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The beautiful Château de Chenonceau and its picturesque setting are breath taking, mostly due to the archways of the bridge supporting the Gallery and reflections they cast on the River Cher that the castle spans.
Did you know, the bridge played a role in history and saved the castle from destruction?
In 1940, during World War II, Northern France was occupied by German Troops. The demarcation line between the German controlled zone in the north and the French controlled zone in the south fell along the River Cher. Anyone wanting to cross the line into the southern zone needed to have an “ausweis”, issued by the Kommandantur, which were rarely given. The Germans regularly patrolled the river’s edge making any unauthorized crossing a very dangerous undertaking, sometimes resulting in death.
Thousands of refugees from Alsace, Lorraine, fleeing prisoners of war, and individuals trying to return home were all trying to find a way to cross the river at all costs.
The Menier Family, famous French chocolatiers who owned the castle, decided to open the Gallery as a passageway to help people make their way across zones undetected. It was used regularly to secretly reunite families and obtain supplies from the south.
The fact that the castle stills stands at all is also due to its location over the River Cher.
In 1793, Château de Chenonceau was under ownership of Madame Louise Dupin, one of six woman who influenced the building and history of the Château. She was 83 years old when the French Revolution broke out. The Loire Valley did not escape the ire of the French looking to rid the country of all royals and nobles. Despite her age and open mindedness, she was still considered noble and the crowds showed up to her castle ready to even the score.
But she had an ally in Abbé Lecomte, the priest of Chenonceau. He knew the castle was being threatened with destruction and confronted the angry crowd: “What! Citizens! You have only a single bridge between Montrichard and Bléré! And you want to demolish it! You are enemies of the Public Good!”
His words were able to calm the crowd. Madame Dupin still had to prove the castle was not royal property. She produced documents showing it was indeed private property. To show their good faith to the crowd and that their loyalties were not with the aristocracy, the priest and Madame Dupin burned 78 portraits of French Monarchs, including one of the Sun King.
The castle was spared destruction and still spans the River Cher today.