Walking day-dreamingly along his route, he hit his foot on a stone. Astonished by its shape and form, he took the stone home. That stone, crossing his path in 1879, set the fire within ablaze. He started to give shape to his dream that took him on a journey much bigger than ever imagined.
"Whatever your age, whatever your wish to achieve, if you are courageous, persistent and hard-working, you are sure to succeed."
~ Ferdinand Cheval
Le Palais Ideal - A Postman's Dream
His weird world of fantasy art and bizarre creations started quite innocently with a pond in his backyard, adorned with little creatures built in cement.
Collecting stones became an addiction. When when he had finished his pond, he started with a cave, or rather a tomb where he wanted to be buried "like a Pharaoh," together with his wife. It took 10 years to finish.
His passion didn't stop there. With his imagination running wild he continued his arduous work; put a Hindu temple next to a grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary and Egyptian mummies smack dab in the middle of everything.
A gallery with spiral staircases fit for a queen and a 30-foot tower give the Palais Ideal the whimsical look of a fantasy castle - an odd monument that, according to a inscription in one of the walls by himself, took "more than 10,000 days or 93,000 hours over the period of 33 years" to finish.
Poorly educated with no knowledge of architecture let alone engineering, he gave birth to a surreal place of fantasy art. It became a tourist attraction in France in the otherwise sleepy town of Hauterives.
Even though he was very proud of his creations, at one point he wrote: "You start wondering, if you have not been carried away into a fantastic dream with boundaries beyond the scope of imagination."
A Whimsical, Eccentric, and Crazy Place
The structure is adorned with mythical art. Whimsical creatures climb up the walls and fill little nooks; arms of concrete trees embrace the building; detailed ornaments created with thousands of little stones and miniature temples tucked into crevices. "Figures of classical antiquity" share their place with countless birds and an array of other animals.
Neighbors started to talk; first they were curious but later, when his passion for unconventional art didn't to stop, they thought he had gone mad. That was, until the first tourists visited, including artists from Picasso to Niki de Saint Phalle, as well as intellectuals like André Breton. Finally they realized that there was probably more to this madman than they had thought.
All the way up to his age of retirement as a letter carrier, he kept his soulful work going, sometimes working passionately all night. Sundays where out of question, since that would have been heresy and one didn't "steal God's Day". Although it sounds romantic, building in the shine of a small oil lamp can't have been all that illuminating and fun.André Lacroix, archivist of the French Government, wanted to list Cheval's fantasy castle as an official monument and asked for a description and name of the place. Cheval did write the story but declined to name the place, instead asked Lacroix for the honor, and so the name "Le Palais Idéal" was born.
The French Government didn't allow a burial outside the official cemetery. Cheval, not one to be stopped by such a request, started to build another tomb, the "Tomb of Silence and Eternal Rest" inside the cemetery and finished it within eight years.
Today, "Le Palais Idéal", is a Historic World Heritage Monument.
Good To Know
Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval
8 rue du Palais Idéal
F - 26390 Hauterives
Facteur Cheval's Homepage
Son et Lumière
Where to find
View Palais Idéal, Hauterives, France in a larger map
Accommodations in Hauterives
There is only one Hotel that offers rooms and a nice Restaurant. 500 meter up the road of the palace is a nicely treed campground for motor homes and your own tent as well as chalets and tents for rent as well as a swimming pool. But towns along A6 and A7 offer plenty of accommodation.
Note: The information provided here was correct when published. Rates and details can change without notice.
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