Chateau de Vincennes Paris

Chateau de Vincennes is a massive fortress (constructed between 14th and 17th centuries) within a suburb of Paris, the town of Vincennes.

The fortress, about 8 kilometers from central Paris, is the biggest of the still remaining historical French royal fortresses.

Unlike many other of these fortresses, the chateau is not located on an edge of a hill, or a cliff, but instead, on a limestone plain.

Vincennes fortress is also not located close to a river (unlike most of its peers), only to a small flow of water, and this small flow historically filled the fortress moats with water.

The fortress, which was build to protect the Kings of France, has a long defensive wall with a total of 6 watchtowers…

…each of them originally 42-meters tall (but which Napoleon had shortened). There are also 3 entrance gates with bridges that cross the fortress’ moat.

Chateau de Vincennes Paris France

PHOTO: A view to the inner courtyard and the main castle.

Vincennes castle in Paris France

PHOTO: The layered architecture of the main castle comes apparent as you approach the building’s main bridge.

Chateau de Vincennes wall Paris France

PHOTO: A view to the fortress’ outer defensive wall, constructed primarily during the 15th century.

Sainte Chapelle de Vincennes Paris France

PHOTO: A closeup of the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, where, during the Middle Ages, parts of the holy Crown of Thorns were kept safe.

The main castle on the inner courtyard, located on the western side of the fortress complex, is 52 meters tall, and has its own defensive moat.

Lower floors on the main castle were used to store food and water, with the upper floors housing royal residences, and areas for servants and soldiers.

The fortress had humble beginning as a Louis VII hunting lodge in 1150, which was later replaced by a much larger mansion-like building, during the reigns of Phillip II and Louis IX (13th century).

That mansion was, in fact, the place from where Louis IX joined the crusades, a journey from which he never returned to France.

The mansion was developed into a small fortress from the orders of King Phillip VI in 1337…

…with the new building having an inner courtyard and a 52-meter-tall watchtower, at the time, the tallest fortified building in Europe.

Even before the improvements, the fortress in Vincennes had become a royal residence, with several French kings also dying here, including:

  • Louis X (1316),
  • Phillip V (1322), and
  • Charles IV (1328).

Another royal to die here was the English King Henry V in 1422, who found Vincennes his last resting place, after the events at the Siege of Meaux.

During its golden period, the buildings within the fortress complex housed tens of thousands of residents.

Internationally, fortress at Vincennes was best-known for centuries as theplace, where parts of the holy Crown of Thorns were kept safe.

These holy relics were, however, later moved to the Sainte-Chapelle in central Paris, but a small part of the relics remained in Vincennes…

…and to house these relics, a new chapel was build (from 1379 onwards), also called Sainte-Chapelle.

Construction work on the chapel was completed almost two hundred years later, in 1552, during the reign of Henry II, who use the fortress as his primary residence.

Of the 17th century French rulers, “Sun King” Louis XIV spent a lot of his youth within the fortress…

…which is partly why the fortress got a lot of attention during Louis XIV’s reign.

As an example of this, the Sun King added the “Louis XIV” wings to the complex (during 1658-1661)…designed by the famous French architect Louis Le Vau, as a new place for the French rulers to live in.

However, despite the expansion work, the Vincennes fortress was abandoned in 1670 as a royal residence, with King Louis XIV moving his court to then just-finished palace of Versailles.

Other residential use of the fortress also faded towards the end of the 18th century.

After a period of inactivity, Château de Vincennes first got a new role as the premises for the Vincennes porcelain factory.

Then, the inner courtyard castle tower was turned into a high-profile state prison, with holding cells for a maximum of 14 prisoners.

Among the prisoners held here included:

  • Marquis de Sade,
  • Diderot,
  • Voltaire, and
  • Mirabeau.

The fortress got a new role as an armory, in 1796.

Throughout its history, Chateau de Vincennes has seen many famous executions, including those of…

  • Duke of Enghie (é) in 1804 (from the orders of Napoleon), and
  • Mata-Hari, due to the accusations of espionage against her, in 1917.

The fortress park was constructed during the 19th century, done in the English gardening style. In 1860 Napoleon III gave the (9.95 km²) park, Bois de Vincennes, and the château, to Parisians.

Today, the fortress, in great, renovated condition, is primarily used by the French “Service historique de la défense”. The place is also open, for the most parts, to public visits.