Castle of Bonaguil★★★☆☆
The Castle of Bonaguil was the last fortified castles built in France during the Middle Ages. When it was constructed, it was considered a marvel of military architecture that incorporated the latest development in defensive protection against artillery. Today, it stands as one of the most impressive and evocative castle ruins in France.
The first castle on the site was built in the 13th century by the knight Arnaud de la Tour of Fumel, who later became Lord of Bonaguil. It consisted of a stone keep built on top of a rocky spur in a strategic place bordering several provinces in southwest France. The Lords of Bonaguil sided with the English during the Hundred Years War. The castle was taken and retaken by both sides several times until it was eventually burned and abandoned. However, it had always remained the property of the Fumel family.
At the end of the 15th century, Jean de Fumel-Pujols, owner of the castle married the heiress of Roquefeuil, Jeanne Catherine and dropped his name for the more prestigious name of his wife. When he died in 1482, his third son, Berenger de Roquefeuil inherited the property. Most of what we see today at Bonaguil was built by Berenger; his aim was to transform the castle into a highly defensive fortress that contained all the innovations to deal with an artillery attack.
How was the defensive protection designed ?
It took over 40 years to complete the gigantic project. The fortified castle comprised of 13 tall towers and over 400 meters of defensive perimeter.
The defensive system had two different parts: the outer system was designed to keep the enemy's artillery at a distance and postpone as much as possible the danger to the main part of the structure, while the inner system was meant to fortify the heart of the castle itself.
The outer defensive system consisted of a 350 m long external wall which was reinforced with small towers and more than 100 embrasures for firing (these were small openings in the curtain wall that allowed weapons to be fired out from the fortification). Large caliber guns were put on top of the towers so they could fire at a distance.
A large ditch that was sunk in the rock stood in front of the curtain wall. A barbican defended by several guard towers was built beyond the ditch; this allowed a flanking fire from which hand cannons could cover every angle. The barbican was linked by two drawbridges to the main part of the castle.
Furthermore, small earthwork fortifications were built inside the ditch, just in front of the curtain wall, allowing retaliatory fire from the defenders. The different parts of the structure were connected by boulevards which permitted rapid movement from one point to another of the fortress.
These latest defensive developments had two main objectives: oblige the enemy to set up their cannons farther away from the castle while making the approach as difficult as possible under heavy retaliatory fire.
The second system of defense was designed to strengthen the residential part of the castle. Six tall towers were added, four in the corners and two in the middle; the western middle tower was square while the other five were round towers. The design of the towers allowed a greater protection of the walls and their height was a guarantee against scaling.
The big innovation was the artillery platforms on top of the towers which were reinforced to be able to support a much heavier weight: a large artillery piece and greater supplies.
Unfortunately, by the time it was completed, other castles were already starting to be converted from fortresses to more comfortable residences. As it turned out, the great fortifications were obsolete and the castle was never attacked.
17th to 20th century
By the middle of the 17th century, the castle was scarcely occupied and it began to fell into disrepair. In the 18th century, the fortunes started to change for the chateau when it was bought by Marguerite de Fumel. She restored the castle and even added some new apartments outside the inner wall. Marguerite stayed regularly at Bonaguil until she died in 1788.
As many other castles, it was plundered during the Revolution and some parts were destroyed or damaged. In 1862, it was purchased by the town who were able to obtain the classification of Historic Monument. Restoration works were carried out several times, the latter in 1985.
The castle today
Today, the chateau is an absolute model of a fortified castle. Guided tours are available; during summer, the castle also proposes nocturnal tours with stunning lighting and sound effects that give an extra dimension to the visit.
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Saint-Front-sur-Lemance, Lot-et-Garonne department, France