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Changes Planned for the Château de Chambord?

Château de ChambordChambord, the product of the patronage of François I and at least partially the design of Leonardo, is probably the most extravagant of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. The effect of seeing the impossible number of spires atop this building as one approaches it is remarkable. However, according to this recent article (Chambardement à Chambord, Michèle Leloup, August 7, 2003) in L'Express, Chambord has fallen second to Chenonceau in terms of visits by tourists to the Loire Valley, leading to the government's plans to shake things up at Chambord. The downside to having a strong concept of a national patrimony (see the post on Prosper Mérimée on August 6) is that cultural sites can get mixed up in politics, but at least the French government will never sell Chambord off as blocks of stone as private owners have done with old buildings before. (Among countless examples, the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire was almost totally destroyed by its first private owner, Thomas Manners, first Earl of Rutland, who obtained the property after it was seized by Henry VIII.)

A map in the article shows the parts of the Chambord site that are controlled by five different ministries of the French government, and the author does a good job of explaining how this happened (my translation): "This kafkaesque situation goes back to World War I. At the time, the château was sequestered because of the Austrian nationality of the owners, the Bourbon-Parme family. After a trial and conflicts within the family, the state ended up buying the property in 1930 and placing it under the Historical Monuments Fund [now the Centre des Monuments Nationaux]. Then, in 1965, the National Forest Service [Office National des Forêts] took over the château's lands, except the village." Georges Pompidou, an avid hunter, reinstated the tradition of the presidential hunt, meaning that control of the game on the lands was given to the Office National de la chasse et de la Faune Sauvage (part of the Ministère de l'Ecologie et du Développement durable). Other sections were put under the Ministère des Finances and the Ministère de l'Equipement. (Even though we got the word bureaucracy from the French, they have always been able to appreciate its negative qualities, as you can see hilariously demonstrated in the story Bureaucracy, by Honoré de Balzac.) The present Commissioner of the site, Xavier Patier, is quoted thus: "This château has exceptional qualifications: 440 rooms and hundreds of roaming animals only two hours away from the capital. It is the anti-Disney par excellence" (the emphasis on this last turn of phrase is mine). The problem is "a laughable system that only the French government could invent," with five different ministries, as many budgets, 110 government employees, and little transparency even for the Commissioner himself. In the present political climate, the government is moving to make Chambord more independent. Hopefully, this will allow the Commissioner to lead Chambord back to the place of premier château de la vallée de la Loire.

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