The castle is at the end of the rocky promontory overlooking a bend in the Thouet, it has a triangular shape and its position made defence easier. It is but an evocative ruin these days, all lodgings have disappeared and there remains only three round towers.
To visualize the defence system and the power of the castle it is best to go across the river and view from some distance.
The first medieval fortress was built just after the millennium (it is reported for the first time in 1020), this was probably a motte, but its location is not well identified. The castle's current site dates from the eleventh century. It was significantly modified in the early thirteenth, Hugues Parthenay had received substantial funding from the King of England, John Lackland . The castle then included an enclosure with four or five towers and within, residential buildings for the Lord and domestic buildings (stables, wells, ...). In the fifteenth century the castle was enlarged with 9 round towers, one of which (the Powder Tower) measures nearly 50 meters in circumference, two are 36 meters (including Tour d'Harcourt), two 24 meters and the last four 15 meters. The exterior walls are 4 meters thick. The Bastille de Richemont, as its name suggests, was built in the mid-fifteenth century by Arthur de Richemont, then constable of France who became Lord of Parthenay. He strengthened the defenses of the castle to make it able to withstand cannon balls, artillery indeed becoming an essential component of the armies of the late Middle Ages. The Powder Tower going towards the west and along a ditch that is still clearly visible. The original tower was built around 1210.
La Tour d'Harcourt North (tour is tower in french) on a grassy courtyard is very damaged. Like its predecessor, the original tower was built around 1210. In the years 1442-1443, Arthur de Richemont strengthened and transformed the castle. In 1474, Francis I of Orleans-Longueville constructed residential buildings. As he rebelled against royal power the fortress was dismantled in 1487, but from 1492, François II was authorized to restore the fortifications. From 1641 the castle was abandoned by the new lords, the La Meilleraye. In the seventeenth century the King authorized the Ladies Christian Union to source construction materials from the rubble of the castle, then it was the turn of the Chapter of St. Croix to take stones. The castle then became a stone quarry where the locals of Parthenay came for their bricks. The final blow was dealt between 1830 and 1832, when the remnants of the castle was almost destroyed, so that all that remains today are ruins that we see. These were saved and restored from 1984.
This is the only Gothic style chapel in Parthenay. Founded by the Lord of Parthenay and given to the Franciscan order, also known as the Cordelians (because they wore knotted belts - corde in French). In the 14th century it lost its convent and was remodelled with a chancel being added.
On the north side is a 16th century chapel.
The romanesque style entrance door to the castle's Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-la-Couldre is still standing, although the remainder of the chapel was demolished after the revolution.
Due to the absence of documents, its exact age cannot be determined but architecturally it obviously belongs in the 12th century
The main portal is surrounded by rows of four semi circular mouldings depicting the lamb of God surrounded by angels, the Annunciation, Virtues and vices and the old men of the Book of Revelation.
This portal is flanked by two blind arcades whose ornamentation consists of motifs borrowed from the vegetal world.
The north arcade houses a horseman and the south one Samson fighting a lion, though you'll be hard pressed to see some of the badly eroded detail.
Parthenay castle is a reminder as to how important the town was as a regional centre in medieval times, although most is now in ruins with the lower parts of three castle towers and a section of ramparts along the river front being the principal parts remaining. Today grass grows where once the feet of defenders trod.
The original castle and its later additions were impressive structures, built in the 11th century and further reinforced in the 13th and 15th centuries - at one time with nine towers and substantial walls encircling the residential section and the stables.
The three parts visible today are the Bastille de Richemont, added in the 15th century to provide additional reinforcements, and the two older towers - the Tour de la Poudriere (the most intact of the towers), and the Tour d'Harcourt (of which little now remains), both dating from the 13th century.
This flanking tower was built in two stages, both in the 13th century and the first floor is still equipped with casemated arrow loops, the second a vaulted room.
The stairway goes up in the thick outside wall.
Today the inner part of the defensive position is a lovely grassed lawn with mature trees as you can clearly see in the pictures,
This bastille was erected in 1442 under the direction of Arthur de Richemont, new lord of Parthenay. As constable of the king's army, he was interested in technological developements in warfare which led to him to improve the defences with a mind to what artillery could do.
All that is missing today from this part is the crenellated parapet.
Tomb of Guillaume VII l'Archeveque. They had me fooled here for a while because I did not know whether this man was in fact an archbishop or not - judging by his name ("l'Archeveque") one would say that he was. Still, someone identified as his spouse was buried opposite this grave. I managed to solve the riddle as follows: "Joscelin II de Parthenay, son fils, de 1058 à 1059, entré en religion il devient trésorier de l'abbaye Saint-Hilaire de Poitiers puis archevêque de Bordeaux. La famille prendra le surnom de L'Archevêque". So one family member was indeed a bishop at Bordeaux and his entire family subsequently adopted the title as part of their surname.
Because we'd parked our car outside the old walls we did a reasonable amount of walking and so managed to see some more of the town. Here are the results.
The Thouet is not one of the world's great rivers, let's be honest, but it was the reason for establishing the town as water was a necessity, and still is, for civilization.
Parthenay is situated on the Thouet river in the quiet countryside of the Deux-Sèvres department (in Poitou-Charentes) to the west of Poitiers
There's not a lot of it left but what there is is evocative of times past, particularly this image here which takes you directly back hundreds of years.