A special shout-out to Maryline Martin, who is building “a replica of a medieval chateau of the mid-13th century using the techniques of the time: iron tools and no electricity.” (New York Times, Sunday, August 1, 2010 pg. 8) The castle, named Guedelon after the surrounding forest, is two hours outside of Paris and welcomes 315,000 visitors a year. The workers on the site “make their own lumber, mortar and tiles” and the tavern-restaurant on the site serves “a reasonable medieval meal heavy on lamb, ham, sausage and preserved fish...The castle kitchen is overseen by Francoise de Montmollin, 62, who bakes flat bread with a flour of lentils, chickpeas and bran, makes pies with salted fish and roasts chickens on a spit with a “green sauce” cited in troubadour songs of the time.” Extreme attention is paid to using authentic processes and they’ve “rediscovered much, like a decent recipe for lime-based mortar and a method for creating the vaulted ceilings of the time…It was the first ribbed vault built in 700 years. While plans are to finish the castle in the next 12 to 15 years, with its great hall, family quarters, grand staircase and tower of nearly 95 feet, the point of the exercise is the construction, not the conclusion. For Ms. Martin, Guedelon has been ‘a delirious human adventure,’ she said. ‘When they lay the last stone, it will be terrible, terrible.” It’s a fascinating story of a tremendous undertaking, and there’s video on the site as well. You can read the whole story by clicking here or by accessing the New York Times, Sunday, August 1, 2010 pg. 8
And lucky for Americans, the founder of the French castle has started a similar endeavor in the U.S., this one 30 minutes sought of Branson MO. Here’s the link to the article, and here's a link to the Ozark Medieval Fortress website.
According to the New York Times article:
“The fortress is both a serious historical reenactment and an offbeat tourist attraction, allowing the public to watch and chat with workers as they chisel stone, lift blocks with a human-powered hamster-wheel crane, forge tools and chains, and make rope or tiles. Following construction plans drafted by a French architectural historian, it will take the crew 20 years to erect a fortress with five-foot-thick walls and seven towers, including one more than 70 feet high. The walls, begun before the public opening and currently standing around six feet high, will eventually reach 25 feet.
Tool-building is not the only draw. As visitors occasionally step aside for a passing donkey or for Honey, the castle’s Belgian draft horse, they follow a self-guided route past a pen of bleating sheep, a rustic textile workshop and the quarry before reaching the construction site and stations devoted to stone facing, carpentry, pottery and blacksmithing. All of the attractions (aside from the sheep) are vital to the creation of the castle. Docent-led tours ($1) offer a more in-depth look at the history of castles and life in the Middle Ages, and a stone-cutting lesson ($5) allows visitors to create their own take-home souvenir. A gift shop is stocked with everything from tomes on medieval Europe to logo mugs and T-shirts, baskets woven by a castle worker and toy wooden cross-bows made in France.
Unlike its French counterpart, the fortress also stages occasional demonstrations of sword-fighting, falconry, boulder-hurling by catapult and other medieval pursuits. “This being America, we needed more interactive features,” said Julie Sonveau, a Kansan who worked for six years at the Burgundy castle before becoming manager of the Arkansas site. “But the spirit of the two places is the same. Even on our event days, it’s the castle that visitors like the most, and they love talking with the workers.” Catherine Koehler, a Mississippi native who is a textile worker at the castle, was gearing up for a first attempt at making dye from oak galls. “I wasn’t sure of the exact process,” said Ms. Koehler, who waved a printout of instructions she had found on the Internet in her right hand. “But look what just arrived by carrier pigeon.”
Finding information on medieval building techniques, or trades of any kind, is much more difficult than it seems. I’ll be writing frequently on how-to information from the Middle Ages and I invite you to post your own info here. In fact, does anyone know of a site that compiles how-to trade info on the Middle Ages? Might be a worthwhile endeavor. Frankly, anyone writing historical fiction could use a good reference book on how, exactly, leather is tanned, how bread was made, what roots dyed what color etc. If you know of such a book, please post it here, with my thanks!
Causes Jess Wells Supports
Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, Friends of the Urban Forest, The Heifer Project, Forests Forever, NRDC