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By the time I was climbing the stairs up from the platform of the Metro Line 1 toward the exit sign ‘2’, I already knew that something special was waiting for me. The metro station is filled with artifacts and historic details about a castle and a keep, which once housed some of France’s most important kings and notorious prisoners.
Stepping outside and seeing the entrance to one of Europe’s largest and best-preserved medieval fortresses right there, a short metro ride from the city center, I felt a million miles away from Paris. Who knew that something like this was sitting right on the capital city’s doorstep?
Crossing the moat via the drawbridge conjured up visions of princesses and knights, an idea confirmed straight away when I took a quick look in the museum shop next to the ticket office. It’s a shame the outfits didn’t come in my size, but a fluffy googly-eyed dragon still did the trick… But I digress.
Dating back to the 1300s, the keep of the Château de Vincennes was once the residence of kings and queens, including Charles V with his wife Jeanne de Bourbon, and later, Louis XIV.
While it was typical of castles to have some room to hold prisoners, the donjon was the royal residence, since it was the safest place in the château. In the 16th century, however, the royal visitors began staying in the other buildings of the castle, the keep being used now only as a prison. After all, the English word dungeon is derived from the French donjon, so it’s only logical!
Prisoners such as the Marquis de Sade; Nicholas Fouquet of former owner of Château Vaux le Vicomte, the forerunner of Versailles, and philosopher Denis Diderot, all were incarcerated within the château’s sturdy walls. You can even still see graffiti left by bored prisoners. The writing and dates are beautifully turned out, but I guess they had the time to do it properly.
Opposite the donjon and glimpsed through the windows of the roofed battlement walkway, lies the 14th century Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, a jewel of a church, delicate and filled with light, and protected by a whole range of gargoyles along the roof.
Outside the fortress walls, you’ll find the Jardin Floral, one of Paris’s botanical gardens, and the vast Bois de Vincennes. Both the garden and forest are perfect for a stroll before heading back into the city.
So, the verdict? It is well worth taking the Metro Line 1 to its end and spending a day there, in the ‘burbs. Vincennes itself is lovely city to explore, the castle amazing, and the parks perfect for anything from a stroll, hike, or run. What are you waiting for?