A Group In France Has Spent Decades Building Guédelon Castle Using Only 13th-Century Methods

Published October 6, 2023

Guédelon Castle has been under construction for using strict methods for 25 years in the forest near Paris — and it is nearly complete.

Guédelon Castle

Wikimedia CommonsThe Château of Guédelon is a faithful reconstruction of a 13th-century medieval castle that is 25 years in the making.

In the modern age, the desire to return to simpler times may be more alive than ever, as evidenced by an ongoing project deep in a forest of France’s Burgundy region. Here that a group of enthusiasts, comprised of traditional craftspeople and fervid history buffs, are building a medieval castle using only tools and methods from the late 13th century.

Each year, some 300,000 people visit the ongoing construction site of the Château de Guédelon, or Guédelon Castle, where dedicated craftspeople have spent the last 25 years relearning the techniques of medieval men and women who built stunning castles without any electricity, computers, power tools, or machinery.

“This is a place you experience with all your senses,” Sarah Preston, communications director and guide of Guédelon Castle, told NPR. “As soon as we walk onto the site you smell the woodsmoke. There’s something so evocative about these sites and sounds.”

Three Friends’ Bold Vision For Guédelon Castle In The French Forest

The Guédelon Castle project has been in the works, at least on the mental stage, since 1995, when three friends came up with the idea. All three were history buffs and nature lovers, and it just so happened that one of them, Michel Guyot, found inspiration in his very own home.

As he told The Telegraph, his home, the Château de Saint-Fargeau, had a medieval core to it, and Guyot came to believe that reconstructing the original would be “an amazing project.”

Then, former businesswoman Maryline Martin realized a way to make Guyot’s dreams a reality — by buying land cheaply and funding the project with grants, and proceeds from tourism.

Thus began a long research process that led them to a remote abandoned sandstone quarry in the Guédelon forest. The quarry would provide them with enough stone to build the castle, and the surrounding forest would provide a near-limitless supply of wood. So, in 1996, they purchased nearly 30 acres of land nearby for just 6,500 Francs.

Guédelon Castle Stonemason

Ossian Lore/XA stonemason working on the Guédelon Castle construction project.

Since then, during daylight hours every year from March to November, their ever-growing team of craftspeople and history buffs have been working tirelessly to create the stunning medieval Guédelon Castle just as their medieval ancestors had. They forge the tools themselves, cut the wood, hew and shape the stone — effectively, they say, they have had to “relearn” everything about creating a building.

The craftspeople behind the project have even abandoned French meters in favor of pre-metric measurements, which are mostly linked to human anatomy: inches, palms, hands, feet, and cubits.

Martin calls this process an example of “experimental archaeology” – a method of research that involves imitating the ways in which ancient humans did things and “building to discover.”

Guédelon Castle’s Commitment To 13-Century Methods – Even In The Garden

Craftspeople from all over the world have come to Guédelon due to the unique nature of its construction. As Tendra Schrauwen, a 29-year-old from Belgium, told NPR, Guédelon is one of the few places in the world where people can practice stonemasonry using traditional methods and tools.

“The charm of the skill is really to build by hand,” he said. “There are no pneumatic hammers here. Everything is done by hand.”

Guédelon Construction

Wikimedia CommonsConstruction at Guédelon is set to be complete later this year.

The medieval lifestyle at Guédelon Castle goes beyond the construction itself, though. On the grounds, there is a garden in which employees only grow plants that would have been found in the region centuries ago.

“So that means we don’t have tomatoes, we don’t have potatoes, because those came from South America much later,” explained Antoine Quellen, who works in the garden two days a week.

Perhaps most impressive of all is that the Guédelon Castle construction project has a carbon footprint that is almost zero. The project is powered purely by the humans who are building it, two horses, one donkey, charcoal, a wood kiln, and a stream nearby.

Everything the team needs for the construction, the Earth provides them. They acquire sandstone from the quarry, sand and clay from the ground for mortar and tiles, and various hued ochres to paint the structures. They gather hearty oak From the surrounding forest to make roof timbers, battens, and wooden tiles, and hornbeam and birch to fuel the furnaces and kilns.

And if you’re looking to visit Guédelon Castle and see the ongoing construction work that has been lovingly put into it for the past 25 years in action, you’d best do so soon as construction is due to be completed this year.

After reading about this remarkable castle project, learn all about Shuri Castle, Okinawa’s 14th-century World Heritage site. Then, explore Scotland’s haunted Earlshall Castle.

Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Matt Crabtree
Matt Crabtree is an assistant editor at All That's Interesting. A writer and editor based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Matt has a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Utah State University and a passion for idiosyncratic news and stories that offer unique perspectives on the world, film, politics, and more.