Château de Saussignac
Château de Saussignac is an imposing stone structure dating back to the 16th Century. The main part of the building (the central section and towers) were built during this period, with the two wings being added in the 17thCentury.
Around 1850, the château was divided into five apartments, with one wing remaining the property of the commune (parish). An English family own one of the towers as their holiday home, a French family live full-time in the central section and an American artist couple divide their time between the second tower and their property in the south of Spain. The left hand wing in this photo is approximately two-thirds mine, with a small apartment between the tower and my place owned by an old local paysan (a farm worker). It’s in derelict condition and has been empty for over 50 years. I’ve been told that the ground floor is in a precarious state because some years ago he went digging for treasure in the cellar (many wealthy families hid their valuable s during World War I and II –but he didn’t find anything). He occasionally comes over to mow his lawns but doesn’t ever seem to enter the apartment.
The towers and central section have high stone walls and vaulted ceilings, with views out to the vineyards to the north. Recently, my French neighbours told me that when they bought their apartment 14 years ago, it had been divided into five shops on the ground floor and upstairs was one long room. Laurence had wanted to have the kitchen relocated to one end of the room but when Pierre started the renovation, he uncovered an old fireplace that is about 6 feet high and can fit several people inside it. The room probably would have been the main living area back in the 16thCentury, and that also spelt the end of Laurence’s kitchen plans. Their stone staircase is two metres wide and underneath their ground floor is the main cellar, where Protestant monks were hidden during the One Hundred Year War with England. This region is filled with amazing history, so I’ll talk more about that in another blog.
Each window in the château has an upper and lower section (which you can see in the photo below) but all of top sections of Laurence and Pierre’s were blocked in when they arrived. This was because after the revolution, wealth was determined by the number of windows a house had so a window tax was imposed on the rich. To save paying crippling taxes, property owners with many windows blocked a lot of them in.
Having been built during the Renaissance period, my wing has a more refined style than the older part of the château. The ceiling stud is 4.5 metres and a metre thick. Hopefully this acts as insulation in winter but it’s a nightmare for getting a mobile signal (I usually have to perch on the salon window, or stand at my bedroom window). The salon (sitting room) has a panelled wall around the fireplace and would have become the formal sitting room when this section was built. Sadly, post-revolution France has had some crazy attitudes towards the preservation of old buildings. This château isn’t a protected building and has suffered from poor interior design in previous generations. Just as the fireplace at Laurence and Pierre’s had been covered over, my salon at some point became the local post office. The ceiling was lowered (and the panelling has a few scars left to show for it) and a corner of the fireplace mantelpiece was cut out to allow room for a counter to be installed.
My favourite room is the dining room (below). You can there is one set of tall doors and a shorter, single door leading to the salon. This is typical of this period, there the gentry went through the tall doors and servants used the smaller door.
The painting below is of King Charles I, which is a copy of the one by Gainsborough located in The National Museum in London.
My first three weeks here have sped by and this week marks the beginning of visitor season. I’m looking forward to playing tour guide and showing everyone around!