Two and a half years ago, I came across one of the most interesting construction projects I’ve ever seen, called The Guedelon Castle. In a world with cordless power tools, smartphones, and tables strewn across the jobsite, the Guedlon Castle is being constructed solely from 13th Century building techniques in Burgundy, France.
Construction on the castle began in 1997, over 20 years ago, with none of the modern amenities that construction sites have today, including running water, electricity, or modern tools. When we checked in on progress in late 2016, stonemasons were working on a second wall-walk and a domed vault on the first floor of the tower on the west end of the site. Carpenters were busy assembling a second bridge to allow access to the castle while the first would be blocked for the next phase of construction and a new workshop was built to be able to mint coins using medieval techniques.
Since that time, the team behind the castle build has begun a series of short films they call “The Fires of Guedelon,” which shows some of the building techniques and finished products in detail. The series is filmed in French, so you’ll have to read subtitles if you don’t speak French.
One of the most interesting episodes that I’ve watched is the most recent, in which a carpenter named Jean-Michel shows the process of handhewning a log into a square beam, which will be one of 251 beams used to build a chapel tower. It’s a slow, tedious looking process that requires a lot of axe skills. It’s very impressive to watch Jean-Michel work his magic.
The project overall will help researchers and archaeologists fill in the blanks on early 13th century building techniques, those that were lost or simply not recorded. Guedelon currently employs 70 people, 35 of which work on the construction site, including woodsmen, carpenters, stonemasons, and blacksmiths.
The site is open to visitors from March to November each year and gets roughly 300,000 visitors each year. More information about the project can be found on their website.