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Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval

Le Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval

04 Mar 2013 BY Dominique Wells

Once upon a time a very ordinary man with a very ordinary job had a revelation after tripping over a stone of an extraordinary shape. His vision of a fantastic palace drove him to collect hundreds of heavy stones over miles of countryside on his daily postman’s run. As if on a divine mission he was ready to shock the world with his genius at the age of 43 and embark on an extraordinary project which was going to take 33 years to complete.

Ferdinand Cheval (1836–1924) had been a postman for 29 years in the low-lying hills of the Drôme (south of Lyon, north of Provence). His vision of a palace “where all styles of all the countries and all the eras are blended and mixed” was built single-handedly, an extraordinary feat for any man. He gave it life with painstaking and obsessive attention to detail, mainly using lime mortar and some cement to bind the stones he collected during his rounds and sea shells his cousin sent him from the coast. The outer walls of the palace represent biblical and oriental fables and reach 11 metres in height and 23 metres in length; they enclose a bestiary and a cascade.

In 1969 the palace was classified as a national monument by André Malraux, then Minister of Culture, against the advice of his fellow civil servants who described it as the hideous insanity of a ruffian’s brain. Outsider Art or ‘Art Brut Naïf’ had been the special interest of artists such as Tinguely and Picasso and writers such as Breton.

In his own words: "Fils de paysan je veux vivre et mourir pour prouver que dans ma catégorie il y a aussi des hommes de génie et d'énergie. Vingt-neuf ans je suis resté facteur rural. Le travail fait ma gloire et l'honneur mon seul bonheur; à présent voici mon étrange histoire. Où le songe est devenu, quarante ans après, une réalité." (Son of a peasant I want to live and die to prove that in my category there are men of genius and energy. For 29 years I worked as a rural postman. Work is my glory and honour is my only happiness; this is my strange story so far. Where forty years later a dream has become reality.)

Cheval spent the last eight years of his life building his tomb with stones. He called it the ‘Tombeau du Silence et du Repos’, the tomb of silence and repose.

Located between Lyon and Valence, the palace is a good stopover on your way to your villa on the Côte d’Azur or Provence. The palace’s website gives information on local accommodation and its many summertime concerts – be sure to book seats in advance.

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