When I started this series about the châteaux in our area, I had no idea that so many of them exist. There are the obvious ones – Najac, Saint-Projet, Belcastel – but also less obvious ones. Some are just ruined shells, others are restored and inhabited. Many are more like fortified houses than the traditional image of a castle with moats and battlements. The Château des Bordes at Promilhanes, just over the border in the Lot Département, is one of the former.
Un embarras de châteaux
Promilhanes boasts no less than three châteaux, apparently. We saw one other, now an equestrian centre, on our way to Bordes. The latter is not often open to the public, but the owners were taking part in the Journées du Patrimoine last weekend and did guided tours.
Le Château des Bordes is not easy to find. There were no signs, so I was glad I had taken the very detailed blue IGN map of the area. A number of cars were already in the temporary car park when we arrived. A friendly but rather harassed lady ushered us into the château grounds and explained that she would show us the exterior. Her husband would then give a tour of the interior.
“Have you had a lot of people this weekend?” I asked.
“Oh yes, far more than we ever expected!”
The owners, M. and Mme. Millet, bought the house in 1969, when it was partially in ruins and uninhabited for 30 years. They restored it to its present state. It’s rather austere and unornamented, but that’s how it would have been in its heyday and the Millets wanted to recreate that. Good decision, in my view.
The original château was built in the 13th century. The powerful Gourdon family already owned land at Promilhanes in the 11th century and the château was one of their fiefs. Mme. Millet pointed out that the château was not built as a fortified house but rather as an agricultural property, the aim being to impress the locals into paying their taxes. The Gourdons owned around 50 such houses at the time.
The château was built on a small knoll and the land was cultivated on terraces below. A natural well made it the ideal place to build. ‘Bordes’ is a Celtic word meaning planks of wood, possibly a reference to how the original château was built.
The house was remodelled between the 15th and 17th centuries, when vast fireplaces and large windows were installed and a colonnaded terrace constructed. At one point the English occupied it during the Hundred Years War, but they were eventually driven out.
The Gourdons still owned the place at the time of the French Revolution, but it was sold as a bien national in 1793 and occupied by several families. They built internal partitions, tore up the stone flooring slabs and no doubt sold them and blocked up some of the windows to avoid paying the window tax.
Just before World War I, the round tower was dynamited and the spiral staircase and sculpted entrance doorway removed and sold. The place became a sort of quarry from which people took stone for other buildings – a little like the château at Najac.
It must have been a labour of love for the present owners to restore it from that sorry state. A job well done.
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