Visit the Chateau Bonaguil in Lot-et-Garonne, Aquitaine
Located in the Lot-et-Garonne department of south-west France, Bonaguil was the last of the great fortified castles to be constructed in France. It is built in an impressive location on a high rocky spur between two rivers (the Thèze and the Lémance). Hence the name of the castle, which comes from the French 'bonne aiguille' - good needle.
The original 13th century castle was a much simpler castle than the one we now see. Bonaguil was on the side of the English during the Hundred Years War, which led to the original castle being plundered and damaged. The family retained ownership however, and in the century that followed various renovations and modifications were made at Bonaguil.
Over three decades at the end of the 15th and beginning of the 16th centuries the castle was transformed by Béranger de Roquefeuil into a highly defensive chateau. The castle contained all the innovations to deal with an artillery attack, the new force at that time - the main effort being to prevent enemy artillery approaching too closely to the castle, while also permitting retaliatory artillery fire from the castle itself. This effort involved extensive building of a further perimeter of defensive walls, the construction of tall towers, and the creation of a deep moat, crossed by a drawbridge, on the land-facing side of the castle.
Attractive setting for Chateau Bonaguil
However, at around the same time, other castles further north in France were starting to be converted from fortresses to more comfortable residences, and as it turned out de Roqeufeuil was too late - he expected an attack that never arrived and the fortifications were unnecessary.
Despite occasional efforts to improve Bonaguil by various branches of the family that retained ownership, by the middle of the 17th century the castle was infrequently occupied and in a poor condition. It was in the 18th century that fortunes started to reverse for Chateau Bonaguil, with the new owner Marguerite de Fumel making several changes towards turning the castle into more comfortable living accommodation.
Following the French Revolution the castle became a national property, and suffered from the immediate impact of the revolution, as did many castles in France - much of the carpentry and roofing was destroyed, and the towers damaged and reduced in heaight. From 1862 however it has been a classified National Monument and has undergone maintenance and restoration.
It is now one of the most impressive and evocative castle ruins in France, perhaps anywhere. As a history of the development of castle defences it is also a unique document. One of the unexpected features that also make Bonaguil interesting is the graffiti that has been uncovered at the castle - covered over since the middle ages, it helps bring the visitor closer to the events that have gone before.
Visitor note: If you are planning a visit to the castle, there is an impressive night-time firework display (embrasement) held towards the end of July each year with stunning lighting and sound effects giving an extra dimension to a visit to Bonaguil.
Map showing location of Chateau Bonaguil