Two seniors from the American School of Paris visit Guédelon, a castle in the making in Treigny, France. The students tour the castle grounds and learn different skills used by medieval castles builders. This story is produced by NBC Learn in partnership with Pearson.
Guédelon, a Medieval Castle in the Making
SARAH PRESTON (Guide, Guédelon Castle): My name is Sarah Preston and today we are at Guédelon. Guédelon is a castle in the making.
PAUL PIEUCHOT (Student, American School of Paris): Hi, nice to meet you.
PRESTON: Nice to meet you. Here at Guédelon as you may know we are building a castle, building a castle using medieval tools, techniques and materials. Basically, this is an example of experimental archeology on a massive scale. So we're building in order to better understand. So today I'm going to show you around the castle, but we're also going to look at all the different workshops.
PRESTON: If you’d like to follow me.
FIONA BELL (Student, American School of Paris): My name is Fiona Bell. I'm seventeen years old and I'm a senior at the American School of Paris. Actually, I've never been to Guédelon before. This is my first time, so I'm really excited to see what's happening. I'm really interested in seeing the masonry in particular. That's not really something that I get to experience in my everyday life so I'm excited to see the techniques that they use.
PIEUCHOT: My name is Paul Pieuchot. I'm eighteen years old and I'm a senior at the American School of Paris. This is my third time here at Guédelon. It's really fun to see the process of how they’re actually built and what goes on because we always see the final products, the castles that kind of stand the test of history.
PRESTON: At Guédelon, this is the year 1245, we're half way more or less through the project. There's another ten years of work ahead. So we should finish in about the year 1255. We are building here in order to better understand how medieval castle builders built the castles that we can still see today in France. So we're putting ourselves into the shoes of medieval castle builders in order to see what problems they were confronted with, trying to understand the solutions that they found to the problems that they had in terms of construction. I'm going to introduce you to Francesca. She's going to teach you the basics of stone carving this afternoon, so you get a little insight in to what the stonemasons are doing here. So follow me.
This is the stone carving workshop. This is where students learn to dress stone like the stonemasons on site. We provide students with a very soft limestone to begin with and they learn then to trace on the shape and to start producing a low relief sculpture. Stone is essential. No stone, no castle. And that's one of the big reasons that this particular site was chosen because here we have the largest deposit of sandstone in this area.
PIEUCHOT: Is the stone that they use on the castle harder to like, craft?
FRANCESCA: It's very, it’s very hard, yeah.
PIEUCHOT: Yeah, okay. So like, say they make a mistake, can they reuse or did they have to be very precise?
FRANCESCA: They're very, very precise.
PIEUCHOT: But it's the same technique to craft them?
FRANCESCA: It's exactly the same technique, yeah.
PIEUCHOT: Okay. Wow. You can tell that my technique isn't mastered, but with a little more practice, maybe I'll be able to carve the stones in the castle.
PRESTON: There are two people I want to introduce you to. This is Alex-- and this is Jean Paul. The art of the quarryman actually is reading the stone, finding those fracture lines. Once they found them, they make wedge holes. And then by inserting these wedges and striking them, that creates a shockwave and then the stone will split along the shockwave.
PIEUCHOT: It's harder than what we did earlier.
PRESTON: Absolutely, and this is just a small block.
PRESTON: So Alex is also listening out for change in the sound. We are at the castle's forge. This is where the blacksmith make and repair all the tools used by the stonemasons, the quarrymen, the carpenters. No blacksmiths, no tools. They are incredibly important in the construction process.
BELL: It was really hard. I guess to be precise you have to have the strength and precision to be able to make it the right shape.
PRESTON: So what I'm going to do is show you around the inside of the castle. Some of the rooms have military purposes, some of them are residential. So we’re now on the second floor of the castle's great tower. This is the lord’s chamber. So this would be his private chamber where he would sleep with his wife and his children, the whole family together in one room. There's a fireplace on the back wall. There's also a large window letting light in, window seats where the lady can sit and sew and look out on the courtyard. And this chamber has also the largest vaults in the castle.
BELL: What's a vault?
PRESTON: Well, a vault is the stone ceiling which covers this chamber. It was one of the really big kind of technological advances of the late twelve, early thirteenth century, this ability to build huge stone vaults. And basically this is medieval fireproofing.
BELL: I really feel like I traveled back in time today. I got to see all of the building materials and all of the trades that everyone had to do in the Middle Ages. I was really struck by the fact that everyone in this area has to have a special skill and that they contribute to such a grand project, just with their simple trade. So the stonemason works with the quarrymen and together they produce something that's really amazing.
PIEUCHOT: I have seen the progress, I was here in the early stages and I definitely want to see this project being built and finished and being able to say, you know, I was a small part of it. I saw this, you know, in the making. And I think, yeah, I definitely would want to come back.
It's still straightening, said engineer Roberto Cela, gazing at the Leaning Tower of Pisa gleaming in the autumn sunshine of northern Italy. "And many years will have to pass before it stops."
Castle, Middle Ages, Medieval, Medieval Times, Construction, Building, Engineering, Guédelon, Treigny, France, Europe, Stone, Quarry, Quarryman, Stone Carving, Tools, Stonemason, Stonemasonry, Blacksmith, Forge, Iron, Sarah Preston, Fiona Bell, Paul Pieuchot, American School of Paris, Living History