Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836, in the French commune of Charmes-sur-l’Herbasse, in the Drôme department. Cheval left school when he was 13, in order to become a baker’s apprentice, but ended up becoming a postman instead. Although he didn’t seem to be, in any way, an extraordinary young man, he went on to become the creator of one of France’s cultural landmarks.
The ‘Palais Ideal’ came to him in a dream, as he reported in 1879. According to his writings, he had a dream in which he was building the ideal castle but decided not to share his dream with anyone, because he was afraid of being laughed at. Fifteen years later he had almost forgotten his dream until one day, while on his everyday route, he stumbled and almost fell. When he turned to see what he tripped on, he found an oddly shaped stone. He decided to put it in his pocket and look at it later. The next day, he returned to the same place and found even more rocks, that he gathered them up. He described the stones as being made of sandstone that has been shaped by water and hardened over time. Cheval was so impressed with mother nature’s ‘sculpture’ that he believed no man could ever reproduce it, deciding that, if nature was the sculptor, then he would be the mason and the architect.
He spent the next 35 years building his ideal castle, building the outer walls in the first 20. He would pick up stones on his daily route, at first carrying them in his pockets, moving on to baskets and eventually a wheelbarrow, even working at night; he bound the rocks together with cement, lime and mortar. Cheval wanted to be buried inside his creation, but French law forbade it, something which motivated him to spend the next eight years building a mausoleum for himself to be buried in, in the Hauterives cemeteries. A year after completing his mausoleum, on August 19th, 1924, he passed away. He is currently buried inside his creation.
A mixture of various inspirations and styles, the Palace perfectly reflects how Cheval saw the world, featuring a wide variety of cultures and religions. Today, the ‘Palais Ideal’ is currently considered to be one of the most extraordinary examples of naive art architecture. Minister of Culture, Andre Malraux, declared the Palace a cultural landmark in 1969, meaning that it was officially protected.
Location: 8, rue du Palais 26390 Hauterives – France