Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The travel enrichment grant from the Center for International and Intercultural Studies Office allowed me to undertake a personal endeavor to research Scottish and French castles during my two-week independent travel break from the Denmark program.
I first began my project in Scotland where I visited Edinburgh Castle. I spent a considerable amount of time in the castle itself as every building was hosting different exhibitions about the castle's history and its importance in Scottish history. The importance of the city as a royal siege for the nation as well as the political center became clear after spending time in the town of Edinburgh itself. I then took a public bus through the countryside, which was less than an hour away, to Stirling Castle. The castle is beautifully perched atop a hill. With its thick walls surrounding the structure for defense, it had once served for Scottish royalty, as well as played a role in the wars of independence. In my travels to Scotland I was able to get myself to Doune Castle, a distance of approximately 5 miles from Stirling. This Scottish castle equally saw action in the wars of independence.
Following my time in Scotland, I traveled to France for the second half of my travels. First I took a train to the suburb of Versailles to visit Chateau de Versailles which was a clear indication of the beautiful structures I was to see in France. Leaving from Paris, I took a train to the town of Tours, where I was able to leave for a comprehensive tour of the Loire Valley. With a set itinerary, the tour left me with little freedom for exploration as I had in Scotland. Nonetheless, it was the easiest way to see the French castles that I wanted to in the Loire Valley. Being a native French speaker however, I found it intriguing to take the tour in French; it felt like a traditional experience. The tour included a visit to the Azay-Le-Rideau Chateau, Villandry gardens, the magnificent Chenonceau and finally Amboise. I found the French palaces to encompass a more "awe-struck" factor as they were surrounded by manicured landscape gardens and sculptured decorations. The tour guide mentioned Chenonceau as being an "imposing fortress", a perfect description for many of the French manors that I was able to see.
Although I am not a fine arts major, I was able to observe the difference in the architectural styles between the Scottish and French Castles. The Scottish castles were much more rugged and seemed to portray the essence of time and history. There was often evidence of wear and tear which was caused by defense measures such as the wars of independence. The French castles on the other hand were much more pristine. They reflected a cleaner style of architecture. It was clear that much up keep and money had been put into maintaining these castles and with this came a distinct pride.
My observations led me to the conclusion that the Scottish castles that I visited had at one point played an integral part in the defense of the nation. It was apparent that the castles had played an important role of security and protection for the people. I was much more interested by the power relationship and the distinctness in the French castles; they had served as personal residences making the power relationship between the Bourgeoisie and the regular class very distinct.
Undertaking this personal project made my semester abroad more interesting and meaningful. Having the opportunity to visit some of the most beautiful castles and estates in Europe left me with a great appreciation of architecture and of the relationship that is evident between the residents of the castles and the surrounding community. I cannot express how grateful I am for having been given this opportunity.