Forteresse royale de Chinon - Crédit : Léonard de Serres
Forteresse royale de Chinon - Crédit : Léonard de Serres

The country park

The country park of today is far from resembling the Fortress of Charles VII. In the Middle Ages, one must imagine a densely built space where buildings and inner courtyards dominate.

The royal dwellings had a very different configuration than today: they had three wings arranged in a U-shape (compared to only one today). The smaller side of the U barred the access to the Fort du Coudray and was perpendicular to the bridge, with probably a carriage entrance in its axis. Another wing also existed in front of the present royal dwellings. It housed a covered court for playing a game that was the ancestor of today's tennis. This sport was very popular with the nobility in the late Middle Ages.

In addition to the defensive and residential buildings, the site also housed a priory and two royal chapels, one dedicated to Saint-Martin on the Fort du Coudray, and the other to Saint-Melaine in the royal dwellings.

From the 2nd half of the 18th century, the park and the Fortress were in a complete state of abandonment, the esplanade was entirely bare and the administration of the domains rented it to private individuals for growing crops. In the 19th century, parks with paths that combined romantic ruins and exotic species were fashionable. In 1824, the sub-prefect of Chinon had the courtyard of the fortress cleared and "a beautiful walkway was laid out to allow the ruins to be appreciated", complete with a nursery of several hundred mulberry trees. He also had various species planted that he had discovered during his travels.

The park of the Fortress of Chinon shelters a venerable Sophora japonica (Styphnolobium japonicum). The association A.R.B.R.E.S awarded it the certificate Remarkable Tree of France on 13 February 2023.

Despite its name, this tree is native to China or Korea, where it is called the Pagoda Tree because it is frequently located near temples.

We owe its introduction to France to Father d'Incarville, a missionary priest in China in the 18th century. In 1747, he sent his friend Bernard de Jussieu, botanist to King Louis XV, seeds of an unknown tree. The Swedish botanist Linnaeus (at the origin of the nomenclature of the species in Latin) attributed (wrongly) a Japanese origin to it in 1753. In 1774, it was the first tree that Queen Marie-Antoinette had planted at the Petit Trianon as part of the development of her new Anglo-Chinese garden. In 1779, the first flowering on French soil would allow Claude Richard (another botanist of the king) to identify it and to baptize it Sophora of China (Sophora Sinistra). From 1850, Sophora japonica were commonly planted in France to decorate the promenades of the town centres.

The Sophora japonica of the Fortress was probably planted in the park around 1824, when the sub-prefect Duverney carried out work to create an English garden and a nursery of white mulberry trees. This Sophora is a tree of primary importance for biodiversity because its flowering occurs at the end of the summer, in a low period for pollen-gathering insects.