History shares secrets.
Le Chateau de Puymartin is an 11th-century castle in France. Wars were fought here for hundreds of years, and it was a formidable fortress. Towers for protection crumbled but still more were built on the ruins. In 1450 a new owner brought it back from devastation, years later abandoned again, but somehow was passed down in the same French family for over 600 years. This current wealthy Parisian family has kept it as their summer lodging. Renovations and interior decorating from more recent periods gave the stone rooms a warmth, where cool breezes blowing from the low hills in the Dordogne made it comfortable for them through the years. Many weddings and other large family gatherings were enjoyed here throughout the history of the Chateau. Now open to the public for tours, the family works hard at keeping it in such a different world.
The owner of the Chateau is Madame de Montbron. She is elderly but still lovely, fit, and trim with silver hair neatly coiffed. She wears a crisp linen blouse, a navy blue skirt hemmed just below the knee, and heels. She walks hurriedly around the welcome center to greet us. “Please follow me, I will have my son show you to your chamber in the Chateau,” she orders us, as she quickly moves like a woman half her age to find him.
Her middle age son greeted everyone, sweating profusely while stroking his belly, and gesturing to follow him, buttons screaming in his tightly pulled starched white shirt. He smiles and talks quietly in a heavy French accent, as he tells us “His sister inherited much more than he.”
The strange scars on his arms tell he once walked a much different road than this.
His mother discreetly gives him the orders of the day, and off he goes.
“Follow me,” he directs us. Our chamber in the Chateau is one of only two that are rented to guests.
“This is our family summer home,” he instructs, as we wind our way up the narrow stone staircase. “I will give you a private tour in the morning.”
Tourists come and go, visiting the amazing architecture and original furnishings, including art and tapestries, still kept at the Chateau, but few get to see the private areas of the historic residence. You must spend the night.
History is then revealed.
On the very top floor of one of the towers in the Chateau, in an ancient room hidden from view, we climb another narrow stairway to a tiny, stone room with arched ceilings that “could have once been a chapel in ancient times,” he conjectures.
“The long flat stone built horizontally against the wall is where she slept.”
“The hole under that area that is now mortared over is where her food tray was placed for her everyday.
She never was allowed out, until she finally died after 10 long years and they removed her body. She had been caught with another man. Her husband thought it best for her to be left alone to think about what she had done, for a very long time. “No one was allowed to speak to her,” She was forever alone in the Castle’s tower.
It’s a part of history that no one today wants to believe, but it happened here in this obscure small room. His father told him that he saw her ghost one night before he died. And although the son said that he had not seen her himself, he told us, “You have to believe.” Hundreds of years later she walks the stone halls and paneled rooms of the Chateau. Many guests have seen her wandering spirit. Whenever she is seen, she is always wearing a long white gown.
The roof of the Chateau de Puymartin is constructed somehow of thousands of stacked stones. No mortar was ever used in the construction. The stones are stacked at such an angle that they have never leaked.
The solid ancient wood construction of the roof in one section rotted quickly, when well-meaning individuals thought it best to add mortar to help make the roof last another 800 or so years. This caused moisture to build up, and later they had to work very hard to remove it and redo the old stone the way it was originally built. According to the son, it cost the family a fortune to repair it to its original state. “You could never afford this kind of roof to be built today,” he told us.
One small room in the Chateau was completely hand painted by an artist in the style of grisaille in the years 1650 to 1651. It is protected by the French Government now because of the rarity of the unusual artwork.
Parts of the painting have been crudely covered and changed over the years by well-meaning, religious fundamentalists who lived at one time or another at the Chateau and felt it best not to show certain parts of human anatomy.
The son now stood in front of a door to a room that he told us he never goes into. Fumbling with a large ring of gigantic skeleton keys he asked, “Would we like to see the attic?” Truly, this was the most exciting moment for me in touring the private areas of the Chateau. Filled with forgotten treasures, some things were covered in white cloth, large old trunks had objects carefully wrapped in paper, and things were leaning and scattered everywhere. A small square hole in the roof of stones allowed just enough light to take photos.
The Dordogne is rich in history. The secrets are everywhere. The ghosts will live on in the people who still share their stories and encourage others to journey with them in their discovery. You can join me on my next journey to the Tuscan region of Italy in September, 2013.