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The Ruins of the castle of Montaigle (XIII-XVI century)
A Roman garrison
Situated at the confluent of the Molignée and the Flavion, the castle of Montaigle rises on a rocky spur of the escarpment which was occupied by a small military garrison at the end of the Roman period, Byzantine Era (± IIIrd to Vth century) and probably served as a place of refuge for the local populations during the germanic invasions.
A medieval fortress
Built on a more ancient construction, the fortress was erected at the beginning of the XIVth century by Guy de Dampierre, Count of Namur, known besides as regent of Flanders and as a key-figure of the Golden Spurs Battle (1302).
A lordly residence
Enlarged and transformed in the XVth century, Montaigle became a comfortable residence. Floors were added to increase vital space, and large windows, chimneys, latrines, vaulted cellars... The remains that we can visit today date therefore mainly from this period. The attentive visitor will see here and there some traces of the original state of the castle : loop-holes, filled-in battlements, double-thickened and heightened remparts and different dressings of facing stones... At this period, Montaigle was the chief town of one of the nine bailiwicks (administrative and judicial districts) of the county and Jeanne d'Harcourt, the last countess of Namur, Lady of the courts of France and Burgundy lived often there.
A monument in peril
Abandoned by order of Charles the Fifth during the war against Henri II, king of France, Montaigle was burn down by Henry's troops in 1554. The castle was not reconstructed; but certain parts appear to have been put in order and occupied at various later epochs. Invaded by vegetation, especially by the ivy, deteriorated by the elements, it entered the legend, as showed in the pathetic story of the "Lady with the Faggot" and the dramatic legend of "Midone de Bioul" (see museum). Montaigle inspirated also many romantic artists; among them, several english painters or engravers (see the documentation published by the Friends of Montaigle).
The salvation of Montaigle
Exploited as a quarry by the local inhabitants, the fortress owes its salvation to the intervention of the Count of Beauffort who purchased it in 1854 to avoid its total destruction and who began the first work of consolidation. The del Marmol family, owners of Montaigle since 1865, have followed this work of protection, obtaining among other things the classification of the site (1946 & 1980) and of the ruins (1965).
In 1965, preoccupied with the deterioration of these beautiful classified remains, benevolent people offered the owner their help for the safeguard and revival of the ruins and their exceptional site. The association of "The Friends of Montaigle" was born. Their efforts have resulted, among others things, in the perfecting of a new efficient method of consolidation by projecting micro-concrete.
Subsidized since 1982 by the Culture Walloon Ministry (Protection of the Patrimony), the systematic consolidation of the ruins benefits also from the assistance of a squad of workers partly paid by the Employment and Work Ministry (PRIME project). To be added : the aid of occasional volunteers (The Youth of Architectural Patrimony...), and of generous patrons.
The efforts of the Friends of Montaigle were rewarded in March 1985 by a prize of the King Baudouin Foundation (competition "Safeguard by undertaking"); another prize awarded by the Royal Association of the Belgian historical residences was won in 1993. But the Friends of Montaigle are especially happy because Montaigle is now classified as an Exceptional Walloon patrimony.
The access to the ruins is by a very steep path protected by two walls. Originally one had to cross a ditch, to-day filled in, and a first door situated where the present houses can be seen.
The farm-yard (barns, stables, pastures) was located in an enclosure below the south side of the castle and left of the access path.
The first tower that we discover - the entrance tower (1) - dates from the beginning of the XIVth century; it was raised and windows were added in the XVth century during general transformation of the castle. At the foot of this tower, we notice the jambs of the second door (2) protecting the access.
Continuing the ascent, we arrive just after the gate, at the site of a drawbridge (now missing) (3) which spanned a ravine, now filled in, and we enter the castle courtyard (4).
THE LOWER LEVEL OF THE CASTLE
This courtyard which is only partly cleared was surrounded by buildings with a domestic function : the house of the gate-keeper (5), the stables (6), a furnace, barns and workshops.
At the eastern extremity of the courtyard, we find a construction on three levels, used to lodge the garrison (7). The ground floor has been heigtened. In the south wall of the upper level, we can see a window-seat. In the basement a large vaulted cellar, in a good state, is occasionaly used for meeting hall (water, electricity, sanitary, heating at disposal).
Crossing again the courtyard, we approach a large flanking tower (8) comprising, on the upper floor, a beautiful window-seat. This tower defended the curtain.
Quite near, is the well (9) formerly blended together with a small construction. Totally walled up, its depth (33 m) gives a remarkable echo. As the well has been drained off, it is again possible to echo. But, please, don't let fall any stone or rubbish. Only cry or applaud. Just near the well, is the basement of the mechanism serving to hoist up the water (10), appearing as a reversed and truncated cone.
THE NORTH FACE OF THE CASTLE
Before visiting the upper level of the castle, a walk round the exterior of the castle will permit better observation of the entire ruins departing from the plateau which served as refuge during the Byzantine era. One accedes to this by the courtyard, passing the entrance situated beside the well (9) on the site of the old postern.
Immediately to the left, an angle tower (11) and a large square tower (12) allow one to perceive the difficulty of the restauration undertaken by the Friends of Montaigle in order to stop the degradation of the walls deteriorated by the ivy and the bad weather (see information beside and comparative photos presented in the museum).
By proceeding across the plateau and walking a short distance round the castle, one discovers a remarkable view-point of the "Tour de la Retraite" (13) and of the "Chambre de Parement" (20). To be noted : an opening (14) with a corbelling (i.e. overhang of stones) - possibly a balcon or latrine ? - At mid-height a clearly visible difference in the masonry which is again evident on the entire southern façade, a further example of alterations dating back to the XVth century.
THE UPPER LEVEL OF THE CASTLE
On the left of this staircase (15), two long vaulted halls (16) used for storage are situated.
The wing on the right at the bottom of the staircase comprised a great hall (the vault of which has completely collapsed) and above this hall, at least one floor communicating with the baronial hall. In this wing, named the "Chastellerie" (17), were located the quarters of the captain of the garrison, the kitchens...
The square tower (12) adjoining this part of the building was, in its base, a cistern fed by the rain water collected by the surrounding roofs. This tower also comprises on the upper level a small paved room, the remains of the vault being visible from the outside of the castle (see the photos presented in the museum).
The baronial residence consists of two great halls. Of the first, the hall of the keep (18), there only remains the cellar level : two vaulted cellars completely ruined and newly cleared. They probably have been used for kitchens, just as the ruins of the furnaces discovered into the keep-tower, make us believe. This level has been covered with two long vaults, of which the still visible basement supported the floor of the keep-room.
The second, known as the "Chambre de Parement" (20) [to which an access has been newly created by a modern staircase arriving near a chimney] is lit by large openings (two with window-seats). The walls were plastered and painted with bright colours. A partition must have divided in two the length of this hall heated by two chimneys (21) (one of which is still visible : it partially closed the tower in the corner called "Tour de la Retraite" (13).
The "Chambre de Parement" comprised an upper level (note the remains of window openings) access to which was by a stairway built in the thickness of the north wall. Let us note also, in the basement, a small cellar (23) still intact.
The upper level of the ruins is dominated by the watch-tower (24) round which a small flight of stairs gives access to a square room (25), built on a vaulted hall, adjoining the entrance tower (2nd level). The partial destruction of the building allows one to discover the superposition of the levels.
Recent archeological excavations under the baronial residence showed the remainings of a previous castle dating back to the XIIIth century instead of it was built a simple donjon or a square tower, having a defence and habitation functions. And finally in 1298, the countal castle was built.