I usually make you discover superb castles, often furnished, in order to prepare your next visits. But my mission does not stop there:I would like to make you aware of the safeguarding of castles. France is fortunate to have more than 30,000 castles on its territory, but 600 of them are in danger, and are doomed to disappear over time .
One of its Châteaux particularly caught my attention:the Château du Duc d’Epernon , located in Île-de-France in the department of Seine-et-Marne.
For the record, I was contacted on Instagram by an enthusiast of this castle, Antonin Grenier, who explained to me the state of disrepair in which this place was classified as a Historic Monument. The Château du Duc d'Epernon has a fabulous history, it has notably hosted several crowned heads . After some research, it seemed obvious to me that I should tell you about this place in danger, and thus support the same cause as Antonin:the preservation of this castle.
To tell you more, I leave the floor to Antonin Grenier , who has been fighting since 2016 to save this monument.
Reconstruction of the Château du Duc d'Epernon ©Sauve mon château
Discover the interview with Antonin Grenier
Antonin, can you introduce yourself to the readers of Carnet d’Histoire?
Hello everyone ! Thanks to Carnet d’Histoire for letting me speak. My name is Antonin Grenier, I am 20 years old. I am passionate about old stones and history Since my childhood. Currently a car body painter, I am considering a retraining in the field of heritage. Being curious I have always liked to visit museums, castles, churches etc. Whenever I have the opportunity, I visit castles, I spend a lot of time at the royal castle of Vivier in Brie where I help with restoration (stone cutting, guided tour, etc.). I spend a lot of time on social networks:Facebook, Twitter and Instagram where I have created accounts dedicated to the castle of the Duke of Epernon. I publish historical posts, photo and video montages, articles, I exchange with people who ask me questions about the castle (French, English, Americans, etc.). I do all this on a voluntary basis.
Can you explain to us the close link you have with the Château du Duc d'Epernon?
Fifteen years ago my father was friends with the former owner of the Duc d'Epernon castle and we used to go there regularly in the summer for barbecues. I remember having fun in this park (playing knight), quad rides in the park, fishing in the moat, I was amazed to see such a beautiful building , I remember this beautiful painting on the ceiling inside the castle.
In 2016 I decided to create a Facebook group with the aim of raising awareness and sharing photos, memories and anecdotes about the castle. If I did this it is above all for the love of heritage and this place that is close to my heart, I find it lamentable to let this place steeped in history fall into ruin when you know that it is gone. classified as a Historic Monument, and that this castle has seen several crowned heads stay there.
In addition to its exceptional architecture, this Château has a very special history. Can you tell us a few words?
Originally it was a fortified castle from the 12th century under the reign of Louis VI le Gros. In 1389, Charles VI donated by letters patent the lands of Fontenay to his adviser Jean le Mercier, knight, lord of Noviant, la neuville and Rugles, with the authorization to rebuild the old castle which had fallen into ruins. Two years later, the new castle was standing with an audience of justice and prisons. The castle was then enclosed by walls and ditches around an inner courtyard, with two drawbridges, to the north facing the church and to the south. The current building has retained the rectangular plan confined by round towers.
The castle then passed into the de Coutes family by inheritance. Around 1446, Louis de Coutes, dit Minguet, son of Jean de Coutes, page of Joan of Arc then squire, castellan and lord of Fontenay en Brie, Viry, Neelle la Gilleberde, etc.
The castle underwent several modifications and was remodeled in the first half of the 17th century when it became a pleasure castle. It is Jean Nogaret de La Valette known as the Duke of Epernon who owns it, he receives illustrious characters there such as Catherine de Medici , Charles IX , or even Henry III who will leave the memory of magnificent celebrations on the occasion of his marriage, or even Richelieu which is hosted.
Between 1877 and 1880, the Château de Fontenay was rented to the former Queen of Spain, Isabella II, who met her lover Ramiro de la Puente there and where she practiced hunting.
In the 1940s, the Château de Fontenay was occupied by work camps for young people. Abandoned by their owners in favor of outbuildings, more convenient and less expensive, the apartments have long been used as warehouses. In 1936, Mr. Lucien Tasse, chartered accountant, bought the property. In 2006, the Château de Fontenay was sold by Mr. Samuel Tasse to a real estate company specializing in historical monuments. The project comprising 12 apartments in the castle and 48 apartments in the outbuildings was not completed due to the property developer going into compulsory liquidation in 2014.
The Castle is now dilapidated, it's a real scandal! How did we get here?
It all started in 2006 following the purchase of the castle by a real estate developer whose aim was to make luxury apartments there. In 2008, this promoter decided to remove the slate roof and install a plastic sheet instead , but he also removed the frames, leaving him entirely at the mercy of the weather. The castle quickly fell victim to looting, theft, tags and fires... The castle has been open to the 4 winds for more than 12 years … the floors are crumbling, it is raining inside, nature is reclaiming its rights, ivy is growing in the castle. Then the judicial liquidation in 2014 did not help matters...
Listed as a Historic Monument, why was the castle abandoned by the State?
The castle was abandoned because the promoter who had bought it went bankrupt in 2014, then the castle was put in compulsory liquidation , the legal file is very complicated ... there is the "heritage code" and the "construction and housing code" which have not been respected , we sent several letters to the mayor, to the DRAC (cultural affairs department), and to the region to ask them to apply the laws in force. You should know that the town hall has always been silent on the castle file. The castle is partly classified as historical monuments :there are the facades, the roof, a room decorated with painted paneling on the ground floor. Hard to believe when you know that the roof no longer exists, that all the other elements are disappearing and that the DRAC is not doing its job of monitoring the heritage .
There is a building under construction in the grounds of the castle. The promoter had the agreement to build this building and in exchange it was agreed that he restores the castle . But this agreement did not see the light of day...
What actions are underway for its preservation?
In 4 years we have carried out several actions , letters to the mayor, to the Drac, to the region. At the end of 2019, I sent an email to the head of the regional conservation of historic monuments who replied that they were going to try to set up an automatic works operation. It is a procedure which consists for the State to carry out conservation and safeguard work in place of the defaulting owner. He added in his email that the legal procedure is long and complex. Stéphane Bern is very interested in this castle and he recently "demanded accounts" from the mayor of the commune. Following a telephone exchange, they agreed to organize a meeting once the confinement is over with the Minister of Culture Franck Riester and with Senator Vincent Eblé, so that they can unblock the situation.
And from your side, how do you work for this cause? What results have you achieved so far?
Above all, I try to get people talking about the castle everywhere around me, on the internet, etc. The castle is known in Japan (it was broadcast during a television report) in the United States, in Australia we can say that the castle has toured the world and I find it good to show that in France there is an unknown face of heritage (heritage at risk). The castle has even entered the national education history textbooks ! Or even in Stéphane Bern's latest book "Let's save our heritage". As I said above, I wrote several emails to the mayor, the DRAC, and the region. I have already obtained an appointment at the prefecture of Île-de-France. I regularly publish photos of the castle on social networks, I edit photos and videos, I make publications retracing the history of the castle from its construction to its abandonment.
Thank you for this interview Antonin! The last question that comes to my mind:HOW CAN WE HELP YOU?
Follow us on social networks, unity is strength, do not hesitate to share the castle group everywhere, to talk about the castle to your loved ones, etc.
Thank you for this interview.
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Copyright of all photos:©Antonin Grenier