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Chateau Gaillard visitor guide

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Visit Chateau Gaillard, France

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Chateau-Gaillard is a classified historic monument (classified in 1852) with the impressive ruins of a castle standing above the village of Les Andelys in the Normandy countryside, 40 kilometres from Rouen.

Brief history of Chateau-Gaillard

Chateau-Gaillard was built by Richard the Lionheart over a two year period starting in 1196. It was built as part of the many struggles between the Kings of England and France during this period - the English controlled Normandy at the end of the 12th century. Richard died from a wound during the course of the construction.

Château Gaillard view

The castle had a colourful history through the Middle Ages, including a terrible siege by the French in 1203 shortly after the castle was completed in which many hundreds died of hunger before the French managed to seize the castle in an impressive display of strategy by building a covered walkway to reach the bottom of a tower, using the walkway to carry rubble to fill in that section of the moat, and then building a fire that undermined the tower.

Ultimately a section of the tower collapsed allowing access to the outer part of the castle. The next defences of the castle were breached via the chapel, and access to this section enabled the French to lower the castle drawbridge, and ultimately for Philip II of France to seize it from the English.

The castle changed hands between the English and French at various times during the Hundred Years War. Various sieges and imprisonments continued during the centuries that followed including the imprisonment and death of Margaret of Burgundy, the adulterous wife of Louis X, who was strangled with her own hair at the prison in August 1315.

In 1417 the castle held out against a siege by the English for 16 months, eventually failing because the last rope that was being used to get water from the wells broke and they at last were forced to surrender.

Largely abandoned, Chateau-Gaillard was already falling to ruin when Henry IV had it substantially destroyed in 1603 - for safety reasons rather than military reasons.

Visiting Chateau Gaillard

The substantial ruins of the castle that remain are a romantic and evocative sight on the hill above Les Andelys village, with far reaching views over the Seine Valley, and are a highlight of a visit to the region.

The original castle layout is still apparent, largely in the form of three defensive walls (the inner, middle and outer baileys) and the substantial keep and part of the living accommodation inside the inner bailey. A particular innovation at Château Gaillard was the use of machicolations* on the walls, a technique that substantially protected the soldiers in the castle from external attack and was virtually unknown in earlier castles.

*The use of a 'stepped' wall around the top of the defences, so that soldiers could shoot from between sections of wall - like the top of the walls in a child's drawing of a castle.

Chateau-Gaillard was also built with an unusual design that involved successive rings of moats and fortifications, making the inner keep almost impregnable. The castle walls were built as a series of 19 round arcs, an innovative feature at the time, because of their greater ability at deflecting attacks, and the improved view out that they provided to the archers inside the castle.

From the car park you have one of the best views of the castle and it is a good place to enjoy a picnic.

Les Andelys village

Attractions nearby

Although the castle is the main attraction, you will also want to stroll along the banks of the Seine river in Les Andelys, 90 metres below the castle. It is a pleasant village and you can see the Hospice of Saint-Jacques and a gothic style church as well as visit the Nicolas-Poussin Museum.

Enthusiasts of castles will also enjoy a visit to the Chateau de Champ-de-Bataille to the west of Les Andelys, which is a complete contrast to Chateau-Gaillard, being a 17th century castle surrounded by formal gardens.

We also recommend a visit to the village of Lyons-la-Foret, north of here and with lots of attractive medieval houses.

See more castles in France. You can find more travel ideas in the Eure guide and the Normandy guide.

See also: 

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Map of Chateau Gaillard and places nearby

Visit near Chateau Gaillard with France This Way reviews

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