Monday, July 1, 2013

If Richelieu won't come to the city...

Le Grand Chaunay, July 1st, 2013

Even after almost four hundred years, Richelieu's urban rectangle seems like an apparition amidst the vineyards and wheat fields of the Loire Valley.  Imagine what it would have looked like in the 17th century when it was first built.

In 1631 Armand du Plessis--Louis XIII's legendary chief minister better known as Cardinal Richelieu--established a city adjacent to his family's château in the Loire Valley region.  The designer was Jacques Lemercier, the architect of the additions to the Louvre during the reign of Louis XIII and the "Palais-Cardinal", Richelieu's Paris residence (later known as the Palais-Royal.)  Lemercier's project was organized along a central avenue running north-south aligned with a transversal axis of the chateau to the south.  The overall plan is a perfect rectangle, about 400 by 600 meters, bound by a wall and a moat.  I may be wrong, but my guess is that there was little need for defense at the time, and the main purpose of wall and moat was to establish a precise perimeter, to objectify the city.

Richelieu has not one but two major open spaces, identical squares at each end of the main avenue.  Rather unusual, don't you think?  Particularly for an "ideal city."  Place Royale to the north and Place Cardinal to the south (as if Richelieu felt that far enough from Paris he could set his record straight.)  Together, these two squares and the main avenue articulate a remarkably distinctive urban plan.

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