With the Middle Ages, the lords of Tours build a castle on an island in the medium of the Indre river to protect the passage from the road carrying out of Tours to Chinon.
In 1119, the lord Ridel of Azay gives to the city his name of Azay le Rideau.
The current appearance of the castle of Azay le Rideau goes back to this formidable period of architectural creativity which was the beginning of the reign of François 1st. Until this period, the castle of Azay le Rideau had a defensive object and look like all the fortresses of the area: drawbridge and machicolation. Moreover its architecture returned the image of the power of the lord who was the Master of the place.
The initial fortress was subjected to several events, and in particular the fire caused by Charles VII during the One hundred Year old war.
To the end of XVth century, architecture and the decoration of the French residences seigneuriales will evolve. The builders are helped by Italian artists and the castle of Azay le Rideau is in this paramount evolution of our royal architecture.
With the end of XVth century, Martin Berthelot, « maître de la Chambre aux deniers » (a kind of Minister for Finance) of the king, buy the castle and bequeaths it to his son Gilles Berthelot who inherits this strengthened residence, little before the battle of Marignan (1515). Berthelot undertakes a flourishing career in Finance; he is Général finances of the kingdom then becomes « Trésorier » of France. It is friendly of the baron of Semblançay, itself general Gouverneur of finances.
Gilles Berthelot begins the modifications from the building by expressing his passion for the Italian Renaissance. He makes build two other home with four turns which give to the old fortress her form in « L ». This building inaugurates the era thus residences of pleasure which combine the attractiveness of the French castles with the majesty of the Italian palates. The architectural plan evolves thus around a vast luminous court. The water, which insulates the building, then takes a dominating place in the harmony of the unit.
Gilles Berthelot preserves a certain continuity in the medieval tradition by keeping the turrets of angles and the covered way on the external walls, while yielding to the Italian influence by the symmetrical distribution of the openings which confer on the frontages a regular ordinance.
The monumental staircase.
The monumental right staircase concentrates the essential of the very rich carved decoration; columns, pilasters, entablatures, shells and medallions. It is the principal innovation and the element of prestige of the building. This staircase is inspired of the Italian model of the staircase crawls on slope. It is open on the honnor court by loggias and on the landscape side park by large bays. It innovates by its form, but also by its position in the principal body of the building. Its four curved and twinned bay levels mark the half stages.
But Gilles of Berthelot will not be able to continue his work. Indeed some tourangelles families whose Semblançay and Berthelot, lent money to the crown so that Louise of Savoy, the mother of François 1st, can pay the ransom requested to release her captive son in Spain. Francis I, on his return in France, shows Semblançay of embezzlement (supposed or real). This last is arrested, condemned and hung in 1527.
Berthelot takes fear and escape in Metz. In 1529, he dies in Cambrai where he was taken refuge.
After having confiscated the field, Francis I entrusts it in June 1528 to Antoine Raffin, captain of the guards, who fought at his sides in Pavia. The castle will not be occupied by its new owner only in 1547, after being mainly lightened of its richnesses by a dishonest intendant.
The grand-daughter of Raffin, Antoinette, live in Azay le Rideau in 1583, in the disturbed context of the Wars of religion, after having been injury of honnor at the Court of Marguerite de Valois.
Fortunate, Antoinette gives again magnificence to the castle, which will be given to the style of the day, then forsaken by her heirs. Francoise de Souvré marries her son Arthus de Raffin, before becoming governess of the future Louis XIV.
The marquess of Biencourt.
In 1791, it is bought by the marquess Charles de Biencourt. This one is an expert of the agricultural techniques of rationalization still stammering. He facilitates before all the modernization of the parts being used for agricultural exploitation. In 1825 his son, Armand Francois, begins the restoration of the castle. The work profits as of 1840 from subsidies from the Historic buildings. It carries out external and interior installations very important and will remove the last vestiges of the Middle Ages. In 1845, the last tower remaining of the old fortress is destroyed and it makes build the two turns which, from now on, punctuate the angles of the frontages on court.
The stylistic unit, thus created, breaks definitively with the former aspect. The library and the large living room at the same time are decorated in the style néo-renaissance. The site itself is redrawn in a large park. In the south and west, two mirrors of water are arranged in which the frontages are reflected.
In 1899, after the Second Empire, the last marquis de Biencourt, ruined, must sell the grounds and the furniture of the castle. The State, as for him, repurchases the castle emptied of its furniture and deprived of ground in 1905. New work of restoration is started as of 1907. Museum and historic building, the castle of Azay le Rideau is today like one of the essential places of memory of the Loire Valley. Interior spaces offer a voyage in the life of the monument since the Renaissance to the various moments of its history.
Rich person tapestries and pieces of furniture of XVIe, XVIIe and XVIIIe centuries decorate the apartments of the castle.
With its fireplace, the library offers a wall covering made of wooden boards and painted canvas. You will be able to study its pictures, scheme and drawings showing the restoration made by the Biencourt family through the XIXe century.
The lounge is located from the opposite side of the library, it makes the visitors enter in a cosy and friendly feeling. Windows are decorated with colour design glasses of the XVI and XVII centuries, they open on the river and the park arranged by the Biencourt family. The wide paints and portraits of kings that visitors can admire comes from the Valois time when the building of the castle wasn’t over yet.
When the visitor go through the hall and then climb the stairs, it enters the antechambers of the flat reserved to the King. Several portrait paintings of king remind to the visitor the kings that were the most linked to Azay : Francis I, Henri III and Louis XIII that stayed in the castle. The red and gold wall coverings also reveals the former majesty of the castle.
The great bedroom.
Among the furniture, there is a pear tree cabinet blackened and decorated with incised ivory scenes that represents 30 years war. You can also admire a set of tapestry from the Louis XIII regency.
When you turn back, you are in at the end of a big stairway that you climb to access the above loggia. When climbing the steps, the characters sculpted in the vault’s lockets watch you.
The main room.
Let’s come back to the first floor in the main room, where there used to be parties and banquets. The salamander, symbol of Francis I monarchy, painted on the huge fire place and the leaves decorative border under the moldings, let us imagine how could have been the decoration of the room if it had been achieved. The main room has tapestry among the most beautiful ones of the castle, they are from XVIe and XVIIe centuries.
The blue bedroom.
Shown today as it could have been during the end of the XVII century, the blue chamber has a embroidered satin bed and tapestry showing hunting scenes very close to the real and also very well conserved.
The tender house bedroom.
When you cross a thin cabinet, then you enter in a bedroom whose windows are oriented on the dooryard and the garden. The tapestry and furniture, especially the cabinet with sculpted doors, enable the visitor to imagine the attraction of the Italian Renaissance on the courtiers of the XVI century.