Blois Things to Do

  • Château Royal de Blois, Wallcovering, 07/08
    Château Royal de Blois, Wallcovering,...
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  • Château Royal de Blois, Wallcovering, 07/08
    Château Royal de Blois, Wallcovering,...
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  • Eglise Saint-Nicolas, Column Capital, Blois, 07/08
    Eglise Saint-Nicolas, Column Capital,...
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Most Recent Things to Do in Blois

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    House of Houdin

    by al2401 Written Oct 8, 2011

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    The house of Robert-Houdin
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    Master of magic Robert-Houdin was born Jean Eugène Robert in Blois, on 6 December 1805. His father was a watchmaker and the young Jean Eugène followed in his footsteps. He was intrigued by all things mechanical and also the art of conjuring. He married Mademoiselle Josèphe Cecile Houdin and gained a special dispensation to take her last name.

    He is well known for magic tricks using mechanical figures and one of his most famous tricks was the Marvelous Orange Tree.

    His home in Blois is now a public museum and has a 'dragon' display hourly. Mechanical dragons move in and out of the windows.

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    Château de Blois

    by al2401 Updated Sep 28, 2011

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    Ch��teau de Blois
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    The Royal Château de Blois is located in the Loir-et-Cher département in the Loire Valley. It is in the centre of the modern city of Blois.

    It consists of a number of buildings built between the 13th and 17th centuries. These are centred around a main courtyard.

    One of these was the home of the famous French magician Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin (December 6, 1805 – June 13, 1871). He has the honour of being the father of modern conjuring and is thought to be the inspiration for Harry Houdini.

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    Château Royal de Blois: Fireplaces, Part II

    by von.otter Updated Apr 2, 2011

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois, Fireplace, July 2008
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    “It is not a woman, it is monarchy itself that has died!”
    — Jacques Auguste de Thou (1553-1617) French historian, his exclamation when he heard of the death of Catherine de’Medici at Château Royal de Blois on 5.January.1589

    There are some women who have a long-lasting impact on human behavior. Catherine de’Medici, Queen of France was one of those women. Here is how her influence is felt even today.

    In the 16th century the Medici family was among the most powerful in the world. Their banking empire stretched across Europe. This wealthy clan ruled Florence, and later Tuscany, for several hundred years. They were great patrons the arts; the family produced three popes; and they married into enough European royal houses to ensure their lasting influence. This included the 1533 betrothal of 14-year old Catherine de’Medici to France’s Henri, duc d’Orleans. He would become the next king, Henri II, and Catherine would be his Queen.

    Feelings of insecurity overwhelmed the diminutive Catherine as she prepared to face the dazzling French Court. For help she turned to a clever Florentine artisan. She expressed her fear of disgracing herself and her family unless she impressed the Court at her debut ball. Her confidant was her cobbler!

    What he created for this tentative teen-aged girl would captivate the entire Court of Catherine’s father-in-law, François I: a silk shoe with a four-inch heel. For Catherine, he had concocted something that gave her an allure, but also gave her the physical stature she wished for.

    High-heeled shoes quickly caught on with fashion-conscious women, as well as men, of the French Court; their popularity spread among the nobility throughout Europe. Both men and women continued wearing heels throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The French Revolution saw to it that wearing heels would decline in France because it was associated with the aristocracy. Throughout the first half of the 1800s, flat shoes were worn by both men and women; but the high heel resurfaced later in the century, almost exclusively for women. Thus, because of her insecurities, Catherine de’Medici helped women through the centuries gain some self-confidence by way of a little extra height.

    These grand fireplaces, with their polychromed and ornately carved royal emblems, were refurbished during castle renovations of the 19th century by Félix Duban, who took his inspiration from the royal emblems depicted in the Book of Hours of Louis XII’s queen, Anne, duchesse de Bretagne. Those royal emblems include the porcupine of Louis XII (see photo #5) and the ermine of Anne de Bretagne (see photos #1 & #2).

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    Château Royal de Blois: Entertainers

    by von.otter Updated Apr 2, 2011

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois, Costumed Performers, 07/08
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    “The Regency had retired to Blois. … The Ministers, the members of the Regency, Napoleon’s brothers, his wife and son arrived at Blois in disorder, swept away by the debacle: wagons, baggage-vans, carriages, everything was there; even the royal coaches.”
    — from “Mémoires d’outre-tombe” by François-René, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848)

    In March 1814 as the Allied Forces arrayed against Napoléon rushed toward Paris to take the man and his capital, his second wife Marie-Louise (1791-1847), empress of the French, took her Regency Government to Blois. Leading a skeletal government, the empress resembled a fugitive rather than a sovereign, who was protecting a sovereign-in-waiting, Napoléon II, King of Rome.

    Famous people born in Blois include Robert-Houdin (1805-1871), scientist, clockmaker and writer. He invented several electric clockworks which he named, such as the Horloge-Mère (Mother-Clockwork) and the Pendule Mystérieuse (Mysterious Clock), as well as Auguste Poulain, founder of the chocolate factory Poulain in 1848.

    During our July 2008 visit, in front of the Gaston d’Orléans Wing, a group of costumed actors/musicians entertained the crowd in the castle’s courtyard.

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    Château Royal de Blois: Louis XII Wing, Part II

    by von.otter Updated Aug 16, 2010

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois, Louis XII Wing, 07/08
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    “My third day’s journey brought me to the ancient city of Blois, the chief town of the department of Loire-et-Cher. This city is celebrated for the purity with which even the lower classes of its inhabitants speak their native tongue.”
    — from “Outre-Mer,” 1835, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

    It is thought that Colin Biart, a master mason born in Amboise in 1460, was the architect who built the Louis XII Wing of Château Royal de Blois. In 1500 Biart also oversaw construction on the Notre Dame Bridge in Paris and, later, was part of the team that worked on the cathedral at Bourges.

    The ground level open gallery is composed of alternating pillars; some are square and turned on at a 45° angle and carved with decorative candelabrum; the others are round and decorated with the royal emblems, fleur-de-lys, for Louis XII, and ermine pelts, for Anne de Britagne (see photos #2 & #3). The candelabrum carved details represent a tentative use of Italian Renaissance decoration, which took its inspiration from Antiquity.

    Brick and stone structures were still fashionable at the end of the 15th century in France. I like this combination of materials; it gains its warmth from the brick and its grandeur from the stone. Alternating brick and stone are used in the vaulting of the Louis XII Wing’s staircase (see photos #4 & #5).

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    Château Royal de Blois: The Chapel, Part I

    by von.otter Updated Aug 16, 2010

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois, Chapel + Courtyard 07/08
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    “Blois, among all the other cities of the Loire, is the favorite with the tourist. Here one first meets a great chateau of state; and certainly the Château de Blois lives in one’s memory more than any other chateau in France.”
    — from “Castles and Chateaux of Old Touraine” 1908, by Francis Miltoun

    Tastes may have changed since Mr. Miltoun wrote his book in 1908. If this town and its castle are popular with tourists they were not visiting the day we did. Few were tourists at the château; that was a welcome relief from the crushing crowds at Château de Chenonceau.

    The town of Saint-Calais takes its name from a French hermit Calais, who was the founder of the monastery of Anisole. King Childebert I granted him land, after a forest encounter while the king was hunting.

    La chapelle de Saint-Calais was established by monks in the Middle Ages when the castle was still in the hands of le comte de Blois. These monks had fled Saint-Calais, a monastic market town not far from Blois to the northwest, bringing along the relics of their sainted founder.

    La chapelle de Saint-Calais was rebuilt by Louis XII. In November 1508 it was consecrated by Antoine Dufour, bishop of Marseille and Queen Anne’s confessor.

    Forming the end point of the southern arm of the Louis XII Wing, the present-day facade was created entirely by Félix Duban in the 19th century, when this French architect carried out extensive renovations to the whole castle. The chapel’s nave was destroyed when Gaston d’Orléans’s Wing was built; only the choir remains.

    Above the entry door, Duban has recreated the L, for Louis XII, the A, for Anne de Britagne (see photos #3 & #4). Next to the L is a shield with the royal fleur-de-lys; and next to the A is a shield with ermine tails, Anne’s emblem.

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    Château Royal de Blois: The Chapel, Part II

    by von.otter Updated Aug 16, 2010

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois, Chapel Altar Windows 07/08
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    “It is true that for a long time to come the castle of Blois was neither very safe nor very quiet; but its dangers came from within, from the evil passions of its inhabitants, and not from siege or invasion.”
    — from “A Little Tour In France” 1884 by Henry James

    Henri III attended a Mass of Thanksgiving at chapelle de St-Calais following the assassination of the duc de Guise, the most notorious political act in the castle’s history. This is one of those dangers arising from “evil passions” that Mr. James speaks about.

    The interior decoration was restored by Félix Duban too, but bombardment during the Second World War damaged it. Uncertainties plagued Duban during his reconstruction; he gave up any attempt to recreate the chapel as it had been when Louis XI and Anne de Bretagne built the chapel in the early 1500s.

    Claude de France, queen consort to François I, was laid to rest in 1524 in this chapel in, build by her parents. There are claims of miracles to have taken place around her body!

    The walls, painted in bright colors, were skimmed in 1912. The vaulted ceiling (see photo #2) was painted blue and gilded in 1990. The stained glass window by Claudius Lavergne (1815-1887) did not stand up to the bombardments of 1944, and was replaced by that of Max Ingrand in 1957. Ingrand’s window (see photo #3) tells the principal historic tales of the château, including the importance of the castle to Jeanne d’Arc on 25.April.1429; here she organized her army, which would go on to liberate Orléans from the English.

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    Château Royal de Blois: Fireplaces, Part I

    by von.otter Updated Aug 16, 2010

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    Ch��teau Royal de Blois: Fireplace, July 2008
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    “Oh, wretched man! What has he done? Pray for him; I see him rushing towards his ruin.”
    — Catherine de’Medici (1519-1589), remarks to a priest on Christmas Day 1588 about the orders of her son, Henri III, to have the duc de Guise assassinated at Château Royal de Blois

    A SAVING GRACE Catherine de’Medici was the wife of France’s king Henri II, son of François I, whose Renaissance wing at Blois is quite beautiful. She was also the mother of France’s next three kings, François II, Charles IX and Henri III. Some have said that she was a dominating force in the lives of these three men. She served as Regent until the ten-year-old Charles reached his majority.

    What positive contribution to society was made by a woman whom history tells us had a penchant for scheming against and poisoning those who got in her way? Here’s my suggestion.

    Today what the world knows as French haute cuisine began in Italy, and Catherine de’Medici brought it to France from her native Florence. A group of capi cuochi, head cooks, that accompanied her helped to comfort the plump 14-year old princess with a taste of home. The delicacies included sorbets, macaroons, frangipani tarts, and zabaglione, a light custard (little wonder she was plump!). Catherine introduced eatables never before tasted in France, such as broccoli, green beans, peas, truffles, artichokes, and melons. The French were taught to prepare delicate sauces for meats instead of rubbing them with strong dry spices, a common Mediaeval practice.

    The Caterina de’Medici Gastronomic Society, a culinary group in the USA, praises her for bringing Italian cooking, the most sophisticated of the time, to France. At its headquarters in Rhinebeck, NY, the Culinary Institute of America named one of its restaurants, Ristorante Caterina de’Medici, for this great Italian woman.

    These grand fireplaces, with their polychromed and ornately carved royal emblems, were recreated during castle renovations of the 19th century by Félix Duban, who took his inspiration from the royal emblems depicted in the Book of Hours of Louis XII’s queen, Anne, duchesse de Bretagne. Those royal emblems include the porcupine of Louis XII, the salamander of François I and the ermine of Anne de Bretagne.

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    Cathédrale Saint-Louis

    by black_mimi99 Written Jul 31, 2009

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    The Cathédrale Saint-Louis was reconstructed in gothic style towards the end of the 17th century.
    It is flanked by a tall Renaissance tower with a domed top. The cryp dates from the 10th=11th centuries.

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    The Crowned Porcupine sculpture

    by black_mimi99 Written Jul 31, 2009

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    On the entrance wall of the chateau, we can see this The Crowned Porcupine sculpture, a symbol of Louis XII, a former resident of the Chateau. And we can find this Crowned Porcupine in other chateau also...

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    Château royal de Blois

    by black_mimi99 Written Jul 31, 2009

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    Château de Blois can serve as an exellent crash course in Loire Château architecture b'cos each of its wings - arrayed around a central courtyard - reflect the favoured style of a different period: Gothic (13th century); Flamboyant Gothic (1498 - 1503), from the reign of Louis XII; Early Renaissance (1515-24), from the reign of François I; and classical (1630s). Most signs are in English.

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    Château Royal de Blois: Royal Badges, Part I

    by von.otter Updated Apr 6, 2009

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    Ch��teau de Blois, Louis XII���s Badge, the Porcupine
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    “From near and afar, I can defend myself.”
    — motto of Louis XII (1462-1515)

    ON GUARD Louis de France, duc d’Orléans, adopted the porcupine as his emblem in 1394. He chose the porcupine to warn his enemies, especially Jean, duc de Bourgogne, that he would, without fear, avenge any attack, just as the porcupine throws its quills, near and far, at any who attacks it. It was a common misconception about what this prickly creature would do when attacked.

    Louis XII was duc d’Orléans before he became king in 1498; Louis de France was his grandfather. (So many Louis’s, the head spins!) When the younger Louis chose Blois as the town for his capital, he kept the porcupine emblem, decorating the castle with it. Anne de Bretagne’s ermine decorates the castle, too. Louis XII married Anne after her first husband and Louis’s predecessor, Charles VIII, died.

    Louis XII inherited the porcupine emblem from his grandfather and kept its symbolism of invincibility, especially during the Italian wars and his reconquest of Milan. A problem arose with the use of the bellicose porcupine as part of royal propaganda. It stood at odds with the image of a ‘père du peuple’ that Louis XII adopted in 1506. Certain disenchantment developed towards the aggressive porcupine leading to its neglect in royal pageantry and iconography by the second half of Louis’s reign.

    The Order of the Porcupine was established by Louis de France, duc d’Orleans in 1394 when his oldest son, Charles, was baptized. The number of knights was limited to 25, including the Sovereign, or Grand Master; and the Order’s motto was, Cominus et emitms, “From near and afar.” This Order continued to flourish until after Louis XII’s death, when it was set aside. The collar of the Order consisted of three gold chains, to which a gold porcupine pendent was attached.

    Anne de Bretagne, Queen of Charles VIII, and afterwards of Louis XII, adopted the ermine, the traditional hereditary device of her duchy, with the motto, Mulo mori quam faedari, “Better to die than be sullied;” the French put it this way, Plutot mourir que souiller. The seventeenth century author Sylvanus Morgan wrote “The ermine is a creature of so pure a nature, that it will choose to be taken rather than defile its skin.” It is said, that hunters surround it with a wall of mud, which it will not attempt to cross, and therefore it becomes an easy prey. Hence the ermine is the emblem of purity, and of honor without stain. Ceremonial robes of royalty and the nobility are lined with ermine to symbolize the internal integrity that should guide their conduct.

    In 1947, Muriel Roy Bolton wrote “The Golden Porcupine.” It is a highly fictitious account of the life of Anne of Beaujeu and her supposed romance with Louis XII.

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    Eglise Saint-Vincent de Paul

    by von.otter Written Mar 12, 2009

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    Eglise Saint-Vincent de Paul, Blois, July 2008
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    “Strive to live content in the midst of those things that cause your discontent. Free your mind from all that troubles you, God will take care of things.”
    — Saint Vincent De Paul (1580-1660)

    Originally the chapel of the Jesuit College and dedicated to St. Louis, the Church of Saint Vincent de Paul was built between 1634 and 1671. Its façade is typical of Jesuit churches, three floors are linked by Doric, Ionic and Gothic pilasters, additional Jesuit architectural elements include large scrolls, vases, and in France, fleurs-de-lys. Gaston, duc d’Orléans helped to move along the slow construction with personal donations.

    Inside the church, memorials to Gaston and his daughter, Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, (1627-1693), known as La Grande Mademoiselle, can be found. Located in the city center of Blois, facing the castle, the church was restored for worship in 1828 following its devastation during the French Revolution.

    In 1793, French revolutionaries broke the box that protected the heart of Gaston, duc d’Orléans, and they discarded it. Unfortunately, the Revolution caused many other such destruction of side chapels, a marble tile mosaic, the grid of the choir and the magnificent marble tomb in which rested a Polish princess.

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    Eglise Saint-Nicolas: Interior

    by von.otter Updated Mar 12, 2009

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    Eglise Saint-Nicolas, Column Capital, Blois, 07/08
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    “God, Our Father we pray that through your intercession of St. Nicholas you will protect our children. Keep them safe from harm and help them grow and become worthy in your sight. Give them the strength to keep their faith in you.”
    — A Prayer to St. Nicholas for children. The Feast of St. Nicholas is December 6th.

    The carvings of the church’s inside column capitals are fascinating; some appear to show acrobats (see phots #2 & #4)!

    The Church of Saint Nicolas de Blois was built in 12th and 13th centuries. It belonged to the former Benedictine Abbey Saint Laumer. It lies at the foot of the castle, in Old Blois. Romanesque and Gothic in style, it has the distinction of having inspired the nave of the Cathedral at Chartres.

    In AD 873 Benedictine monks of Blois took refuge in a monastery in the vicinity of St. Nick’s to escape Norman incursions. They brought with them the relics of St. Lomer. On the 25th of April 1138 Thibaut IV, Count of Blois, laid the corner stone. And between 1210 and 1218 the church is completely finished. In 1356, to defend against the English invasion, the church was fortified.

    In 1568, during France’s War of Religion, Protestant teachers from Blois set fire to the church destroying the vaults. In the 17th century the church is restored. In 1661 the vast rose window of the west façade is restored.

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    Eglise Saint-Nicolas: Exterior

    by von.otter Updated Mar 12, 2009

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    Eglise Saint-Nicolas, Blois, July 2008
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    “O good holy Nicholas, you who brought joy to children, put in my heart the spirit of childhood about which the Gospel speaks. Teach me how to sow happiness around me. Amen.”
    — A prayer to St. Nicholas

    St. Nicholas is the patron of bakers and pawnbrokers; his feast day is December 6. In today’s commercial, consumer-mad world Our Saint is known as Santa Claus, remembered mostly at the end of the year.

    The former abbey church of St. Nicholas can be seen from the grounds of Château Royal de Blois. From this vantage point it is possible to admire its great roofs, which resemble foothills covered in slate. This monumental building, located between the castle and the River Loire, combines Romanesque and Gothic styles.

    The main entrance is through the Portal Louis XIII (see photo #2), although it has two others that are of different widths and topped by a gallery of arches. The streets around the 12th century church are so narrow and the buildings so tightly packed that I could not find a spot to take a photo of the full facade.

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