Read any book on the evolution of the castle and you are bound to come across Provins. This, along with Étampes, Paris and Gisors, Normandy mark the development of the ‘donjon’ or great tower.
A short train ride from Paris brings one to the world heritage site of Provins – one of the best walled towns in France. Walking up from the station one first passes through the lower town before mounting steeply to the upper and still further to the castle mound upon which stands La Tour César. The appellation is recent – an attempt to provide antiquity for the site.
Built in the 12th century by the Counts of Champagne its plan is exceptional in its attempt to provide the ultimate in defence. In this, it might be said, it failed as it was never repeated and the counts soon abandoned the tower for their more commodious palace below.
César is a massive, vaulted octagonal tower upon a square base flanked by turrets. It is now covered by steeply pitched roofs which mask the crenellations but these are not original and date from between the 16th and 18th century.
During the Hundred Years War the castle was taken by the English who beefed up the defences by adding a ‘chemise’ for artillery. The French accorded this the amusing name of ‘Paté aux Anglais’.
With the English gone the castle lapsed into obscurity and, in the 16th century, the upper works were adapted to form the belfry of the adjoining church of St Quiriace.
Come the 19th century there was a renewed interest in the medieval period and the tower was put in a state of repair which work has continued till the present day.
The award of World Heritage status has led to much work in the town and especially on its medieval walls which are being consolidated and cleaned at the present time.
* Start of an occasional series. Article by SCA member Brian McGarrigle.
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