"Ou le songe devient la realite."

Where the dream becomes reality.

- Ferdinand Cheval

 

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BIOGRAPHY OF FACTEUR CHEVAL
(1836 - 1924)

An insignificant event spawned the building of Cheval's castle in 1879, at the age of 43. He tripped on a bizarre and beautiful stone in the road along his mail route and bent to pick it up. Looking about, he was surprised to see that such marvelous stones were scattered all around him, and he pocketed them to find a use for them at home. "From that moment," he says in a letter from 1897, "I did not sleep day or night." He continued his search on his daily 32 kilometer route (adding 10 km to search for more stones), first putting his treasures in his pockets, then in a wheelbarrow. He scoured the countryside for days and nights at a time on his mail route, sleeping in farmhouses and under the stars. He stock-piled the stones he brought back in his yard, which convinced his neighbors that he had gone mad, but he was determined to build the castle and grottoes that had populated his dreams 15 years earlier -- dreams he never told a soul about, fearing people would ridicule him. Cheval was a mailman by day and an architect by night, building his palace of stones and intricately carved concrete with little available light and no assistance from anyone.

It took him 34 years of continuous toil to finish the imposing castle, which teems with sculptures of gods and goddesses, churches and temples, animals and monsters, pilgrims and peasants, and fountains and towers. More than 1,000 miniature palaces and temples of several religions are nestled in the palace's facade (8 - 10 meters high with a perimeter of 78 meters). Cheval was as good an amateur poet as he was an amateur sculptor and architect -- the tunnel that runs through the bottom level of the palace, as well as several outer and upper walls, are filled with poems and inscriptions. Most have to do with the power of art and one man's ability to achieve a dream through hard work. Cheval hoped to be buried here with his wife, but the city forced him to build a separate tomb in the town's consecrated cemetary, minutes from the palace. At the age of 78, Cheval collected rocks and built a second tomb there, where he was buried upon his death in 1924. His wheelbarrow, however, is buried in the palace in its own tomb, surrounded by Cheval's poems and inscriptions. Pablo Picasso and Andre Breton (the founder of Surrealism) visited Cheval's masterpiece, which has influenced many artists and inspired many would-be creators. It is now a national monument (as of 1963) and the main source of income for a town that once condemned its strangest, most remarkable denizen.

 

 

 

All materials © Kristin Fiore 2001 - 2010. Use without permission strictly encouraged.