08 September 2010

Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval

Sometimes big things are born from  little nothings...

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One day, while marking School Certificate papers,   J RR Tolkien scribbled on a blank paper "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit"....And The Hobbit was born.
In another place, at another time, a country postman stumbled in stone, and that changed his life.

Ferdinand Cheval was the postman at Hauterives, a village in the Drome region that counted about 1300 inhabitants at the time, the second half of  1800,  and isn't much bigger today. He was generally known as "Le Facteur Cheval", that is "Cheval  the Postman", as he probably was a familiar presence to all the villagers. His daily tour to deliver mail was 32 kms long, and he had to do it on foot.  Life at the time wasn't easy...
One day, during his usual delivery tour he stumbled, and nearly fell. He wanted to discover what had made him stumble, and saw it was a stone... A stone of such an unusual shape that he put it in his pocket in order to look at it better later. The day after he returned on the spot and collected other stones even more beautiful...
And he was inspired.
Many years before he had dreamed of building a palace, or a cave; something wonderful and unique...But he was no architect, he didn't know anything about art, or buildings, or masonry and had spoken to nobody about it because he felt it was an impossible dream and didn't want to be ridiculed. But this time something changed. He decided that "As Nature wants to make sculpture, I will do architecture and masonry"... And he started to build his Ideal Palace.
For the following 33 years he dedicated  very spare moment of his life to his Palace...  He added another 10-15 kms to his daily tour as postman in order to collect stones to use in his building; he worked at the Palace by night, at the light of oil lamps,  sleeping only 2 or 3 hours before having to resume is daily job...

And his palace was built.
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Some things are built with a precise project in mind; this palace grew up almost like a natural thing, as Ferdinand Cheval had no notions of architecture, he just had his dream to follow and nobody else to help him. So every detail of the surface is the result of a sudden idea, of the decision to add something here or there...
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At some points villages seem to grow on the façade....

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...Or strange processions walk to the top the roof...

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And trees and birds seem a natural presence in that landscape.

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Giant human figures and statues are integrated in the building

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Sentences by Cheval are written all over the Palace; his way to transmit his thoughts and considerations made during the building....

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Death is a constant presence in these writings, as it was in Cheval's life... By the age of 19 he had lost both his parents. His first son died when he was only 1 year old, and his beloved daughter Alice died at the age of 15... And he was widowed twice.

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He had planned to be buried in his Palais Idéal, but the law didn't allow that and made no exception....Therefore, when he finished building his Palace, even if he was 77 he started building a grave for himself at the local cemetery, in his peculiar style. The construction went on for 8 years and he died 2 years after it was finished, in 1924.

Ferdinand Cheval's grave
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Like on his Palace, here too there is a  writing, by now almost deleted but still visible: "Le Tombeau du Silence et du Repos sans Fin"...The Grave of Silence and Endless Rest.

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Le Palais Idéal was declared National Monument in 1969, and Fernand Cheval's life and work are today an inspiration for everybody.
The palace is there to show you that you don't have to be important, or cultured, or rich, or even have a lot ot time to make your dreams come true; things can be built a bit at a time, day after day.

If you pass in the region south of Lyon, north of Orange and Avignon, find the time to stop in Hauterives: you will see things in a different way.

Ce monument est l'oeuvre d'un paysan
                                                           (Fernand Cheval, written on his Palais Idéal, Eastern façade )


Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval - Official site

1 comment:

Smithy said...

Grazie! An amazing building and a wonderful blog post!