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The Palais Idéal, a stone palace created by French postman Ferdinand Cheval.

This Incredible Ancient-Inspired Palace was Single-Handedly Created by a Postman

The Palais Idéal (meaning ‘Ideal Palace) is a magnificent stone structure that is located in Hauterives, a commune in France. This unique monument was constructed single-handedly by a man known as Ferdinand Cheval, who was a postman. Cheval devoted 33 years of his life to the creation of his dream palace. In addition to this magnificent structure, Cheval also constructed his own mausoleum in the parish cemetery, following the completion of the Palais Idéal.

The Palais Idéal.

The Palais Idéal. (Marc de Fortescu/ CC BY SA 3.0 )

Who Was Ferdinand Cheval?

Ferdinand Cheval was born on the April 19, 1836 in Charmes sur l’Herbasse, a commune in the southeastern French department of Drôme. At the age of 20, Cheval served as an apprentice baker. The records of Cheval’s career are rather sketchy in the following years, though it is known that he became a postman in 1867, at the age of 31. In 1878, Cheval receives his final transfer as a rural postman at the office of Hauterives for the Tersanne round. This round required Cheval to travel a distance of about 29 km (18 miles) daily.

Painting representing Ferdinand Cheval by Coco from the exposition "Cent Regards d'Artistes" in 1987

Painting representing Ferdinand Cheval by Coco from the exposition "Cent Regards d'Artistes" in 1987. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

It was about a year later, on the April 19, 1879, that the postman tripped on a rock whilst travelling along his mail route. Cheval picked the rock up, and enthralled by its odd shape, was inspired to build the Palais Idéal (which was originally called the ‘Temple of Nature’). Thus, at the age of 43, Cheval embarked on a construction project that would occupy the greater part of his later life.

Ferdinand Cheval Working in December 1911.

Ferdinand Cheval Working in December 1911. ( Public Domain )

A Large Stone Collection Becomes a Beautiful Palace

Initially, Cheval collected interesting-looking stones along his mail route and kept them in his pocket. As the number of stones that he picked up increased, the postman decided to carry a bag. Eventually, Cheval brought a wheelbarrow with him as he carried out his duties as a postman, which invited ridicule from onlookers. Nevertheless, Cheval persisted in his endeavor. Whilst working as a postman and collecting stones during the day, Cheval spent his nights working on the Palais Idéal. Cheval drew his inspiration form nature, postcards, and the illustrated magazines he delivered.

Detail of the Palais Idéal.

Detail of the Palais Idéal. ( Public Domain )

The Palais Idéal was completed in 1912, when Cheval was 76 years old. The architecture of this palace consisted of styles from different places and eras. Thus, the Palais Idéal contains structures that resemble a Hindu temple, an Arab mosque, and a medieval castle. In addition, the palace is further decorated by numerous statues, including animals such as bears, birds and elephants, as well as mythological creatures. The Palais Idéal even has its own tutelary spirits – Julius Caesar, Vercingetorix, and Archimedes.

The Palais Idéal. Realized by the postman Ferndinand Cheval (Hauterives, France). South side.

The Palais Idéal. Realized by the postman Ferndinand Cheval (Hauterives, France). South side. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

The Tomb of Silence and Endless Rest

Cheval had intended to be buried in his masterpiece. This desire, however, did not receive the approval of the French authorities. Therefore, the postman decided to build his own mausoleum in the local parish cemetery. The construction of the “Tomb of Silence and Endless Rest” began in 1914, when Cheval was 78 years old. The mausoleum was completed 8 years, in 1922. Two years later, Cheval died and was buried in this monument which he had constructed for himself.

The “Tomb of Silence and Endless Rest” also by Ferdinand Cheval, the creator of the Palais Idéal.

The “Tomb of Silence and Endless Rest” also by Ferdinand Cheval, the creator of the Palais Idéal. ( Mon Opinion )

The Palais Idéal attracted many visitors, even before it was completed. It has been reported that in 2013, the monument was visited by almost 151,000 people from around the world. In 1969, the Palais Idéal was classified as a Historical Monument by André Malraux, who was then serving as the Minister of Cultural Affairs. Malraux is said to have considered the Palais Idéal as the only example of Naïve architecture. On an inscription found on the walls of the Palais Idéal, Cheval states

“I was not a builder, I had never handled a mason’s trowel, I was not a sculptor. The chisel was unknown to me; not to mention architecture, a field of which I remained totally ignorant… Everything you can see, passer-by, is the work of one peasant, who, out of a dream, created the queen of the world…” 

A photo of the Palais Idéal.

A photo of the Palais Idéal. ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Top image: The Palais Idéal, a stone palace created by French postman Ferdinand Cheval.  Source: Mon Opinion

By Wu Mingren

References

Blume, M., 2007. The postman who delivered a palace. [Online]
Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/03/arts/03iht-blume.1.5546120.html

clendena, 2017. Le Palais Idéal. [Online]
Available at: http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/le-palais-ideal

Facteur Cheval, 2016. Postman Cheval's Ideal Palace. [Online]
Available at: http://www.facteurcheval.com/en/index.html

Georges, E., 2011. Postman Spends 33 Years Building Palace by Hand [25 pics]. [Online]
Available at: http://twistedsifter.com/2011/09/ferdinand-cheval-ideal-palace/

Pemberton, B., 2015. Labour of love! French postman spends 33 years building impressive PALACE from pebbles collected on his route. [Online]
Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/travel_news/article-3004102/Labour-love-Tenacious-postman-spends-33-years-building-impressive-PALACE-pebbles-collected-daily-route.html

Unusual Places, 2017. Ferdinand Cheval’s Perfect Palace. [Online]
Available at: http://unusualplaces.org/ferdinand-chevals-perfect-palace/

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