Macron's project to revive the Château de Villers-Cotterêts

Home"Anciens1"Macron's project to revive the Château de Villers-Cotterêts
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In the castle of Villers-Cotterêts. - Photo Credits: CRT Picardie / Anne Sophie Flament

The President of the Republic wants to return to the castle of Francis I its role as a center of the Francophonie. An expensive project.

Last September, since Castle of Monte Cristo, in Yvelines, Emmanuel Macron promised to dedicate the castle of Villers-Cotterêts (Aisne), built for François Ier, "to the francophone culture". Is it not here, in 1539, that the power has imposed the use of French in official acts? Since then, the councilors of the Elysée, Matignon, the Ministry of Culture, the center of national monuments and Bercy are tearing their hair to turn the desire of the prince into a project in gold and, above all, viable.

Villers-Cotterêts is as huge (23,000 m2, all classified) as the task of these advisers. How can you bring it back to life without emptying the coffers of the state and without compromising other restorations? In the most grandiose scenarios - renovation of the whole, opening of a museum and a conference center - there is talk of 200 million euros worth of work. The sum, if it was spent for Villers-Cotterêts, would simply prevent the renovation of the Grand Palais, planned from 2020.

»READ ALSO - Leïla Slimani: "Villers-Cotterêts must embody the vivacity of the Francophonie"

It will be necessary, nevertheless, to do something for the last domain royal and princely French without affectation. When you get off the train station Villers-Cotterêts, signs indicate the presence of a castle of Francis I. Yet it is a "retirement home departmental" which is announced on its pediment, street side. Between 1809 and 2014, the elegant 16th century buildings, as well as the 19th century additions, served as a begging depot, then a retirement home operated by the city of Paris.

State of desolation

Once the door is pushed, the desolation is total. How could one let a royal home deteriorate so much? Leprosy walls, opaque windows, roofs covered with tarpaulins ... The former hunting lodge of kings designed by Le Breton (siblings also at work for Fontainebleau) pale. For security reasons, it is not even possible to enter the central body, each having to respect a distance of five meters.

Inside, decors, stairs and caissons, of the same water as those of Chambord but surpassing them, wait for their time. An exuberant chapel, mixing Christian symbols, salamanders and fleurs-de-lis, a work of art, is closed to the public. "The whole is surrounded by the forest of Retz, old big hunting ground which attracted Francis Ist here, "recalls Nathalie, a guide at the tourist office in Retz-en-Valois.

"From the moment Napoleon decided to make the castle a begging depot, we lost our past"

A resident of Villers-Cotterêts

At the beginning, in Monsieur's time, a pleasure garden was set up for Le Nôtre. But who remembers it? Today, Villers-Cotterêts is "a scandal", summarizes Jacques Krabal, deputy LREM of Aisne. In March 2017, during the presidential campaign, the ardent defender of Villers-Cotterêts still managed a coup de maître. While the candidate Macron was preparing to hold a meeting in Reims, largely dedicated to culture and the French language, he made him make a detour through the city, during the Semaine de la Francophonie.

Standing in the paved courtyard, Emmanuel and Brigitte Macron had then taken the measure of the disaster - they were not even allowed to enter the Renaissance rooms of the castle. Whatever. Once elected, the President of the Republic saw all the ability to bind his name to this royal place and founder for the French identity.

»READ ALSO - Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts: when Macron remakes history

Especially since the Cotteréziens are waiting for a form of repair. "From the moment when Napoleon I decided to make the castle a deposit of begging, we lost our past," judge an inhabitant. Driven by the feeling of having been and no longer quite, the city has ended up electing a front-line mayor, Franck Briffaut. And it is the statue of Alexandre Dumas, born in 46 of the street of the same name, as well as the museum dedicated to him, which still anchors Villers-Cotterêts in history.

"If it is a cultural and especially economic revival of one of the main cities of the Aisne, the region will follow"

Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region

"I do not know what Emmanuel Macron will announce, and for now, we are in the vagueness on the scope of his project, says Xavier Bertrand, president of the Hauts-de-France region. But if it is a cultural and especially economic revival of one of the main cities of Aisne, the region will follow. "

Xavier Bertrand hopes that the Élysée will rely on an old "call for ideas for the revitalization of Villers-Cotterêts", launched under Holland. Via a website of the real estate department of the state (dependent on Bercy), the call was intended to collect all the suggestions capable of reviving these "23,000 square meters useful, offering a considerable potential."

In six months, some proposals had fallen on the desk of the famous direction. These include the development of a luxury hotel, the opening of a casino or the installation of a start-up incubator. But if the councilors are thinking of opening a café, or even a hotel in the outbuildings, to balance the accounts of the future major center of the Francophonie, the orientation is not that one. There is urgency to decide. Besides the stones that crack more each day, the president promised to return, probably in February, announcements in hand.


 

Source: ©  Macron's project to revive the Château de Villers-Cotterêts

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