A citadel called "castrum" is recorded in the 6th century on the site of the current château, on a rocky outcrop overlooking the Loire and its valley. The royal Château de Blois gives a wonderful overview of the history of the Loire valley, with four facades built in the styles of four different periods. It is the only château to be proud to have hosted no fewer than ten queens and seven kings of France.
Inside the Royal Château de Blois
The Grand State Hall
From the ninth century onwards, the Counts of Blois extended a fortress, with many renovations and rebuilds over the centuries. From this period vestiges of the ramparts are preserved, along with the "foix" tower and the Grand State Hall.
This is the oldest grand hall in France. It is characterised by a large room divided into two naves by a series of columns.
It owes its name to King Henry III who gathered two parliaments of noblemen here - the États Généraux de France, in 1576 and 1588, to try to stem the wars of religion that ravaged the kingdom at the time.
The François I wing
Upon his arrival in 1515, King François I undertook the redevelopment of the north wing of the château, which opened on to the gardens. These were entrusted to the Italian landscape architect Pacello Da Mercoliano. Four separate renovation projects lasted until 1524 and stopped upon the death of François' queen, Claude de France, daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany.
The Renaissance architecture shows all its Italian influences in the spiral staircase adorned with pillars and salamanders (emblems of the king) and other motifs on the older, courtyard side. The famous balconies that adorn the facade today on the city side were inspired by those created at the Vatican in Rome by the architect Bramante.
Queen Catherine de Medici lived on the first floor of this building in the second half of the 16th century. Her sons, the kings François II, Charles IX and Henry III occupied the floor above.
The Louis XII wing
In 1498, Louis Count of Blois and Duke of Orleans became King Louis XII of France. He undertook important restoration work, and developed the château and gardens in order to have the entire Court of France move to Blois.
The Louis XII wing is characteristic of the French Renaissance, its facades decorated with alternating bricks and stones. The decorations of the windows and skylights, and the equestrian statue of the king in a niche above the main portal complete the ensemble.
In the courtyard, the chapel of Saint-Calais, completed by Louis' successor King François I, is also representative of this period.
The Gaston d'Orléans wing
In the 17th century, Queen Marie de Médici and her son Gaston d'Orléans came to live in Blois. In 1635, with the help of the architect Mansart, Gaston began rebuilding the château. His projects ended three years later with the birth of his nephew, the future Louis XIV, who permanently replaced him in the line of succession.
The Gaston of Orleans wing reflects the new classical architecture, with its large dome crowning the main staircase, its pediment bearing the arms of France and the rhythmic and symmetrical windows. In parallel, an exceptional botanical garden was created with a staggering variety of plants - nearly 2,300 species! When Gaston died in 1660, the Château de Blois fell into disrepair, and the gardens were abandoned.
The château was saved from demolition during the the French revolution by being assigned to the army. It hosted various military regiments until 1840 when it is classified as historical monument, on the initiative of Prosper Mérimée. From 1843, the architect Félix Duban carried out extensive restoration work.
In 1992, landscape architect Gilles Clément created a new garden on the site of the Renaissance gardens of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany - these are the Jardin de Simples and the the Royal flower garden.
Today, the Royal Château de Blois is a "Museum of France"with more than 35,000 works and exhibits. It houses the precious stones museum and the Museum of the Fine Arts of the city of Blois. It is also the setting for regular annual events and the place where special occasions in the life of the city are focussed.
The assassination of the Duke of Guise
On the morning of December 23, 1588, Henry of Lorraine, third Duke of Guise, was summoned by King Henry III to his room in the Royal Château of Blois. Much to his surprise and discomfort, he was stabbed to death by no fewer than forty-Gascon soldiers from the king's personal guard hiding behind what must have been very sumptuous curtains indeed. Henry III looked at the corpse, declaring, my God he is great, so great! He seems even greater dead than alive!
Henry's dastardly act served to restore his royal authority. After being driven out of Paris by a mob supporting to the cause of the Catholic League, of which the Duke of Guise was the leader, King Henry III decided to bring together the second États Généraux parliament in Blois. To his chagrin, the majority of noblemen present supported the cause of the Duke of Guise, and the the king decided his best course of action was to have his rival murdered, along with his brother, the Cardinal of Lorraine, done to death the next day, December 24.