From Alsace to the Loire Valley, it’s not unusual to find castles in France. But if you stumble upon the Guédelon Castle in the Burgundy region, you might be surprised to learn its history stretches back only a couple of decades, instead of centuries.
Conceived by Michel Guyot, the project started in 1997 and still isn’t finished. Called the world’s biggest archaeological experiment, it’s an attempt to build an entire castle using nothing but tools, techniques, and materials that 13th century workers would use. Matters are helped a bit by the fact that the site sits near a stone quarry, forest, and water supply. The dozens of people working on the castle chop down trees, use ropes made of hemp, and generally try to keep everything authentic, thanks to oversight by master mason Florian Renucci. Its advisory committee includes an archaeologist, architect, and art historian, and the project’s founders closely studied existing 13th century castles to get the details right.
It has a great hall, lord’s chamber, towers, and a hydraulic flour mill. Corbels, rib-vaults, and other things you find in Game of Thrones books are under construction. “It’s not a grand, royal castle bristling with with military might and enormous wealth but a fortified residence of relatively modest taste and design according to the imaginary Lord of Guédelon,” according to a BBC special about the project, Secrets of the Castle.
While most of think of medieval castles as drafty and dingy, once complete the Guédelon will have limewashed walls, furniture, and paintings, and other decorative touches you would’ve found inside. “As soon as we finish kind of the major building work, then we can get on with the job of rendering the inside but, I hope, also the outside of the castle, because often the outsides of castles were also rendered and limewashed, because in terms of visibility it meant your castle stood out in the landscape,” press officer Sarah Preston tells the BBC.
The castle won’t be finished until 2020, according to Slate, but 300,000 people visit each year to get a taste of medieval life … quite literally. The mill is already working, so the workers pass out castle-made bread.