Chateau de Villebois

In the centre of the old town, there is an old wooden covered market that dates back to the 16th century. It was restored in the 19th century and is now an historic monument. There is a small, but lively market every Saturday morning. A 17th century sundial can be seen on a house that overlooks the market hall.

The town is a reasonably small one with banks, cash machines, newsagent, 2 chemists, 2 boulangeries, a tourism office, garages, a large supermarket, doctors/dentists, builder’s supply store, cafe, hotel and restaurant.The town gets its name from its location on the main Roman road from Perigueux to Saintes. It is thought to be named after a “town located in the woods next to the river Ne” (Ville – town, boisne – wood next to Ne). There is another possible explanation – that it was originally called “Villa bovis” or place of the ox.The 180 metre high hill upon which the town and chateau are now located had been the site of a Gallic oppidum and a Roman castrum up until the 8th century, the chateau was started by the Fulcher family.

It was continued by the Helie family and finally completed in the 12th century by the Ithier family. Ithier was a powerful lord who participated in the Crusades and erected a Romanesque chapel in the chateau close to the outside wall that was used by pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela as refuge and accommodation.In the 13th century, the Lusignan family (the Count of Angouleme), added 2 parts to the primitive chapel, enlarged the chateau’s enclosure and walls, and built 7 towers to turn it into a formidable fortress. Because of its commanding position, it became a much sought after location. In the Hundred Year War, the English occupied it until it was reclaimed by the Duke of Berry in 1376.

During the Wars of Religion, the town and chateau was taken by the Protestants until they were overthrown by the Catholics.In 1589, the Knight of Aubeterre (leader of the League of Angoumois), transformed the chateau into a garrison for his troops. The Duke of Epernon besieged it and forced out the troops by using large canons.In 1597, Jean Louis de Nogaret de La Valette, Duke of Epernon, Governor of the Angoumois from 1554-1642, acquired the land around the town and established it as a duchy under the name of Lavalette. So from 1622 onwards, the town took the name Villebois-Lavalette.The Duke of Navaille purchased the chateau in 1660 and rebuilt a princely castle. Only one wall was kept of the original fortress.During the French Revolution, the chateau was besieged and damaged. It became an army food storage supply centre and prison.

After the revolution it became the main prison for several surrounding departments.In 1822, a fire destroyed half of the chateau. Only the north wing and a few sections of the outside wall survived. It was then used as a school until 1912. From 1914 to 1998, it was owned by the Fleurry family who then sold it in 1998 to a Mr Torres. It has been partially restored and is now open for visits from May to September.

2012

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