The Château de Cénevières towers over its village and the River Lot, which meanders far beneath. The castle commanded a formerly important strategic position and the river, which was once well-plied trade route. My local writing group went on an outing there last week. One member has a particular interest in the château, but I won’t say more since I don’t want to steal her thunder.
We travelled across the causse to Limogne and then down towards the Lot. It isn’t all that far from here but I had never visited the château, despite passing by on many occasions.
We had booked a guided tour with the owner, Patrick de Braquilanges. The château has been in his family since 1793. They acquired it from the Marquis de la Tour du Pin, Louis XVI’s war minister, who later ended up on the scaffold.
Patrick exuded Gallic charm. In fact, I’m surprised he didn’t kiss all our hands (well, the women’s, anyway). We also met his parents, now in their nineties. His father (96) hopped into his car and drove off, returning later with the bread for their lunch.
Patrick’s tour was peppered with colourful tales of life in the château. Built on a cliff and surrounded by stout walls, the castle is virtually impregnable and served as a refuge for the villagers in times of strife. Patrick told us that an enormous cistern in the basement provided the château’s water until 1964, when mains water was installed.
The earliest mention of Cénevières is in around 767, when it was besieged and taken by Pépin the Short, Charlemagne’s father. The oldest part of the château dates from the 13th century, when it was built by the La Popie family, but it was remodelled and enlarged during the Renaissance.
The castle came into the hands of the Gourdon family in 1469. The family’s most famous scion, Antoine de Gourdon, converted to Protestantism and built a Protestant temple in the château. He played an important part as a Huguenot leader during the Wars of Religion and often received Henri of Navarre, later Henri IV, at Cénevières. He was later rewarded with the governorship of Cahors when Henri took the town in 1580.
Later owners reverted to Catholicism and remained servants of the Crown. During the Revolution, the castle was saved from torching but was pillaged by revolutionaries from Cajarc in 1792, the year before it was sold to the present owners’ ancestors.
A wonderful discovery
Now for the story. Patrick showed us into an elegant and well-proportioned salon. The ceiling was covered up until he removed the plaster and made a wonderful discovery. The ceiling beams are beautifully painted and beneath them is a frieze of paintings of townscapes.
At first, Patrick thought the murals might depict towns in SW France, such as Périgeux, whose domed basilica resembles the ones in the pictures. However, they actually portray Constantinople (today’s Istanbul). The painter was a certain Gaspar Isac, who painted other murals in the château. The panels in the salon were probably painted after 1617. It’s not quite clear why the painter focused exclusively on Constantinople.
I didn’t like to take too many photos while Patrick was showing us around, but you can see pictures of the panels here.
I was a little disappointed that the tour didn’t include le cabinet d’alchimie. This is a small vaulted chamber used for the practice of alchemy in the 16th century. Presumably they didn’t find the secret of turning base metal into gold. The walls are decorated with murals representing mythological subjects.
The château has been a monument historique since 1957. Like all owners of such a property, Patrick and his family have had to diversify to cover the running and maintenance costs. So, if you want to get married in a magnificent setting overlooking a stunning view, the Château de Cénevières is for you.
At the end of the tour, Patrick kindly offered us a glass of white wine, before we left for our next port of call, Calvignac. That’s for the next post.
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