Insatiably ambitious and relentlessly at work, Cardinal Richelieu would not content himself with a place built in his honor; only the deployment and development of an urban structure bearing his name would quell his appetite for fame and glory. And now, in Indre-et-Loire, the town of Richelieu possesses a totally unique heritage, a perfect example of 17th-century (Grand Siècle) French urbanism. At first a project impelled by the main minister of Louis XIII, an ideal city modeled on cities of Antiquity is at once a rare technical achievement and a telling illustration of the power and tastes of its creator.

Built in the heart of Protestant France, the town of Richelieu may appear as a 17th-century instrument of reconquest. The architect Jacques Lemercier imagined for his commissioner a rigorously ordered city with no room for improvisation. With its 28 private mansions, the Grande Rue (main street) is strikingly elegant and impeccably symmetrical. Three monumental gateways provide access to the perfectly straight streets of a 620-meter by 390-meter rectangle of which the borders are framed by ramparts, themselves bordered by moats. In order to allow his  city and its dwellers to inhale and exhale, Richelieu incorporated large town squares, which still exist today.  Place Royale, today known as Place des Religieuses, served as a backdrop for the Academy and the convent, while Place Cardinal, today’s Place du Marché, was home to the church, the marketplace and the courtroom (Palais de Justice), which is now the town hall (Hôtel de Ville).

Today, the Richelieu administration is faced with a challenge: How can the exceptional heritage bequeathed by one of the greatest statesmen France has ever known be successfully preserved and promoted?  With this in mind, a number of projects have been drawn up ans implemented, one of them being the conversion of the private mansion located at 28 Grande Rue into space dedicated to Cardinal Richelieu, to his life, his work and the creation of an eponymous urban entity.  In three contiguous rooms, visitors are propelled into the heart of the 17th century  as they discover different aspects of a celebrated yet in some ways little known figure, his motivations, his obscure sides, his mysteries and his secrets.

Espace Richelieu is also aimed at illustrating, in a fourth room, the ways in which “new towns” came into being during the 20th century and, more generally, the different notions of the ideal city from Antiquity through our times.  A visitor is treated, in the heart of the Cardinal’s purportedly perfect town, to an unusual, perhaps unprecedented run-through of the lengthy and event-filled history of urbanism.  And even though Richelieu’s château has disappeared, it remains omnipresent in the municipality of Richelieu. A 3D reproduction allows the visitor to imagine the amazing palace that was one built for the minister. A grand patron of the arts, Richelieu adorned his château with some of the best artwork of the kingdom … and beyond its frontiers, as well. Decorated with depictions of twenty battles of Louis XIII and his faithful servant, the Grande Galerie offers convincing testament to his manifold accomplishments. At once churchman and statesman, powerful and envied, Richelieu left indelible traces in the collective psyche as well as the history of France.



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