Château Castellaras Logo

History

Jacques Couëlle, the famous architect, visionary and ecologist, was only 26 years old in 1927 when he designed this building. It was just one of a series for which he was responsible in the region between the two World Wars.

In Castellaras, he conceived a Château that assembled architectural elements from the XII, XV and XVI centuries. These elements came from ruins in the Pyrenees and Provence, and in giving them a new life in a new building, he saved them from destruction.

A Site that stimulates the imagination

The site of Castellaras shows signs of occupation in both prehistoric and roman times. In the Medieval Ages the village was called «Sartoux», probably because the village was built on the old Roman camp of Santorius, or coming from the the Latin «ex-sartum», meaning land cleared for cultivation. The village was an «oppidum», a fortified site inhabited by the knights of Sartoux.

The first sign of a Château on the site appears in the XI century. This building was given to the Monastery of Lerins (on the islands of Cannes) by Beliedis, the wife of Gauceran, one of the many sires owning land around Castellaras.

During the XII century, the church was confirmed by the Pope the Bishop of Antibes, but was transferred to Grasse in the XIVth.

After the Plague in 1365, Sartoux remained more or less uninhabited until the XIX century. In 1504, an act forbade Mouans residents working at Sartoux to live there, and in 1600, Mouans and Sartoux became two distinct communes. By 1609, Castellaras was abandoned, with just two buildings and a fountain remaining.

There are several sites called «Castellaras» in the region. In the local Provencal language, the word means a ruined castle, so the site probably became known as Castellaras when the Château fell into ruins in the XI century.

Castellaras lives again, thanks to Couëlle

Born in Marseilles in 1902, Couëlle became very rich very young, having the worldwide patent on an earring clip. At 23, he started a company in Aix-en-Provence to design and construct «historical» residences. Just near Grasse at Saint Cerzaire, he built a neo-medieval house for an American financier, George Schley. His brother Evander Schley had for sometime been attracted by the Castellaras site with its old oaks and ruins, and Couëlle eventually persuaded him to build a castle to house his Medieval art collection. Unfortunately, he never lived there as his wife refused to set foot on French soil.

For twenty years this castle which had been so carefully conceived remained virtually unused. At times, it was a barracks, a centre for delinquent children and even a film school when it became known for the production of a French film classic «Fanfan la Tulipe» with Gérard Philippe.

Couëlle, however, kept an eye on his work, and was responsible for its renovation and decoration when in 1951 it was bought by Dusko Popov, one of the Allies' best known secret agents, and reputed to be the model for Ian Fleming's James Bond. After ten years Mr. Popov sold the castle to the Seligmann bank.

To the right of the main entrance is a small anti-chamber with a vaulted ceiling brought from the Auvergne and decorated by Couëlle with a fresco inspired by Villard de Honnecourt. Next is the huge dining room with fireplace, floor tiles and most of the ceiling coming from an abbey in the Cevennes.

To the right of the fireplace is a plan painted by Couëlle of his ideal village. Most of it exists, except for the Orangery. The courtyard is bordered on two sides by elements from a XIII century cloister brought from Condom in the Pyrenees. There are five bedrooms on the first floor. The largest has a fireplace based on a Violet-Le-Duc model, and iron shutters designed by Couëlle. In the entrance is another Couëlle fresco of a hunting scene with a title «inflexible in love and madness», an allusion, so it is said, to Popov's amorous conquests.

In the West round tower is a very pretty room. The beamed ceiling is painted with portraits, some of which originated from the XV century.