Château de Lourmarin - Southern France
Architecture

What is a Chateau?

01/19/2021

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With so many articles on beautiful châteaux in France, we found it necessary to explain the meaning of ‘chateau’. Visiting castles is one of the top things to do in France, so if you plan on visiting some châteaux during your holidays in France, it is good to know the terminology.

So What is a Château in France?

What does château mean in French? A French château [ʃɑto] is a castle, which can be fortified or not. It is the home of a king, noble, or just a person with enough money to buy it and maintain it.  

In French, the plural of château is châteaux, and it is pronounced more or less the same as château.

Is Château a Castle?

YES! But we are French, and we like to use French words even when we speak other languages. Also, some people find the word château fancy, even in a conversation in English (e.g., you should come to see my château…’).

Châteaux in France have evolved over the centuries. In medieval times, French châteaux were built to protect people. They were also places to welcome hosts, collect taxes or administer justice.

Centuries later, we find constructions like the Châteaux de la Loire (the Loire Valley Castles) in Central France, built to escape the city’s hustle and bustle, welcome guests, and host lavish parties. These châteaux never had a military or protection role, and, therefore, the constructions are less massive than their medieval ancestors and with more elaborated interiors.

Today, a château in France is any castle located in the countryside, independently of its use or origin. For example, we find the Palais du Louvre (in the city) and the Château de Versailles (in the countryside), even if both constructions were once the king and his family’s main residence.

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