France is home to thousands of medieval castles, some that are prominent tourist sites or serve as hotels or lavish homes. However, there are hundreds of these sites that have been abandoned and left to slowly ruin. One website is documenting these places in hopes that it will lead to some conservation efforts.
Abandoned France was started in 2009 by John S. (he doesn’t want his last name revealed), in which he visits sites across the country that have been left to ruin. They range from castles and churches to industrial factories and train stations. Many date back to the Middle Ages.
“I was amazed how something of so much beauty could be just left to fall down,” explained John, who has been visiting these sites and taking photos and videos of them. At one 500-year old ruin, “the lady who owns the chateau had her young husband lose his life there, and she walked away never to return vowing to let the castle fall. Local historians I spoke too you say she has never returned, but each year on Boxing Day I return to photograph what is left hoping she may see what it has become and finally pass it on.”
The website offers impressive details about these places, revealing their history and how they can be found. While some ruins are major tourist sites, others are unknown to the general public, and are filled with the trash from previous occupants. Even though many of these places are listed as historical monuments, French law does little to force an owner to maintain them.
The strangest castle he came across was Chateau de Jovelle, which lies in the Dordogne of southwest France. John explains, “it had a family home attached to it, and outside sat this little Renault 4 sat on its side looking like it had been stolen and abandoned but upon further investigation around the ‘zone’ I found a old photo showing the car on the same premises maybe 20 years before. The castle itself was a very eery place, with ivy growing up the fireplaces, you can enter a downstair room, very damp. Its church which still survives on the first floor, but right above your head there is nothing to protect you should it suddenly collapse. But an amazing place!”
Some of John’s favourite abandoned medieval castles include:
Peyrepertuse – located high up in the French Pyrénées, this castle’s history includes being a Cathar fortress in the High Middle Ages. Over a hundred thousand visitors now walk its ruins each year.
Chateau du Spesbourg – a 13th-century fortress in the northeast corner of the country.
Chateau de Lavardin – first built in the 11th century, this castle in central France saw several upgrades in the Middle Ages and Early Modern period, but has now largely collapsed.
John is not just recording the ruins of France, but is also doing his own conservation work. He purchased a house dating back from the 17th-century for €20,000 and has already replaced the roofs, the rotten timber work, and added new floors and a stone staircase. He hopes to make it his own castle for himself and his family.
John has now visited over three hundred places. He explains, “my site is aimed to try and show France’s heritage from a different viewpoint, to show it what it has to save before it becomes too late. If my site saves just one castle then my work is done – I am also hoping that maybe not now but one day others will look back at my photos as I do at historical photos now.”