Château

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A château (plural châteaux; French pronunciation: [ʃato] for both the singular and the plural) is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of nobility or gentry, with or without fortifications, originally—and still most frequently—in French-speaking regions. Where clarification is needed, a fortified château (that is, a castle) is called a château fort, such as Château fort de Roquetaillade. Care should be taken when translating the word château into English. It is not used in the same way as "castle", and most châteaux are described in English as "palaces" or "country houses" rather than "castles". For example, the Château de Versailles is so called because it was located in the countryside when it was built, but it does not bear any resemblance to a castle, so it is usually known in English as the Palace of Versailles.

The urban counterpart of château is palais, which in French is applied only to grand houses in a city. This usage is again different from that of the term "palace" in English, where there is no requirement that a palace must be in a city, but the word is rarely used for buildings other than the grandest royal residences. The expression hôtel particulier is used for an urban "private house" of a grand sort. Some castles are now used as hotels.

Contents

Concept

If a château is not old, then it must be grand. A château is a “power house”, as Sir John Summerson dubbed the English and Georgian Irish “stately homes” that are Britain's architectural counterparts to French châteaux. It is the personal (and usually hereditary) badge of a family that, with some official rank, locally represents the royal authority; thus, the word château often refers to the dwelling of a member of either the French royalty or the nobility, but some fine châteaux, such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, were built by the essentially high-bourgeois — people but recently ennobled: tax-farmers and ministers of Louis XIII and his royal successors.

A château is supported by its terres (lands), composing a demesne that renders the society of the château largely self-sufficient, in the manner of the historic Roman and Early Mediæval villa system, (cf. manorialism, hacienda). The open villas of Rome in the times of Pliny the Elder, Maecenas, and Emperor Tiberius began to be walled-in, and then fortified in the 3rd century AD, thus evolving to castellar “châteaux”. In modern usage, a château retains some enclosures that are distant descendants of these fortifying outworks: a fenced, gated, closeable forecourt, perhaps a gatehouse or a keeper's lodge, and supporting outbuildings (stables, kitchens, breweries, bakeries, manservant quarters in the garçonnière). Besides the cour d’honneur (court of honour) entrance, the château might have an inner cour (“court”), and inside, in the private residence, the château faces a simply and discreetly enclosed park.

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