The French castle, Chateau de Martainville.
Built in 1495, this renaissance castle in Normandy was a pleasure to visit. Each nook and cranny was filled with interesting and odd treasures from times gone by.
Inside the chateau is the museum of art and traditions of Normandy.
The collections in the Chateau de Martainville were so varied. There were exhibits about outfits and hats traditionally worn by women in Normandy. One exhibit was about the making of musical instruments, another about the making of hand-printed cloth. There were rooms full of period furniture and specific objects made in Normandy.
I found the place utterly fascinating!
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View from the stables facing the castle.
Ultimately this was just a house when it comes right down to it. Inside there are 12 huge rooms, four on every floor. Plus there is a central hall so large that on the 2nd floor there is a chapel inside of it! You can see the ornate windows of the chapel in the center of the façade above the main door. This was not originally part of the design, it was added later, as were some of the ornate window decorations.
The view from the front door of the Chateau de Martainville.
Looking out of the main door of the castle, there are two rows of low brick buildings. On the left: a cottage and the stables. The tower at the far end is actually a pigeon perch. Not seen: there is a parallel set of low brick buildings on the right that runs the length of this long yard. All of the buildings were previously utility buildings for carriages, animals, and for other farm-related needs.
Above, you can see the ornate ceiling of the main entry hallway.
At the far end are the front doors, and in the foreground there is a model of a thatched roof. During our visit to Martainville, there was a temporary exhibit on display about building methods specific to Normandy. I sat and watched the entire video of a man building a thatched roof. It was so interesting!
The castle’s kitchen was huge!
In some of the rooms, the museum directors tried to recreate what the castle might have looked like originally, in the early 1500’s. After seeing the fire spit and the butter churn and the other tools for cooking back then, I felt so grateful to have a modern refrigerator and stove!
The castle went through a period when it lost all of it’s original furniture as well as the wooden panels that originally covered the walls. Today, nearly all of the brickwork is exposed. The wall coverings in this photo are not original to the building, but were added in the 1700’s. They don’t go all the way to the ceiling because there was a drop ceiling in place at that period of time. Apparently it was not fashionable to see ceiling beams at that point in history.
The wall panels built in the 1700’s are missing from the rest of the house because the panels were used as firewood during the occupation of the building by the Prussians in the 1870’s.
A carved oak wedding chest
This chest from the 1500’s is one example of the many chests in the house. Like many of the other ones in the castle, this one is a wedding chest, given by the bride’s parents to the bride. This tradition started among the aristocrats in the middle ages in many areas of Europe, but in Normandy the tradition started to change in the 1600’s when it became the tradition for parents to give an armoire instead of a chest.
There were many examples of these wedding armoires in the Chateau de Martainville.
I loved this chest. Look at those faces! I love “Greenmen” faces (a face with leaves all around, sort of a tree-nymph kind of sprite), so I obviously really like the face on the far right. The guy in the middle with three faces is a little unnerving however! I wonder if the bride’s parents were sending a message to the groom: we’ll be watching you no matter where you go! Creepy…
Here’s the master bedroom of the castle.
This room has furniture typical of the 1400’s, the period when the chateau was built. In the back under the tapestry, you can see another wedding chest.
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Traditional furniture from the 1700’s
The rooms on the second and third floors display the living conditions in different regions of Normandy, or different periods of history. This room is dedicated to furniture of the 1700’s.
The piece to the far right was specifically built to house the tall hats women in Normandy wore at that time! I took more photos of these tall hats, so scroll to the bottom to see more.
Wedding armoires and grandfather clocks
Armoires like this one were scattered all over this castle. An entire room was dedicated to them, interspersed with this specific style of hand-carved grandfather clock. There must have been around 20 wedding armoires in the house all told.
These armoires were gifts from bourgeois fathers to their daughters for their weddings. Starting in the 1600’s the Normand tradition switched slowly from giving wedding chests (given since the middle ages), to giving these armoires.
According to tradition, the father would cut down an oak tree upon the birth of a daughter. Then, when the daughter was engaged to be married, the father would have the wood carved into an armoire to be a gift and part of the woman’s dowry.
Don’t sleep like a dead person!
This room was so curious to me: on the left there’s a typical bed from the 1700’s. I learned that although there was an exit where the feet were, you weren’t supposed to exit the bed there until you were dead! Also, the beds from that period were always really short, because it was thought that you needed to sleep propped up against pillows. The idea was that only dead people lied flat on their backs. I guess there was a lot of superstition about death at that time!
Also, check out that child in the weird wooden harness… That’s an object from the 1800’s to help a child learn to walk!
View from the third floor of the castle over the back gardens and the farmland beyond.
Historical objects from Normandy
The fourth floor of the castle had no windows, but the large rooms were filled with really interesting exhibits about traditional objects created in Normandy.
This room was dedicated to fabric, this enormous loom, and included an interesting display about hand-printing fabric patterns. It was really hard to photograph, though.
Can you believe these hats?!
These hats were only found in Normandy between 1730 and 1830, and, strangely enough, each of these hats was specific to a different region in Normandy. In the little information panel at the bottom of the display there’s a map with different colors, and each hat was worn in one of those different areas of Normandy.
You can see in the next photo that they would attach lace to the top of these hats that would fall down over the shoulders or behind the woman. They were held in place by very long pins.
Women’s fashion in Normandy
You can see the hats and their lace accessory in the display above. These styles were typically worn in the 1700’s.
As you can see from the rear view of the Chateau de Martainville, the grounds of the castle were quite lovely. In the warmer seasons I imagine it would be lovely to have a picnic on the lawn to the right where they had picnic tables set up. It was rather cold during our visit, so we picnicked in our car!
What did you like most about this French castle?