The Chateau de Lourmarin was the first Renaissance chateau in Provence. It sits atop a hill just outside Lourmarin, dominating the western view of the village.
The chateau that is seen today reflects two separate periods of construction. In the 15th century, in the later part of the Renaissance, Lord Foulques d’Agoult began building on what was probably a 12th century foundation. This marked a new beginning for Lourmarin after a long period of decline due to frequent pillages and the 14th century plague.
He also arranged to have nearly 50 Vaudois families moved to Lourmarin from Switzerland – with rent and work contracts – to work the land and on the castle itself. The remnants of this effort, referred to as the Château Vieux, are the Gothic-style round tower on the northeast corner and the hexagonal tower on the southeast corner.
The construction of the remaining portion of the Lourmarin chateau began in 1526, under the guidance of his great-grand-nephew, Louis d’Agoult-Montauban, and his wife Blanche de Lévis-Ventadour. The project was interrupted briefly but later resumed with encouragement from the king, François I, who visited Lourmarin in 1537 and befriended the couple’s son. Work continued in earnest from 1539 until its completion in 1542. The final result was the Château-Neuf with a distinctly different style, reminiscent of the chateaux on the Loire. The pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the spectacular double spiral staircase, which is still in place today.
Wars and destruction
Religious wars broke out just a few years after completion of the chateau, followed by a brutal attack on the Vaudois. As many as 3,000 people in the Luberon were slaughtered during this time. The village was destroyed and castle damaged. During the Revolution (1789 to late 1790s) it was abandoned and all but destroyed. It then became occupied by farmers and by gypsies making pilgrimages to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The latter are said to have cursed the chateau, as suggested by their graffiti – a sailboat surrounded by strange birds with human faces.
Restoration in the Twentieth Century
Just as plans were drawn up to sell the Lourmarin Chateau so that it could be dismantled for its stones, a scholar and successful industrialist, Robert Laurent-Vibert, stepped in. He bought it and eventually brought it back to life, although he didn’t see the restoration completed. Sadly he died in a car accident in 1925, another famous figure linked with Lourmarin to be killed this way. There is a statue erected in his memory in Lourmarin.
The residents of Lourmarin carried out his wishes. They established the Fondation de Lourmarin Laurent-Vibert, with the Lourmarin chateau “open to art, intellect and friendship”.
Now, every summer, young artists, writers and researchers come here to pursue their studies. This extraordinary venue is also home to an annual summer piano competition and series of concerts. In 1973, it was classified as a Historic Monument and has thousands of visitors each year.
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