The Donjon de Vez

Le donjon de Vez

The Donjon (or “castle keep”), 27 metres high, and the chapel next to the former living quarters in the interior courtyard, were completed in the late 14th century by Louis of Orleans, brother of King Charles VI. The Valois lands were given to Louis in 1386.

The site has a number of interesting defensive features:

The terrace is punctuated by machicolations, openings resting on projecting stone corbels, together with holes in the floor through which stones and burning objects could be dropped on attackers. This defensive system meant a troop of fifty men could easily keep an army at bay for several days.

There are also remarkable gargoyles in the shape of animals' heads.

The castle of Vez was a fortress and one of the links in a long defensive chain that included Coucy-le-Château, La Ferté-Milon, Pierrefonds and Montepilloy.

The ramparts & the Chapel

Les remparts

Ramparts or “curtain walls” surround the compound. Some thirteen metres high, they are topped with overhanging parapets.

Situated in the middle of a curtain wall, the castle gate was defended by two pinnacle turrets and a drawbridge. A ditch separated the rampart walls from the outer bailey.

Turrets at the end of the curtain walls also contributed to the defence of the Donjon. Access was by ladders. One of these turrets collapsed in the 1950s.

Another interesting feature is Joan of Arc's Tower. Joan hurried to the Valois region when she learnt that the Duke of Burgundy was trying to take over the castles there and link Flanders to his domains in Burgundy. Reaching nearby Crépy and “roaming around the city, like a vigilant sheepdog bringing its flock together” – to quote historian Gabriel Hanoteau – she scoured the countryside from Senlis to Compiègne.

La chapelle

The chapel was consecrated to Simon de Vez, Count of Valois, who can be seen in one of the stained glass windows, and whose coat of arms appears on a sculpted tympanum. Simon received the castle of Vez as a gift from his father in 1604. He married the daughter of the Count of Auvergne and took a vow of chastity on his wedding night.

Count of Vexin and Valois, this wealthy, powerful lord became a simple monk and gave Vez, with its castle and all its land, to his sister Adèle. Her marriage to Hubert IV, Count of Vermandois, unified the Valois region.

In the chapel basement is the crypt, a remarkable vaulted room housing Gallo-Roman sarcophagi originally in the catacombs in Champlieu-sur-Oise.

In a large room on the ground floor is the splendid baptismal font from the cathedral in Morcourt-sur-Oise and an altar flanked by the two white marble tombs of Monsieur et Madame Dru, former owners of Vez.

Born in Paris in 1836, Léon Dru was the head of a major drilling company whose ventures included the Grenelle artesian bore near Paris. When he died in 1904 he left the French state a large sum of money, ultimately used for the acquisition of the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau and two paintings by Chardin, now at the Louvre. Dru was buried beside his wife in the chapel at Vez: his Cossack garb is a reminder of his many stays in Russia.

Salle Eiffel

Emmanuel Frémiet (1824-1910), the creator of these masterpieces, is also well known for his animal sculptures, notably Dromedary, 1847 and the horses and dolphins of the fountain at the Paris Observatory (1870).

A few steps lead up to a small oratory, from which Jeanne d’Arc heard Mass during her time in Vez; beyond is to the guardroom, with its handsome 16th-century carved walnut door.

Above the guardroom is the astonishing “Eiffel Room”, so called because famous architect Gustave Eiffel designed its metal barrel-vaulting.

The chapel also has its own parapet, which offers a marvellous view of the surrounding countryside.

When Léon Dru died his heirs sold Vez to Baron du Sault. After the First World War it became the property of Eugène Barbier.

Barbier decided to retain his castle's medieval fortress look, while transforming it into a comfortable 20th-century residence.

The entrance to the Donjon, now the only inhabited part of the property, was endowed with a wrought-iron gate which harmonises perfectly with the sculptures and their colonnettes and the pediment topped with the Valois coat of arms.

The Bourdelle Courtyard

La cour Bourdelle

The courtyard is the work of landscape designer Stéphane Ducoux, who has embellished it with espaliered apple trees. In the courtyard are nine bronzes by the famous sculptor Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), originally in the Musée Bourdelle in Paris.

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