HYSTORY OF THE SITE

A fortress in the marshland, embellished by Jean-Louis de Courbon and praised by Pierre Loti.

There is no doubt that this site, on the bank of the river Bruant, protected by two cliffs has been chosen by man since immemorial time.
Under the present château are caves in which prehistoric objects were found proving that they were inhabited in paleolithic times during the Mousterian, Aurignacian and Magdalenian periods (120.000, 40.000, 10.000 BC). Here and there, in other parts of the forest surrounding this château, one can find traces of the enclosure of a Gallo-roman village, Merovingian tombs and, long before the present dwelling, the remains of the 11th Century walls: the place then was called ROMETTE.


1 - The present château: Around 1475 Jehan II de Latour had two parts of the château main body built with four strong towers and a massive keep. This château was built in the form of a triangle on a rocky outcrop with the marshland as a natural defence. To the North, the Fuye tower acted as defence. After three centuries of conflict with the English in our region, it was unthinkable to build a château other than a fortified and defensive one.

In 1603, Jacques de Courbon, having married Jeanne de Gombaud in 1595, freed ROMETTE from a 130 year old joint possession. It was then that the terms "La Roche" and "Courbon" gave rise to "LA ROCHE COURBON" which became the name of the place.

2 - In the seventeenth century, Jean-Louis de Courbon, grandson of Jacques, transformed La Roche Courbon as can be seen on the painting of the Dutch painter Jan Hackaert (1628-1685).
The main building of the château is opened up to daylight : wide windows are installed to east and west and the roof has Mansart' style openings. An elegant balcony is constructed on arches "en anse de panier" supported by five Tuscan pillars. A double staircase goes down to the gardens along the border of which the lazy little river Bruant wanders and throws itself, a few kilometers further on into the Charente. The surroundings are harmoniously integrated with the esplanade supported by a high wall above the water course. Lime trees encircle this spacious terrace bordered by two Louis XIII pavilions covered in fish-scale tiles, a miracle of elegance.

3 - Another precious document, signed towards 1710 by Claude Masse (military architect to Louis XIV) shows that the east part of the main building and the two strong towers no longer exist.

It is thought that a large part of the building was destroyed by fire. In the eighteenth century the castle was nearly abandoned except when the marquis Sophie-Jacques de Courbon, in 1785, regained the family property for 240.000 pounds. He settled in the château, undertook a series of improvements : the huge stone staircase leading to the upper storeys of the vestibule and in the gardens.

 

4 - After the revolution, the marquis not having emigrated, the château was not sold a state property. In 1817 his daughter being bankrupted had the property sold at auction. Then the long sleep of La Roche Courbon began until its second re-birth in the twentieth century.

 

5 - "Who wants to save from the death sentence a forest with its feudal castle in its midst, a forest whose age is unknown." These are the words of Pierre Loti, famous french writer, describing La Roche Courbon in "Le Figaro" in 1908.

In 1920, Paul Chénereau, born in Echillais (17), a graduate of the "Ecole Polytechnique" and a lover of art was moved by this call and promised the poet that he would save la Roche Courbon. So, at the same time, as managing his food conserves business in Rochefort and Madagascar, he founded the "Société du Domaine de La Roche Courbon" with his father and one of his brothers. From then on, he consecrated his intelligence, his innate good taste and his fortune to restoring the château and its precious green environment.

From 1928 to 1939, the French gardens which can be admired from the château came gradually into existence. The château was renovated and furnished. The outstanding painted room, which had been seriously damaged by damp was restored. Paul Chénereau completed the whole by two happy additions: in the attic, beneath the wooden rafters, he built a chapel in the form of an inverted ship's hull dedicated to St. Michael and, in a disused barn; he created a theatre enhanced by a balustrade staircase and a seventeenth century door.

 The property has been partly listed as a historical monument in 1925. After the second world war, the totality of the estate including the gardens and park, was listed and in 1946 it was opened to the public. Then it was magic for the local people to discover its resurrection. In the sixties, Paul Chénereau even presented a superb "Son et Lumière" with actors from the Comédie Française, the most famous and old institution of theatre troupe.These achievement was the apotheosis of his life.

6 - In 1967, he entrusts to his children, Marie-Jeanne et Jacques Badois, the load of maintaining the estate. It is the "centralien"'s turn to struggle henceforth (Centrale is a famous engineering high school). With support from the State, the Region and the Department, three parts of the building were restored : the north tower, the rafters and roof of the main building and the south tower. Then the north outhouses got restored (56 meters long) : vaults were crumbling and threatened to collapse. The first stage of propping up these vaults was completed during the winter 2003/2004.

A following step in the consolidation of the walls and the restoration of the frame and roof was executed during the winter of 2006-2007. In October 1990 "La Grange", a 750 m2 building was devastated by a fire. It is now restored and used for professional and family events.

 

7 - The large area of garden added by Ferdinand Duprat were built on the marshland (the defence of the early château), so it was necessary to reconstruct the whole on piles driven into the silt. Every year, work is undertaken: the wooden piles onto which the joists and flooring planks are nailed are knocked in firmly in order to re-construct above it a balustrade, a jetty or simply lawns and paths.

 

8 - Unfortunately we can't keep quiet about the terrible ravages we experienced the night of 26th to 27th December 1999. It took just five hours of wind blowing at 220 km/h to lay low the forest praised by Pierre Loti. With the help of public institutions and thanks to AMICOUR (Association "Friends of La Roche Courbon"), we are clearing fallen trees every year. Thousands of cubic metres of firewood have gone and we are re-planting rows of oaks, poplars, limes or maples. We are also allowing nature to regenerate itself. There is still a lot to do because about 90 out of the 150 hectares of the forest were destroyed. In the twenty first century, conserving a property like La Roche Courbon is a difficult challenge and the joy one feels is commensurate with one's personal commitment.

 

Let us leave the final word to the sailor, poet, academician Pierre Loti : "I have travelled all over the world. Between my long voyages I came back like a pilgrim piously driven by the memory, saying to myself each time that nothing in distant lands was as restful or as beautiful as this little corner of our unknown Saintonge."

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exceptés les 25 décembre et 1er janvier, le dimanche matin en hiver, et les jours de semaine du mois de janvier.
 

17250  Saint-Porchaire

Tél :  05 46 95 60 10 

Mail :  contact@larochecourbon.fr

 

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AMICOUR

Association des amis de La Roche Courbon

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