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Château Belcastel and the Architect Who Saved It

Today, Château Belcastel is perched among the Pyrenees of Southern France, outside the village of Belcastel, one of the most beautiful in France. It welcomes tourists from the world over. The castle has a long history. At varying points in history, it hosted monks and knights and even served as a military base for the Crown, before falling into ruin and being resurrected by a famous architect. 

Construction of the Château

What would eventually become the grand Château Belcastel began as a modest chapel of worship on a mountainside, over a thousand years ago, during the eighth century. It was expanded upon in the following centuries, eventually coming to house the Lords of Belcastel.

Then, in the thirteenth century, the Crusades devastated the Lords of Belcastel. The Crown seized the property and the Château then served as a military stronghold for several decades.

Saunhac the Knight

In 1390, the royal family gifted the Château to a knight, Guillaume de Saunhac, who renovated the castle. 

He revived the village, building a bridge and church that are still there today. Until the sixteenth century, Belcastel and its Château fell into ruin after the last of the Saunhac descendants left France for New Orleans. For one hundred years, the abandoned Château fell further and further into disrepair. 

Then, the château disintegrated further after a local acquired the property and sold off various pieces of the building. And so the Château stood neglected and defaced on its mountain, until its savior came along, in the form of a renowned architect. 

Ferinand Pouillon, Savior of Château Belcastel

Ferdinand Pouillon was born in 1912 and grew up in Marseilles. He studied architecture in Paris and received his first commission at only twenty-two years old. He gained fame in 1948 when he reconstructed the Vieux Port à Marseilles (Old Port of Marseilles), where the ancient quayside buildings had been damaged by Nazis in World War II. 

Ferdinand Pouillon

While Pouillon first gained recognition for this historical reconstruction, he rose to fame for his work with populist architecture. Throughout his career, Pouillon strove to make high-quality, low-cost housing for as many people as he could. 

Pouillon won a contract to build low-cost public housing. He declared he'd build two hundred apartments in two hundred days on a two hundred-million franc budget. And he succeeded. 

Five years later, he was hired in Algeria for a similar project. 1,600 urban residences in one year days, with respect to local architecture. His victory in that project brought him work in Iran, and there Pouillon worked. He eventually returned to France. After a scandal and a brief time in prison, he went back to a project in Algeria.

The Château Restored

Pouillon found the Château Belcastel and fell in love in 1973. He spent the next eight years rebuilding the castle by hand. Local stone was quarried, and towers and walls were resurrected without machine aid. Glaziers worked and lived on-site restoring eighty-five windows with fifteenth-century hand-painted centerpieces. 

Even after the reconstruction was finished and the Château stood proud again, Pouillon remained. The Château was his home for the rest of his life, and he even helped the locals restore old roads and homes. 

Then, after his death, the Château opened its door to visitors. It remains open today, hosting guests from all over the world. 

Written by Jasmine Grace, University Intern

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