28,000 Strangers Saved an Abandoned French Castle, and Now You Can See It

The 13th century Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers, gutted by a fire some eight decades ago, will soon be restored to its former glory. (Photo: Pierre Mairé [CC BY 2.5]/Wikimedia)

A fairy tale chateau complete with moat, towering stone spires and looming oak doors has been saved and is open to visitors thanks to the generosity and appreciation of thousands of complete strangers.

The Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers, located in the town of Les Trois-Moutiers in the Poitou-Charentes region of France (about 200 miles southwest of Paris), was purchased by thousands of internet users in December 2017. Today, the chateau is co-owned by nearly 28,000 people from 115 countries, reports The Connexion.

According to the crowdfunding platform Dartagnans.fr, each contributor was given the opportunity to become a shareholder through an investment of at least 50 euros (about $60). Thousands of people around the world donated a total of more than 2 million euros.

Dating back to the 13th century, the chateau was abandoned and left to play host to nature after a fire gutted its interior in 1932. Shareholders voted not to restore the castle to it original elegant state, but to leave it as a "living ruin."

Immediate improvements included constructing outbuildings to welcome visitors, as well as stabilizing the site's high stone walls and fixing critical roofing on several of the towers.

About 1,200 of the shareholders volunteered to clear rubble and trim hedges to prepare the castle for visitors. Guided tours of the castle began this summer and will continue through mid-October. Organizers hope to welcome as many as 50,000 tourists by 2021 and more than 70,000 by 2022.

The Chateau La Mothe-Chandeniers in its glory days.
The Chateau La Mothe-Chandeniers in its glory days. (Photo: Maixentais [CC BY-SA 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Constructed in the early 13th century, the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers was originally the stronghold of the Bauçay family, lords of Loudun. It was taken twice by the English during the Middle Ages and later transitioned into a hotspot for French aristocracy. As a result, it was once again ransacked during the French Revolution. In 1809, a wealthy businessman named François Hennecart purchased the castle with an aim to return it to its former glory. Over a century later, it was once again abandoned after a fire destroyed much of its contents, including a library of rare books, ancient tapestries and antique furniture.

Here's a video of the castle before restorations started. The footage shows it was a mix of decrepit beauty.

Recognizing that the natural beauty of the chateau is now as much a monument as its architectural significance, the organizers behind the crowdfunding effort are aiming to delicately balance the preservation of both.

"It is essential, in our view, to keep the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers in its green setting," they write. "We wish it remains a unique castle in the world where heritage and nature will blend. It is also essential to secure it so that visitors can enter safely and contemplate this masterpiece taken by nature."

"The castle is in the imagination of many, the romantic ruin par excellence," they add. "It is therefore important that the project of reuse is related to this notion of magical place, attractive, captivating which makes today a symbol for many enthusiasts."