Chateau de Vincennes visitor guide

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The Chateau de Vincennes is an important castle in the Val-de-Marne department, about 10 kilometres to the east of the centre of Paris.

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France This Way review: the Chateau de Vincennes is one of the most impressive and largest castles in France, and one that has played an important role in the history of France so a visit is very interesting

It is hard to imagine now, but the Chateau de Vincennes was once surrounded by forests. As you will see when you visit, urbanisation of the Paris area has removed most of these and the castle is now part of a town.

History of the Chateau de Vincennes

A hunting lodge stood in this location from the middle of the 12th century onwards, although nothing of that original building remains, and a first castle was built here at the end of the 12th century. For an extended period from the 12th century onwards the castle was an official Royal residence, and several future kings were born (Charles V: 1364), married (Philippe III: 1274) and died (Louis X:1316 and Charles IV:1328) at Vincennes.

The Chateau de Vincennes that we see today dates from the 14th century, with the chapel and changes made by Francois I added in the 16th century and further 17th century additions. Its role continued until 1682, at which time Louis XIV changed the royal residence to Versailles.

From the 18th century, even if the Chateau de Vincennes had been abandoned as a home for Kings it continued to be used as a prison and to have various other roles as a factory and a nunnery and then as an arsenal by Napoleon I.

From the imprisonment of the Marquis de Sade, to the hanging of Mata-Hari and the execution of hostages here by the nazis, the dramatic history of the castle continued into the 20th century. It suffered important damage at the end of the Second World war with renovations carried out in the decades that followed.


Chateau de Vincennes and architecture

The castle takes the form of a large rectangle of defensive walls, enclosing approximately 6 hectares (14 acres) of space and surrounded by broad moats. There are nine towers, set at regular intervals along the defensive walls, although these were reduced in height during the 19th century.

The donjon (castle keep) that forms part of the defences is the tallest fortified medieval building in Europe, and faces across to the gothic style Saint-Chapel that was started soon after the donjon but only completed 170 years later.

Although the main role of the castle was to provide protection for the King, in medieval times the Chateau de Vincennes was more like a fortified town than a castle and several thousand people lived within the safety of the walls, a security that was reinforced by a moat around the ramparts.

The two large palaces that line the edges of the castle, known as the Kings Pavilion and Queens Pavilion, were added later - in the 17th century - and are one of the best examples of renaissance style chateau architecture in France. The work was supervised by Louis le Vau prior to work starting on the Palace of Versailles.

Since the early 1990's the chateau at Vincennes has been subject to an extensive range of renovation work, under the control of the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Culture and it reopened for public visits in 2007.

The castle is a listed National Monument of France.

Attractions nearby

The Chateau de Vincennes will usually be visited as an excursion from Paris, which of course has numerous historic monuments to explore.

See more castles in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Paris region guide.

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The French version of this page is at Chateau de Vincennes (Francais)