Exhibition French Donjons
For over 15 years now Mr. Bernhard Siepen, Master of Engineering and architect, has been working on the donjons, fortified residential towers of medieval France. Together with his wife, Iris and an architect friend, he researched and measured some 130 donjons, correcting existing plans and drawing up new ones. This research work was used as the basis of the exhibit French Donjons that was created 1996 – 1998.
Why French donjons ? In the Middle Ages, centuries of conflict between France and England furthered the development of the art of building castles. The donjon, always placed at a strategic point of the castle, became the prominent part of castle architecure. It stands for residential quarters as well as symbol of power.
Kings, dukes, princes,
counts, barons, even simple knights, they all had residential towers erected in their
castles. France alone has almost 1,100 of them. The exhibition includes the most
important French donjons. Information and illustration boards presented in three
languages offer a tour d’horizon, stressing the historical importance of these
constructions. There is also a catalogue to accompany the exhibit, in four
languages, which can be bought at the exhibition or it can be ordered from the
An authentic model of the donjon that graced Coucy castle, situated some 120 km northeast of Paris, is the centre-piece of the exhibit. This donjon survived for a long time, only to be blown up in 1917, during the World War I. This donjon had been built in just three years’ time, it was 174 feet high, had a diameter of 100 feet and walls up to 24 feet thick. It was the biggest residential tower not only in France but the Occident. To recreate the model, at scale 1:25, in the context of the whole castle and in order to show up its giant size, it was placed on a base of 19x19 feet.
The model shows the castle being besieged, in 1339, when it successfully repulsed English troops. In countless episodes, the story of this siege is being illustrated using some 2,500 handpainted figurines that are shown in mid-movement. All kinds of people involved in the siege, both defenders and attackers, are represented. The buildings both inside and out as well as the weapons are presented to scale. This for instance allows us to observe the courtly society at the knights’ banquet or during a knighting scene, as well as dancers and musicians, jugglers, pages, cooks and artisans.
We also observe the action of soldiers, either on foot or on horseback, using bows, crossbows and siege machines. There is also a scene showing an exchange of prisoners and last but not least the treatment of the wounded.
In addition, the model of a knights’ jousting tournament, which is presented on a base of 4 sq.m, uses more than 600 figurines to bring to life another aspect of courtly activities in fourteenth-century France.
The exhibition French Donjon has been shown so far, with great success because ot its authenticity and lively depiction of medieval life, at different sites in Germany, Europe and the USA. It was shown in Strasbourg, Soissons, Château-Sully-sur-Loire, Frankfurt on the Main, Coburg, Meissen, Dusseldorf, Monchengladbach, Omaha/ Nebraska and in Washington D.C., reaching well over 500,000 people altogether, among them 1.000 school groups.
The exhibition also received a tremendously positive echo from the media.
An important aim that the exhibition pursues is to find private and public sponsors to fund the work of excavating the remains of the Coucy donjon, still buried under a massive layer of debris, as well as restoring and making it accessible to the public.
Copyright: Gesellschaft für Internationale Burgenkunde e.V., Aachen