Just outside the doors of Paris stands the last royal fortified castle still standing in France. Alternately a hunting lodge, a royal residence, a state prison and an arsenal, Vincennes is not as famous as Versailles, which was built later. And yet, its history is rich: the Marquis de Sade, Voltaire, Mirabeau, Diderot were imprisoned there; a French prince was murdered in its moats on Napoleon’s orders; after WWII, President Charles de Gaulle made plans to move the presidential palace there…
With its 52 meters, the highest dungeon in Europe is a witness of French history. Conscious very early of the importance to leave the seething heart of the capital, to better control and contain all possible riots initiated by a warm-blooded Parisian population, the kings of France decided to have this castle built 8 km outside of Paris. The same reasoning led to the construction of Versailles a few centuries later. From a simple hunting lodge constructed around 1150 in the heart of the forest of Vincennes, it was turned into a real fortress in the 13th century.
King Louis IX (Saint Louis) was fond of the castle. While waiting for the Holy Chapel of Paris to be ready to receive them, he had the relics of the Crown of Thorns temporarily housed there. A fragment that remained behind received its own chapel at Vincennes, chapel which is worth visiting. Built on only one level, with beautiful coloured stained glass contrasting with the whiteness of the stone, it is at least as majestic as its illustrious sister on the Ile de la Cité in Paris.
In 1804, before the French Empire was establish, Napoleon had the Duke of Enghien, of royal blood, murdered in the moats of the castle, after a sham judgement, to prevent any possible coup from the royalist party and to quiet any possible domestic resistance to his rising power. “It was worse than a crime; it was a blunder”, analysed a famous state man of the time. The Duke’s remains were exhumed from the gross tomb where he had been hastily buried in the moat and placed in the Holy Chapel of the castle in 1816.
Closer to us, in 1964, French President Charles de Gaulle raised the idea to transfer the presidential palace from the Elysée palace to the castle of Vincennes, considering that the Elysées was too closed in and not prestigious enough. But the idea was soon abandoned. Nevertheless, there still exists a plan to move the seat of the presidential power to Vincennes in case the Seine River would overflow, as the Elysée is located in the flood zone. Who knows: maybe we’ll have an official speech from a president one day from the heights of the dungeon?…
For additional photos of the castle, check this album on our Facebook page.
For whom: everyone
Hours: open every day
From May 21st to September 22nd: from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm (access to the Holy Chapel from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm, and from 2:00 pm to 5:30 pm).
From September 23rd to May 20th: dungeon opened from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and access to the Holy Chapel from 10:30 am to 1:00 pm, and from 2:00 pm to 4:30 pm).