How to Get to Vincennes
Vincennes is situated in the southeast of Paris, and it is still accessible by Metro. Take Line 1 and get off the train at the east terminal, Chteau de Vincennes.
The admission fee is 7.90 euros.
The history of Vincennes
Vincenne is the castle for the kings between the 14th and 17th century.
Like many other castles, it was originally built as a lodge for Louis VII to use when he went hunting. Then in the 13th century, Philippe II Auguste and Louis IX added more and more parts and built it into a manor. It is also said that Louis IX never returned after he left Vincennes for the crusade expedition. Moreover, the castle tower was constructed by Philippe VI, and the structure was the highest and strongest in the medieval times (52m high). The castle walls surrounding the tower were built in 1410.
Vincennes castle was not only a fort but also a place where some kings had a wedding ceremony, like Philippe III (1274) and Philippe VI (1322). In addition, the kings in the 14th century were all born in Vincennes: Louis X (1316), Philippe V (1322) and Charles IV (1328).
In the 17th century, after Versailles started to draw attention, Vincennes was also converted into a prison where many important people were kept.
In the 18th century, the castle was abandoned. After that, first the site was used as a pottery, and then as an official prison, and in 1796 people began to use the site as a military establishment. At present, it is part of the historic section of the French Arms Services.
Furthermore, in the 19th century, a British-style garden was created. Napoleon III released the forest of Vincennes and the castle as a public park in 1860.
In 1940, the castle experienced World War II, as well. The French army placed the military base here.
Chateau de Vincennes
After 12 years of renovation period, the castle unveiled the appearance to the public again in 2007. When I visited here six years ago, it was still under construction, and I have wanted to come back again since then.
Inside the tall tower is rather limited in space,
and you can see how the life in the past was.
On the ground floor there is a storage room,
the first floor with a bridge is the room for reception,
the second floor is the king’s private room,
and the top floor was used by soldiers.
The corridor on the rampart.
The king’s room has a more elaborate design even outside.
(the photo on the right)
All pillars on all floors are centralized at the same point.
The wood used on the ceiling is 800 years old.
A fireplace on the left,
and on the right it is a bathroom.
In the past, the rooms were colorfully decorated.
In the medieval times, this ground floor allowed access only through a small staircase. The door to the courtyard was made in the 18th century. So, at that time, it was difficult to use this floor as a kitchen, and instead it was used as a storage and a room for servants. In this room there is a well and a trace of fireplace.
The window fences and the door to the cell were made in the 19th century, and their presence tells us that this room was once used as a prison. However, in 1784 all prisoners were sent to Bastille, and Vincennes became free from the dark history. Between 1785 and 1790 a bakery shop that was supplying Vincennes Village and the East Paris District occupied the courtyard.
The Marquis de Sade’s cell
A hedonist, philosopher, atheist and scandalous provocative author, Donatien Alphonse Francois de Sade, was infamous for his salacious works. He was imprisoned in Vincennes twice. First for his violence in a brothel, and then for poisoning a prostitute. He was sentenced to death. He spent here 7 years, and was taken to Bastille, and then was freed in 1790.
Prison in Vincennes
From the medieval times, the kings had a place to imprison prisoners in their residence in order to play a role of a judicial officer. In the late 15th, Louis XI started to use this castle tower as a prison. In the 16th century, the prison became official, and many heretics like Protestants and political opponents were arrested and confined in here.
Pierre Ernst I of Mansfeld (1517~1604) was imprisoned in Vincennes as a prisoner of war, but he was allowed to cook and do household work. He even had a hare and a parrot as his pets. Then soon after the ransom was paid he was released.
From the 17th, prisoners were put in a cell, like Nicola Fouquet. In 1661, he was imprisoned by Louis XIV. (see the page Vaux-le-Vicomte)
From the late 18th century, Bastille became a symbolic royal prison. Some prisoners were taken here with no trial. In 1749, Diderot was sent to Bastille because his work was considered subversive.
In the 19th century, after the Revolutions, some deposed dignitaries were kept in Vincennes, and until World War II it was used as a prison.
Decoration of sculpture is heavily used on the bases of the windows, and it is full of fantasy like an angel playing music. These sculptures were duplicated when the building was reconstructed, but the original works are also displayed in the castle. The motif of an angel playing music was often used in sculpture, stained glass, and paintings in the medieval Europe. It was used as the symbol of the heaven at that time.
angels playing music
A bell and a clock
The bell tower made in 1369 is the first public clock. The tower standing now here was rebuilt in 2000. The original bell is placed in La Sainte Chapelle (see the page La Sainte Chapelle).
The forest of Vincennes in the distance.
The view from the tower is wonderful, too.
It is nice to visit here not only for the castle but also for a picnic! Can you imagine it is just a few minutes by subway!!! Discover more about Paris.