From prehistory to the present
A site still inhabited by man
There should be no doubt: this site, on the banks of a watercourse, the Bruant, embedded between two cliffs has always been chosen by man.Under the current castle, there are caves whose prehistoric furniture shows that they were inhabited during the Mousterian (- 120,000 years), Aurignacian (- 40,000 years) and Magdalenian (- 10,000 years) eras. In other places in the forest which surrounds this residence, there remain: there, the enclosure of a Gallo-Roman village, here Merovingian tombs and, well before the current dwelling, remains of walls from the 11th century: the The place then bears the name ROMETTE.
The Middle Age
Around 1475, Jehan II de Latour built a fortress made up of two main buildings, with four powerful towers and a massive keep. This fortified castle, built in the shape of a triangle on a rocky spur, is naturally defended by the marsh. To the north, in advance, the Fuye tower stands guard. After three centuries of conflicts with the English in our region, it is not possible to build a castle other than strong and defensive, near Rochefort. In 1603, Jacques de Courbon, having married Jeanne de Gombaud in 1595, completely freed ROMETTE from a one hundred and thirteen year joint ownership. It was then that, combining the terms La Roche and Courbon, LA ROCHE COURBON appeared which would henceforth be the name of the place.
The 17th century
In the 17th century, Jean-Louis de Courbon, grandson of Jacques, transformed La Roche Courbon as can be seen in the painting by the Dutch painter Jan Hackaert (1628-1685). The castle is at the height of its beauty, surrounded by sumptuous French gardens which will see the light of day before those of Versailles. Large windows are pierced to the east and west, the roof has Mansart's style openings. An elegant balcony is built forward on basket-handle arches, supported by five Tuscan columns. A double landing staircase leads down to the gardens, bordered by the lazy Bunting. The surroundings are harmonized with an esplanade supported, overlooking the water course, by a high wall and flanked by two Louis XIII pavilions topped with fish scale slates, a miracle of elegance
The 18th century
Another precious document, signed around 1710 by Claude Masse (1652-1737), military architect to Louis XIV, shows that the eastern main building and two powerful towers no longer exist. It is believed that a fire destroyed a significant part of the building. The 18th century suite did not see many owners except, in 1785, the Marquis Sophie-Jacques de Courbon Blénac who, for 240,000 pounds, regained the family property. He settled in the castle and undertook a series of embellishments: the monumental stone staircase leading to the interior floors and the wrought iron gates, emblazoned, in the gardens.
The 19th century
The Revolution occurring and the marquis not having emigrated, the castle was not sold as national property. In 1817, his daughter sold the estate at auction. Then begins the long sleep of La Roche Courbon, before its second rebirth in the 20th century.
The 20th century
«Who wants to save a forest from death with its feudal castle camped in the middle, a forest whose age no one knows anymore.” It is in these terms that a page appeared, in 1908, in Le Figaro by Pierre Loti concerning La Roche Courbon and its surroundings. In 1920, a Saintongeais born in Échillais (17), polytechnician passionate about art, Paul Chénereau was moved by this appeal and promised the poet that he would save La Roche Courbon. He then led his canned food industry in Rochefort and Madagascar and the Société du Domaine de La Roche Courbon which he founded in 1925 with his father and one of his brothers. From then on, he devoted his intelligence, an innate taste and his fortune to the restoration of the castle and its green setting.
From 1928 to 1939, the French garden slowly blossomed, which can be admired from the views of the estate. The castle is restored and furnished. The exceptional painting cabinet, which suffered greatly from humidity, has been restored. Paul Chénereau completes this resurrected ensemble with two happy innovations: in the attic of the castle, under the framework in the shape of an inverted hull, the chapel dedicated to Saint-Michel; in a disused agricultural barn, the construction of a theater, enhanced by a baluster staircase and a 17th century door. After the 1939-1945 war, the estate was classified as a Historic Monument in part in 1925 and in 1946 as a whole (castle, gardens and park), is open to visitors. It is then an enchantment for the people of the region to discover this resurrection. In 1967, he left his children, Marie-Jeanne and Jacques Badois, in charge of maintaining the estate. It's a central player's turn to fight.
The 21st century
On the buildings, with the help of the State, the region and the department, three restoration campaigns will restore the North Tower, the main building (frame and roofs) and the South Tower. In 2003, it was the restoration of the northern outbuildings (56 m long) that had to be tackled: the vaults were sagging and threatened to collapse. A first stage of propping these vaults was carried out during the winter of 2003-2004. A following stage of consolidating the walls and restoring the framework and roof was carried out during the winter of 2006-2007. The last phase was completed in 2010. In October 1990, a terrible fire devastated a 750 m2 building called “La Grange”. It has been restored and now hosts professional or family events and all kinds of leisure activities in Charente Maritime.
In the gardens, on the parts added by Ferdinand Duprat, a large area had been reclaimed from the marshes (defense of the original castle). It was therefore necessary to rebuild the whole thing, sunk in the mud, on stilts. Each year, a campaign of work is undertaken: wooden piles are driven, onto which joists and then floors are nailed to rebuild a balustrade, a watchtower, a pier or more simply lawns or paths above. Unfortunately, we cannot ignore the terrible devastation that we experienced on the night of December 26 to 27, 1999. It took only 5 hours of winds blowing up to 220 km/h to destroy the forest. sung by Pierre Loti. With the help of the public authorities and thanks to AMICOUR (Association of Friends of La Roche Courbon), we unload and grind each year. Thousands of cubic meters have been taken out of the woods and we are replanting rows of oaks, lindens and field maples. We also let nature regenerate. There is still a lot to do since around 90 ha out of the 150 ha of forest on the site have been destroyed.
The continuity of major works and routine maintenance is possible thanks to three important elements: The first is the development of the number of visitors; everyone, through their contribution, contributes to its preservation. The second is the assistance provided by the Department of Cultural Affairs and the General Council for the most important works. Last but not least, it is a group of people who love La Roche Courbon and serve it with dedication through attentive management. A necessary collaboration between generations has been built and continues: it develops imagination and projects and attempts, while keeping the sense of the history of the place, to move forward. We have known for a long time that nothing is certain, and that, if the horizon is easy to see, reaching it is one of the mirages: but that is not a reason to stop sailing. Let the sailor, poet and academician Pierre Loti conclude: “I went running all over the earth. Between my long journeys, I returned like a pilgrim brought back piously by memory, telling myself each time that nothing in distant countries was more relaxing or more beautiful than this so-ignored corner of our Saintonge.