Tag Archives: Cinderella’s Castle

Entrance Tickets – Château de Pierrefonds

Pierrefonds Castle

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

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France, Cinderella and Joan of Arc

Pierrefonds Castle Postcard

“This enchanting landmark is an architectural blend of many European styles, from 13th Century French Fortress to late Renaissance Palace.  Since it was inspired by no single structure, Cinderella Castle represents them all” – Disney Official Souvenir Book

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in France because, according to the Official Tourist Board, there are almost five-thousand but it seems to me to includes a lot of questionable  small Chateaux in that number. For comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom and just about two thousand five hundred in Spain.

In the 1960s, so the story goes, Disney ‘imagineers’ travelled throughout Europe looking for the perfect castles on which to model Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World.

Cinderella's Castle Walt Disney World Florida

The lead architect for the project was a man called Herbert Rymanand and what makes this story a bit of a mystery is that there is no documentary evidence to establish exactly which castles he visited and indeed which of them became the inspiration for the Disney Magic Kingdom centrepiece.  Disney themselves do no more than confirm that Cinderella Castle was ‘inspired by the great castles of Europe’, but they never explicitly say which one.

Pierrefonds France Picardy

I mention this because today I was planning a visit to the nearby town of Pierrefonds which is famous for its castle.  Actually that is just about all that it is famous for and without the castle I doubt that very many people would take the detour to go there.

The castle itself is rather magnificent, statuesque and grand, stout walls and conical turrets and if the Disney architects had stopped by Pierrefonds on their fact finding tour of Europe then I suggest that they would have gone no further in their search for inspiration for Cinderella’s Castle.

Pierrefonds

After Pierrefonds we continued to nearby Compiègne which turned out to be another attractive but rather unremarkable town but my reason for visiting was to see just one thing.  A statue of Joan of Arc.  There are statues of the Maid of Orleans all over France but I especially wanted to see this one because it has some special significance.

A bit of background: Joan was born in about 1412 into a relatively well-off peasant family in Donrémy in northern France somewhere near the border of Lorraine.  At this time English troops were running riot through France and at one point raided and plundered the village of Donrémy and the d’Arc family had to flee into exile.  During this time Joan convinced herself that she had a visitation of saints and angels and heard patriotic voices that told her that she was chosen by God to save France.  Joan kept hearing the voices for a further three years and when she was finally convinced she left home and presented herself to the authorities as the saviour of France with a mission to put the Dauphin on his rightful throne.

L'hôtel de ville de Compiègne et la statue de Jeanne d'Arc (Oise, France).

Word of Joan quickly spread and it was claimed that she was the embodiment of a prophecy made by a mystic called Marie d’Avignon, that a ‘virgin girl from the borders of Lorraine’ would come to save France.  To test whether Joan was genuine the Dauphin had her questioned by a committee of clergymen and asked a group of respectable ladies to test her virginity.

She passed both tests and with religious sincerity and sexual inexperience being considered more suitable qualifications than an education at an appropriate military academy she was given a suit of made (maid?) to measure white armour and an army of forty thousand men and sent to fight the English at Orléans.

joan_arc-capture

Joan rejected the cautious strategy that had characterized French leadership and attacked and captured the outlying fortress of Saint Loup, which she followed the next day with a march to a second fortress called Saint Jean le Blanc, which was found deserted.  The next day with the aid of only one captain she rode out of the city and captured the fortress of Saint Augustins and two days later attacked the main English stronghold and secured a stunning victory that took everyone by surprise.

After that there was a seemingly endless run of French victories as the English and their Bugundian allies fled from the field of battle whenever challenged by the invincible Maid of Orléans fighting, it seemed, with God by her side.

From here however things started to go wrong for Joan and she was betrayed by the King, Charles VII, who was beginning to find here her to be a bit of a nuisance and to get her out of the way he dispatched her on a hopeless mission to fight a Burgundian army right here at (which brings me conveniently back to) Compiègne, where she was defeated by a much stronger army, captured and taken prisoner and so began her sad journey towards the bonfire.

You can read my story of Joan of Arc right here.

I found the statue and with nothing else to detain me in Compiègne I headed back to the campsite at Vic-Sur-Aisne.

Vic Sur Aisne Picardy France0

Travels in Spain – The Aqueduct, Cathedral and Alcázar of Segovia

Segovia

“Here were churches, castles, and medieval walls standing sharp in the evening light, but all dwarfed by that extraordinary phenomenon of masonry, the Roman aqueduct, which overshadowed the whole…’The Aqueduct’, said the farmer, pointing with his whip, in case by chance I had failed to notice it.” Laurie Lee

The approach to Segovia was truly wonderful and still some way out we could see a golden city, a thousand metres above sea level, on a convenient rocky outcrop rising majestically from the plain with a spectacular snow-capped mountain backdrop and the Cathedral and the Alcázar reaching dramatically into the blue sky.

I was determined not to repeat the parking difficulties of Ávila but this plan went spectacularly wrong after I drove through the stone gates into the old city and tried to find a way to the Plaza Mayor.  Guessing a route is never a great idea! We made a couple of circuits stopping here and there to consult an inadequate map and then by chance arrived at the main square where our path was blocked by one of those steel retractable bollards and my dramatic entrance and squeal of brakes raised the eyebrows of some nearby pedestrians.

Some men in a bar directed me to another entrance and this had a bollard in the down position and an intercom to request permission to enter.  There was no answer and I was nervous about driving across it in case it raised up without warning and the CCTV cameras would catch the moment and I would forever be shown on television repeats of the Spanish equivalent of ‘Caught on Camera’. 

I could sense that a bus driver behind was getting impatient so I had to go and I revved the engine and popped the clutch, spun the wheels and dashed across as quickly as I could.  Nothing happened – the bollard stayed down of course.  The bus driver smirked.

P3230654

We were staying at the Sercotel Infanta Isabel and we had one of the best rooms on the second floor with a perfect view of the Plaza Mayor lined with cafés and bars and with the Cathedral directly opposite looking like an elaborate birthday cake.

As it went dark it was nice to sit and watch the square melting away from afternoon into evening with plenty of sociable activity.  There were lots of Segovians walking out in families and we joined them in the busy streets and looked for somewhere to eat.  We walked further than planned and ended up at the Aqueduct, which we were really saving until tomorrow so finding ourselves at the bottom of the town we walked back and by my choice found a little restaurant that turned out to be quite disappointing.

After that I had the restaurant selection responsibility removed from my list of duties but as I had failed quite badly tonight I didn’t argue about that at all.

After breakfast the next day we walked out into the sociable main square and followed a street adjacent to the Cathedral and walked in the direction of the Alcázar, which, I am told is the most visited castle in Spain.

The route took us through narrow streets, past craft shops and churches and eventually brought us out at the north of the city on the top of a rocky outcrop that was the location of the fortress that was begun in the twelfth century and was subsequently occupied by a succession of Castilian monarchs from Alfonso X to Phillip II and Charles III.

Segovia and the Spanish tourist board would have us believe that the Alcázar was the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland and Disney World but in truth there is no real evidence for this.

We purchased tickets to visit the Alcázar and paid a little extra to climb to the top of the Torre de Juan II (total price €6 each).  After visiting the state rooms and the armouries we ended our visit with a climb of three hundred and twenty steps up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower where we were rewarded for our efforts with fabulous views over the city and the surrounding countryside.

It had taken most of the morning to visit the Alcázar and after we were finished we walked back to the Plaza Mayor for a drink and tapas and selected a bar with tables in the sun and sat and enjoyed watching the residents of Segovia as they went about their business of the day in probably the same way that they have for a thousand years.  A walk around the square, a sit down, a chat, a walk around the square, a sit down, a chat and so on and so on.

Segovia Aqueduct

If the Alcázar isn’t enough for one city the Aqueduct is the most recognised and famous historical symbol of Segovia. It was built at the end of first to early second century AD by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío about eighteen kilometres away and requiring an elevated section in its final kilometre from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town.

This is supported by an engineering achievement of one hundred and sixty-six arches and one hundred and twenty pillars constructed on two levels. It is twenty eight metres high and constructed with over twenty thousand large, rough-hewn granite blocks, which are joined without mortar or clamps and have remained in place for two thousand years.

We liked the Aqueduct and looked all round it from every possible angle, it is one of those structures that make you appreciate just how brilliant the Romans were.  I never tire of visiting these ancient structures, I feel privileged to able to enjoy them and the sense of wonderment is never reduced no matter how many I see.

There was only one more thing to do in Segovia so after the refreshment break we went to the Cathedral to finish off the day.  The building was completed in 1577 and is regarded as the World’s last great Gothic Cathedral.  We paid the €3 and then entered what I suggest is quite possibly the coldest cathedral in Spain and probably all of Europe.

We were inappropriately dressed for sub-zero temperatures and although the cathedral was well worth the admission charge it was way too cold to enjoy it so we sprinted around the naves and the chapels with rather indecent haste and were glad to come about again into the sunshine with only seconds to go before hypothermia set in.

Segovia Spain

Brittany, Mont St Michel and Cinderella’s Castle

Disney Cinderella Castle

“This enchanting landmark is an architectural blend of many European styles, from 13th Century French Fortress to late Renaissance Palace.  Since it was inspired by no single structure, Cinderella Castle represents them all” – Disney Official Souvenir Book

In the 1960s, so the story goes, Disney ‘imagineers’ travelled throughout Europe looking for the perfect castles on which to model Cinderella’s Castle in Walt Disney World.

The lead architect for the project was Herbert Rymanand and what makes this story a bit of a mystery is that there is no documentary evidence to establish exactly which castle became the inspiration for the Disney Magic Kingdom centrepiece.  Disney themselves do no more than confirm that Cinderella Castle was ‘inspired by the great castles of Europe’, but they never explicitly say which one.

So who is traditionally in the running?  Determined Disney researchers claim to have narrowed it down to just one or two…

Alcazar Segovia

Some say that the inspiration comes from Spain and Segovia and the Spanish tourist board are convinced that it is them and but there is no real evidence for this. The blue tiled turrets look right to me but I am not sure about that big square Torre de Juan II.

Others say that it is most likely that the famous icon of the Disney empire was inspired principally by Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria and this really does seem to be a serious contender.

Neuschwanstein

But, and here is the point of this post, I think everyone making these guesses is missing the most obvious candidate that as far as I can see doesn’t even get a mention.  Surely it has to be Mont St Michel in France.  This magnificent structure has the same shape, the same dainty turrets, the same architecture and having visited both I am certain that we can dismiss all of the other claims and go straight to Normandy.

Mont St Michel Cinderellas Castle

Or is it Carcassonne in the south of France?

Cacassonne City Walls

Which castle do you think was the inspiration for Disney’s Cinderella Castle?