#AzayRenaissance. What is this building site?

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

After the restoration of the park in 2014, the château again became a building site for its 2015-2017 restoration project. Work concerns the frames, all the roofs, the upper parts of the masonry, the façades, the sculpture and the woodwork.

An operation to refurnish the rooms on the ground floor has also begun in partnership with the National Furniture Department. The Biencourt drawing-room (Biencourt was the name of the family who owned the château as from 1791), was restored to its original state in the 19th century.

During the current exceptional restoration campaign, the château of Azay-le-Rideau remains open to the public. The National Monuments Center has mounted an exhibition in the château called “What is this building site? Anticipating a renaissance”, from July 2015 to May 2017.

Come and see the start of work on the site and the various technologies and skills in action!”

View of the chateau and its umbrella, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
History of the château’s restoration

The 20th century restoration of the château of Azay-le-Rideau was not its first such operation! When the French State acquired the château in 1905, the upper parts were in a lamentable state. The rooms in the west wing were renovated in 1907 and restoration work continued throughout the 20th century.


La bâche trompe-l'oeil devant l'escalier d'honneur, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The trompe-l’oeil screen in front of the main staircase, 2015.


1945 : Restoration of the western side of the château by the Chief Architect of the National Monuments Department, Bernard Vitry.

1950 : Restoration of the staircase in the north-western turret and a dormer window in the eastern one.

1985 : Restoration of the roof of the south-eastern turret.

1996-1998 : Refurbishment of all the woodwork – doors and windows – reintegrating certain panels from the old stained-glass windows.

2002 : Restoration of the main staircase.

2011 : Restoration of the attics in the west wing and opening to the public.

2014 : Restoration of the park.

2015-2017 : Restoration of the château’s roofs, external woodwork and façades.

2016-2017 : Restoration of ground floor Biencourt appartments



Restauration de la façade Sud, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
Panoramic views of the building site


The aim of this enormous project is to restore this outstanding Loire Valley château to its former glory. Its original construction began in 1516. The slate roof has been completely renewed and the frame, dating from the early 16th century, has been restored. Part of the work on site involves reinforcing the exceptional decoration of multi-colored lead sheets on the crest of the roof, dating from the 16th century, to ensure that the ridges are watertight. The gutters have also been replaced. The façades did not escape attention either, as their sculpted decoration has been restored on the basis of the lapidary collection which has proved to be of really practical use. The woodwork needs to be realigned and repainted.



View of the restoration site at the château of Azay-le-Rideau and the jobs involved in its activity. Video made by Paris Match magazine.



Some figures concerning the building site :
Height of the scaffolding: 28.5 m

New oak for the frame: 35 m3

New roof: 1,838 m2

New lead for the ridging: 99 ml

Weight of slates: 75 metric tons

Restored ridge finials: 8


Vue du château et du parapluie, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


View of the château and the umbrella, eastern façade, 2015.



The château’s watery location made the installation of the scaffolding and the umbrella covering the site a complex operation.


Vue depuis l'observatoire du chantier, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


View from the observatory, 2015.



The site will remain open to the public throughout the building works thanks to an observatory under the frame which allows access to the site zone.


Grand murin dans les combles du château d'Azay-le-Rideau, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


A large brown bat in the attics of the château.


Did you know? The château’s attics are home to a large colony of brown bats, a rare species. Measures have been taken to protect the bats during site works. Three substitute bat roosts have been installed in the south wing of the château. A system has been introduced to encourage their circulation and the night lighting system has been adapted.

Vue sur la charpente depuis l'échafaudage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The frame


The château’s frame is a remarkable 16th century construction. This veritable oak boat was built from trees felled in the winter of 1518-1519. The installation’s technical complexity and its excellent state of preservation demonstrate the skill of the craftsmen and master-carpenters of that era. Lasting until the present day, the artistry of the frame was included on the list of humanity’s intangible heritage by UNESCO in 2009. The frame of the château of Azay-le-Rideau is described as comprising common rafters without purlins, meaning that the weight of the roof is borne directly by the chevrons, those long pieces of wood fixed so as to echo the slope of the roof. The highest point of the château is described as “à surcroït”, meaning that the peripheral walls which support the frame rise above the floor to facilitate plenty of space. This extra height enhances the dormer windows and their decorated frontages of white tufaceous stone which thus contrast perfectly with the grey background of the slate roof. 

Vue d'une lucarne depuis l'échafaudage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


View of a dormer window from the scaffolding, 2015.


Point de vue sur la charpente après retrait des ardoises, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


View of the frame after the slates had been removed, 2015.



The original frame is generally very well conserved. However, a few pieces have become misshapen over time and others have been damaged by leaking water. A team of carpenters worked for twelve months to replace about 50.3 meters of oak, that is to say a very small proportion of the existing frame. The main pieces of wood are restored “Jupiter style”, meaning that the damaged part is replaced and fixed into the rest of the conserved piece. The new pieces of the frame are made of fresh oak worked to unify the presentation of the frame.


Toiture en ardoise et épi de faîtage, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The roofs

Roof restoration comprises a large share of the site works and requires a rare and very demanding skill. Problems involving the water-tightness of the château’s roof started to threaten the frame in the 16th century. The unusually decorative lead flashings were protected and restored. 

Vue sur le toit depuis l'échafaudage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The slate roof


As from the 12th century, large buildings started to be roofed with slate. In the 16th century, slate became the favorite roofing material of the great architects. The slates of the château of Azay-le-Rideau, originating from slate quarries in the Angers basin, have been in place for over a century. The roofs have been repaired from time to time using various techniques since the French State acquired the château in 1905, and are now more homogeneous. Moreover, the pegs which fix the slates have been damaged and the metal parts of the waterproofing system are too badly damaged to prevent all infiltration by water. All the slates will therefore have to be replaced during the current site works.
Le travail du couvreur, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


Laying the slates, 2015



The slate quarries of the Angers basin closed definitively in 2013, so slates from Galicia, whose characteristics are most similar to those of Anjou, were selected. Laying a slate roof on a historic monument requires rare skill and the roofers use ancient methods. The slates are fixed with a nail and the technique is described as the mixed link and decreasing layering method which consists of laying the slates slightly overlapping one another to avoid the appearance of unsightly joins.
This ancient art of roofing guarantees a life of over a century and nicely matched colors.


La pose à pureau décroissant, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


Laying slates in overlapping rows of decreasing size, 2015.

Les clous en cuivre utilisés pour la pose des ardoises, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


The copper nails used for laying slates, 2015.


Détail d'un épi de faîtage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The roof ornaments



#AzayRenaissance: restoring the roof ornaments (2015). Video by the National Monuments Center.

Restauration d'un épi de faîtage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

View from the scaffolding of the restoration of a ridge finial, 2015.

Restoring the multicolored lead flashings



To ensure that the roof is watertight, the top is protected with what is known as a ridge. The lead ridges of the château of Azay-le-Rideau are richly decorated in many colors. These ornaments are originals and are very rarely conserved. They form a frieze decorated with swirls, human figures, animals’ heads, coats of arms and leaves. Half of them are still in place on the château’s roof. Highly qualified roofers and restorers are required for ridge restoration. The roofer handles and repairs the lead sheets. He fills in any holes and welds any cracks. The restorer cleans and reinforces the decorative elements in the workshop installed on the site. A surveyor also takes part in this process. His work consists of collecting technical, architectural and archeological information about each sheet and adding it to our knowledge of their history.

Epis de faîtage, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Ridge finial, 2016

Restoring the ridge finials

Ridge finials are decorative components made of lead or other metals which adorn rooftops. The finials of the château of Azay-le-Rideau are exceptional for their decoration and their height of up to 6 meters. They date from the 16th and 19th centuries.
Their restoration requires the skill of the roofer who works the metals, strengthening their metallic structure and the devices which fix them. The restorer carefully cleans the metals.

Détail d'un épi de faîtage, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Detail of a roof ridge, 2015

ADD YOUR STONE TO THE BUILDING!

The restoration of a roof ridge costs about 10,000 euros. The first phase of restoration concerns four finials. We have already collected half the necessary funds. Make a gift for the ridge finials of the château of Azay-le-Rideau, the rare and major decorative components of this jewel of the Loire Valley, and be among the first guests to come and admire the château in its majesty once the restoration is complete.

Détail du décor de l'escalier, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
Facades and sculptures in limestone


Much of the ornamentation of the château of Azay-le-Rideau dates back to the time when it was built. The upper parts are made of tufaceous stone from the area around Chinon, a fragile, calcareous stone which is not very weather-resistant but is easy to carve and gives the building its luminous appearance. For the lower parts, the builders preferred Bourrée, a less friable yellow tufaceous stone which is more resistant to rising damp. The stone of the façades shows signs of erosion. Streaks and lichens can be seen, spoiling the magnificent ochre appearance of the tufaceous stone.
Détail d'une sculpture envahie par les lichens, mousses et algues, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Detail of a sculpture covered in lichen, moss and algae, 2015.

Décor sculpté d’une lucarne avant restauration, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The carved decoration of a dormer window before restoration, 2015

Détail du décor de l'escalier, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Detail of the decorated staircase, 2016

Restoring the sculptures

The restorers of the early 20th century used plaster for some seals and to make mortar imitating tufaceous stone. The plaster was found to have harmed the stone which also suffered from mortar which was too hard or rust from the iron fixing devices. The restorers must therefore remove all traces of materials other than tufaceous stone and restore the stone to its original appearance. They use modern methods for this work: laser cleaning, diamond-head drills, controlled desalination or strengthening with silicate. When the old components have disappeared, the sculptor steps in using the same methods as in the 16th century, carving the tufaceous blocks installed by the stonemason. His work is based on a study of old components which have been preserved, sketches and models created in collaboration with the Chief Architect of the Historic Monuments Department.

Utilisation d'un ciseau par un sculpteur, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau



A sculptor using a chisel, 2015

Study of the slope, 2015



Relève de côte, 2015, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

The main courtyard restored, 2016

Cour d'honneur restaurée, 2016, From the collection of: Château d'Azay-le-Rideau


The main courtyard restored, 2016

The stones of the façade


The architect makes an inventory of the stones of the façade which need to be replaced, conserved, cleaned and strengthened... The introduction of new stone is kept to a minimum. Each stone is chosen carefully and must have the same hardness, volume and appearance as the original. This technique is called layout.

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
Credits: Story

This virtual exhibition has been put together by teams from the Centre des monuments nationaux, with the help of teams from the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau, the support of teams from the images unit and coordination by the digital unit.

The images were taken from Regards - Banque d’images des monuments © Centre des monuments nationaux.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
Google apps