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Castles of France: the Château de Joux

The Château de Joux sits on a bluff overlooking the "Cluse de Pontarlier", and the road beneath is one of the few really good ways through the Jura mountains, from all of northern Europe through the Franche-Comté region to Vallorbe in Switzerland and out onto the Swiss Plateau and the Lake Geneva region, eventually to northern Italy. The TGV fast train to Paris goes right up through here, in fact. It's always been a good place to have your fortress. Except that, back then, everybody needs to besiege it!

April 2004

We first visited in April 2004: There's the Château de Joux in France just over the mountain from home, on a fine spring day, with not much greenery on the hillsides.

We came to see the whole thing, of course, including the deepest inner passageways, but major EU-supported renovations were underway and we got nowhere near the medieval parts of it at that time.

From the road that winds up to the castle

The medieval keep and surroundings are hidden way up there at the top, and we didn't get to see them on this trip -- just some of the many layers of later accretions, like the Vauban fort architecture from the later 17th century and the late 19th century earthworks all around the outside.

Some of the many layers, April 2004.

The old tricolor fluttering proudly over the ruins

Now to get a look at the inside of it.

We were so impressed that we came back two days later, 23 April 2004, hoping to see more of it. But saw even less.

We'll take a rain check.

July 2007

The Fourth of July 2007, Marlowe and the Old Dad have come back to see if we can get a proper tour of the place.

A humble wooden palisade in the 11th century, the big stone centre parts were got underway in the 12th century, and since that time nearly everyone has had a go at it.

The great military engineer Vauban extended matters significantly out from the old medieval keep in 1690.


See another major work of Vauban's, Besançon, here.

Only guided tours here, no wandering about on your own, and here's our excellent young guide, probably a university student, telling us the old tales in a kind of English that's much more fun than real English.

And here's one of the outer layers, enormous earthworks laid on by Joffre in the late 19th century.

A look at different periods of military architecture piled one upon another as we march up into the medieval portions

Our merry guide instructing us as we prepare to charge up the Trick Steps to the highest level of the old medieval keep -- the stairway has two false steps on it that can be removed at just the right time to drop attackers into the soup. In fact, that 15th step from the bottom is called a "ha ha", because that's what you say when the attackers step on it.

The fort at Larmont, on the far side of the ravine (or "cluse") of Pontarlier, built in the late 19th century but now abandoned, with no funds to restore it.

The famous author and statesman Mirabeau (1749-1791) got himself sort of imprisoned here in 1775 for his extravagent lifestyle, and spent much of his time idling away in that little room on the left, and the rest of it hanging out in the nearby town of Pontarlier, where he met his "Sophie", with whom he got into so much semi-pornographic trouble later.

A view from the parapets down into the ravine below, with the rail line and the road leading out towards Neuchâtel in Switzerland. The road to the left, where the big truck is exiting the frame, leads towards Pontarlier and Besançon in France, and off to the lower right it leads through Vallorbe towards Lausanne in Switzerland.

The Château de Joux has a well-known arms museum in it, including a rare rifled firearm from 1717, though we must have passed that one right by.

A kitchen

A maquette of the château, placed improbably way back here in the inner precincts instead of out where the light can get to it.

Oh, here's Berthe's room, what a sad tale that one is. Well, here's the tale as we have heard it told: the lord Amauri III de Joux went off to the Crusades in about 1170, leaving to wait for him for some unspecified length of time his young wife Berthe. She did, but some years later a knight (Amey de Montfaucon) passed by on his return from the Holy Land, got a look at Berthe, and informed her solemnly that her husband had died of his wounds, probably speaking her name with his last breath. And then Amey did his very best to comfort Berthe in her grief, wink wink nudge nudge.

But alas, Amauri came home again and found . . . well! In a homicidal snit, he hanged young Amey off the battlements and stuck Berthe into this appalling little cell ("un miniscule cachot où elle ne pouvait se tenir qu'à genoux") where she couldn't stand up or lie down (but could gaze at her beloved Amey out the tiny window, as he swung in the breeze). OOoof. When years later the old knight finally died, Berthe's son let her out of the thing and packed her off to a convent -- genuine records show a real Berthe de Joux still living in the abbaye of Montbenoît in 1228, probably not playing with a full deck by that time.

Now we're dropping down a few levels way back in the middle of the castle.

Here's a bust of Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), the former slave and guerilla leader who led the blacks to victory over the Spanish, English, and French authorities in Haiti in the late 1790s, moved on to Santo Domingo to free the slaves there, made a deal with the USA not to invade the South in return for arms, and established a constitution, with himself in charge of it, over the whole island of Hispaniola in 1801.

As our merry guide explains, Napoleon Bonaparte had taken an interest in things out that way and sent his brother-in-law Leclerc to undermine Toussaint's authority. In 1802, Toussaint packed it in, signed an agreement with the French, and retired to his farm. Mistake. Brother-in-law Leclerc swooped in and rounded him up and transported the trusting fellow to France, in fact, to this room, where he died of pneumonia in April 1803, as who wouldn't have. This has been described as the coldest place in France, and you can see the level of amenities in this cell where he plotted and schemed his return to the tropical islands throughout the winter.

The Famous Well. It's 120 metres deep now and used to be higher, up to the top courtyard of the keep, and was chiselled out by guys hung down in there on ropes until they stopped chiselling and were replaced (like non-union coalminers in Utah). Our merry guide tottered out onto that grill, bade everyone to be silent, and dropped a coin down into the well, and we waited for the sound of it hitting the water. After a while, I gave it up as a party trick gone awry and started off to see the rest of the sights, but then I distinctly heard a muffled splash.

Horrible dungeons in the depths of the Château de Joux -- in fact, these big bricks on the walls of the prison cell are made of a spongy kind of styrofoam, and the cell door is an utter fake. It was all put in for a Jean-Paul Belmondo movie some years ago.

This part is real, we're going back out into the sunlight.

Out in the sunlight at last

September 2007

Our Alison's here from Santiago, Chile, for a month of meetings at her European Southern Observatory headquarters near Munich, Germany, and at conferences in Madrid, Spain, and Manchester, England, and has scrounged a week free for a visit to the Old Dad in Switzerland.

It's a rainy and non-hikey day, so we're looking for a high-yield sightseeing attraction somewhere nearby and the Château de Joux, first built in A.D. 1034, looks like a reliable destination, 18 September 2007. There's the "ha ha" on the right.

Our nearly hysterical guide just outside the medieval keep -- a lovely local student who seemed so afraid of losing the thread of her memorized spiel that she fairly shouted out the same amusing historical stories quasi ad verbum that we heard a few months ago.

Alison and a busload of French older persons and very older persons (it's mid-September, all the working-age people are chiseling away at the mineface.)

Alison amongst the preceding couple of generations

Within the medieval keep, Alison passing the cistern and wandering up towards Mirabeau's cell

Dad, poised at the door to Mirabeau's cell, snapping wildly away at her

The cell of Berthe de Joux, the poor lady [see above] whose husband returned from the Crusades at a very bad moment and locked her up in this cell for a large number of years to encourage repentant thoughts, and who ended up in a nearby convent gibbering many years after the old testosteronie's death.

An overnight in there we could consider an adventure, and maybe laugh it off. Twenty-odd years would get really get to us.
Poor Berthe.

And they all made it down, no first responders needed on this trip.

The cell of Toussaint Louverture (1743-1803), the former slave and guerilla leader who led the blacks to victory over the Spanish, English, and French authorities in Haiti in the late 1790s, moved on to Santo Domingo to free the slaves there, made a deal with the USA not to invade the South in return for arms, and established a constitution, with himself in charge of it, over the whole island of Hispaniola in 1801. Napoleon didn't fall for that one, and the heroic gentleman perished right here of pneumonia.

Alison trying to photograph the bottom of the well, 120 metres down. Everything turned out black.

Dad and Alison at the ancient prison cell, with bricks made of styrofoam. It was got up in 1995 for the Claude Lelouch film Les Misérables with Belmondo.

An excellent archway

Another archway: Dad on the way out, as usual

The Château de Joux from near the entrance, and the 19th century fort at Larmont on the far side of the ravine (or "cluse") of Pontarlier.

Zoom on the fort across the ravine

The whole ensemble

Alison with her camera

Dad with his camera back again

A last look at the Château de Joux for September 2007

Views of the Château de Joux

Castles of France: Château de Joux

Marlowe's visit, July 2007

Alison's visit, September 2007

Kristin's visit, May 2008

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 22 August 2007, revised 20 June 2008, 4 February 2014.

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