Building French medieval castles...

The ‘castle’ under construction

Samantha David digs out her 13th-century work clothes for a spot of stone-masonry at a living history site

Guédelon is a fully-functioning medieval construction site – a chantier médiéval – where a 13th-century fortified castle is being built using only methods and tools available from that era. There is no steam traction, no electricity, no power tools, satellite imaging, cranes... and no computers. They don’t even use biros – and there is no mobile network or wifi, either.

The project was dreamt up in 1995 by a group of archaeologists and historians with a special interest in castles.

Setting up the project was hard; getting funding, getting permissions, convincing people the project was even achievable.

But a site was finally purchased near the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Puisaye, in Yonne (Bourgogne), about an hour south-west of Auxerre. It had everything the team needed: water, wood, clay, and stone. Work first began on the barns which would house the administration blocks, ticket offices and reception areas for the site.

It was soon realised that the project would run aground if it was established as a charity or NGO. Building a medieval castle is not cheap.

The aim therefore was to make the project self-supporting as soon as possible.Today the site welcomes 300,000 visitors a year (200,000 of them school children) and ticket sales (along with the proceeds of the café, restaurant and the shop) cover the costs of materials and salaries.

As a business, the construction site has to respect modern health and safety rules, so everyone on site wears steel tipped boots, stone masons wear protective eye masks, and the site itself is secured to modern standards.

“We try to ...

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