Anne Fox

T

his really awesome thing is happening right now. It’s been happening for a year and will probably continue to happen for a few more years because it’s a restoration. 

The Chateau de Gudanes is a chateau in France that was purchased by an Australian couple in early 2013. It’s sort of an architectural masterpiece — full of rot, plastered-over-murals, half-erased family crests, and mysterious holes.

I’ve been following the progress ever since they started the renovations because Karina Waters — half of the couple — posts updates on the chateau’s blog. Yes, it has its own blog. Beautiful pictures of a decaying building, grand in its desiccation and somehow graceful.

Now for a bit of history. It was built in the mid-1700s and designed by Parisian architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel — who, if you were concerned about his brilliance, worked on Versailles and the Place de la Bourse, Bordeaux — for the Marquis de Gudanes.  Basically, he’s fabulous (the architect, not the marquis — although he was known as the “King of the Pyrenees”). His chateaus are fabulous. The locations are fabulous. 

Gudanes was built on the site of an earlier fortress that fell into decay. Gudanes will not be replaced, though. The Waterses have been working for over a year to restore it and they are doing a wonderful job — mostly because they are truly restoring it, not modernizing it. 

They’ve brought in restorers — one of whom found the chateau online and said he would be “enchanted” to work on it. Murals behind plaster walls have been revealed, scratched out places in paint that used to be royal family crests identified and the mysterious hole found.

The chateau changed with each owner — and it had many because it was built right before the French Revolution. So it wasn’t that the marquis was killed for being a royal, but his children passed away before him. The chateau was set to fall to one of his daughter’s children, but before that happened the property was seized and the royals slain.

It passed to on to a different family — one who took advantage of the turning of the tides and seized their chance at governmental glory. However, this was during Napoleon’s years of power and once he abdicated, a monarchy was restored to France and those who were in power became royals — what they fought against, but no matter. The chateau was once again a home for royalty. 

As the ownership passed back and forth, the walls re-plastered, family crests taken down out of spite or replaced with others, the chateau fell to the Waters. 

As I mentioned earlier, Mrs. Waters is documenting the progress in her blog. I adore looking at the blog and rereading the posts and looking at the pictures over and over again — it’s like a story just waiting to be written. However, there’s already been a story — not just history, but a detailed account of the chateau and the life that surrounded it in a French newspaper.

The piece is from July 28, 1896, titled, “A worker’s fete” and published in the Regional News, Ariege. It recounts the workers of the village throwing a party to welcome home the current owner and his new bride. The writer describes the party as an event where “the policeman in uniform rubbed shoulders with the bourgeois gentleman in evening suit, and the elegant working class girl stood opposite the country woman in her Sunday best.” 

The irony lies in the first party held at the chateau — it was this past July and thrown by the workers renovating the chateau — not by Mr. and Mrs. Waters. However, Waters combines the pictures she took with the 1896 piece to intertwine the two years — a soft reflection of what was and what is. 

Now, that I’ve finished my mediocre history lesson, I have to talk about the mysterious hole. They found it this fall and have no indication as to its purpose. The builders continued to dig almost 20 feet, pulling up bits and pieces of bottles, china and more. They had to stop digging because of the potential danger it was causing, but Waters had her own idea. There are rumors of tunnels leading from the chateau into the village — but it could have also been something less exciting like a water hole.

Personally, I hope it’s a tunnel. Yet, if you look at the photos there’s a bit that looks like a human jaw with teeth — so that’s a little disturbing. But the chateau really is gorgeous and full of life. Waters frequently writes about the chateau unveiling herself as she sees fit — as if she has a mind of her own and is revealing her past slowly and as she wishes. 

Either way, it’s definitely worth a read or brief (long!) look at the pictures. But don’t be alarmed if you suddenly want to drop everything to buy a chateau in France to restore. It’s a completely normal reaction.

Visit Chateaudegudanes.org.

Anne Fox is a reporter for the Rockwall Herald-Banner. She can be reached via email at afox@heraldbanner.com. Follow on Twitter: @georgiaannefox.

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