of the Louvre and Compiègne museums' artworks were stored in Chambord's chapel for safety (including the Mona Lisa).
As you can see from its history, the Château de Chambord has never been a home. Hell, it's never even been fully furnished - even now, open to the public, many rooms remain bare. It's so enormous and so opulent, but really, it's all a bit of a waste, insomuch as that it was never really used for the purpose for which it was built. Of course, being open for all of us to enjoy now goes a long way to redeeming this and I do thoroughly recommend you visit. It's stunning. A bit sad, but stunning.
Another example of what I'm trying to explain: the Coach Room displays beautiful horse drawn carriages built for the Comte de Chambord (saddlery provided by Hermès!). They were never used.
But it's spectacular, there's no doubt about it.
I hope you can squeeze in a visit one day!