Azay was built at the beginning of the reign of François I. It is one of the string of prestigious Chateaux of the Loire where, for a century, the Kings of France liked to stay. Built by Gilles Berthelot, a rich financier and member of the Touraine bourgeoisie, he displayed the characteristic enthusiasm of the cultured upper classes for the Italian Renaissance. This edifice inaugurated the era of leisure residences that combined the charm of a French-style Chateau with the majesty of an Italian palace. The water surrounding the château, the corner turrets and the circular walk along the external walls were architectural features taken from the medieval tradition. But the symmetrical distribution of the large openings gives the façades a regular appearance and reveals the influence of Italian architecture. The impressive staircase is a fine example of the sumptuous sculpted décor that is the most prestigious feature of this piece of architecture. This light-filled, transparent space, which opens on to the courtyard of honour via loggias and onto the attractive grounds on the other side via large bay windows, connects the château to its location. In the 19th Century, the Marquis of Biencourt carried out some major work on the interior and exterior of the Chateau. The two towers that now stand at the corners of the courtyard façade give the Chateau a unity of style that it did not previously enjoy. At the same time, the library and the large sitting room were redecorated in a neo-renaissance style. The site was itself redesigned into large landscaped grounds. To the South and West, two mirror-like lakes were created, in which the façades are reflected. Today, the interior offers an insight into life inside the building since the Renaissance, at various times in its history. Several options for visiting the Chateau and grounds are available: you may visit independently, or with a tour guide, participate in a conference tour or we can offer audio-guide handsets in various languages.
It was in the creative environment of the first years of the reign of Francis I that the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau was built. In 1515, Gilles Berthelot, one of the new courtiers and governor-general of the kingdom's finances, replaced the small fortified castle his father had bought by two large wings protected by branches of the Indre river. At the angles, elegant little towers suspended over the water recall the woman who had inspired the house: Philippe Lesbahy, Gilles Berthelot's courageous wife who was unable to complete the reconstruction after the disgrace and then the death of her husband. The house has all the refinements of Renaissance architecture and epitomises the qualities of a traditional French Chateau with its high roofs, tall watch-turrets, long rows of windows and dormer-windows and majestic Italian structure which gives the building a wonderfully symmetrical facade. In the courtyard, there is a splendid grand staircase built by an unknown master architect. From the loggias which are underlined by rich decorative sculptures, there is a wonderful view of the park. It was created at the Romantic period, when the new masters, the Marquis of Biencourt, restored the Chateau.
Today, the facade is gently reflected in the calm river, and the interior is richly furnished and decorated with works of art. Tapestries hang in the great hall where balls and banquets were held. Portraits and historical paintings decorate the apartment which accommodated Louis XIII as well as the salons, library and dining room, which were redecorated by the Marquis of Biencourt.