Ideal Palace by Ferdinand Cheval
A unique structure, designed and built by one man – a simple rural postman Ferdinand Cheval – is in the south-east of France, in Provence. For thirty-three years, from 1879 to 1912, he collected heavy stones and single-handedly built his dream – the Ideal Palace, a building that had never been seen anywhere else. Cheval worked at night, and continued to deliver mail in the afternoon.
Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836. At the age of 13, the boy was forced to leave school and get a job in a bakery. Then Cheval became a postman. Every day Ferdinand walked 25 km to the surrounding villages, delivering postcards, letters, newspapers and magazines.
Once Cheval stumbled over the stone and stopped to examine it. He was surprised by the beauty and unusual shape. Millions of years ago the terrain where the road ran was the bottom of the sea, and along the road there were stones with surprising inclusions of shells and trilobites. Ferdinand picked up a strange stone and brought it home. The next day, at the same place, he picked up several more stones. So he began collecting: every day Cheval brought home a few stones – first in his pockets, then in a scarf, in a basket, and then Ferdinand was already on his route with a wheelbarrow. Sometimes, because of the search for special stones, his route was extended by ten kilometers. The neighbors thought that the postman was crazy.
A pile of stones grew in the backyard. Cheval knew exactly what he wanted – he had a dream. “Nature has given me building materials,” Cheval wrote later in his book, “so I had to become an architect and a bricklayer.”
The postman began to study architecture, first on postcards with photographs of attractions, which he delivered to surrounding villages, then in magazines and books. He liked everything – ancient Hindu temples, and Moroccan mosques, and Gothic cathedrals, and wonders of exotic nature, and mysterious caves. He worked on the project at night.
When Cheval retired, he finally devoted himself to his dream – the creation of the Ideal Palace. The stubborn postman decided that the styles of all countries and times would mix in his creation.
It took Ferdinand 33 years, or 120 045 days, to erect this miracle of “naive architecture”. He worked on The Temple of Nature for 20 years. He dug out the pool and made cascades nearby. He named them The Source of Life and The Source of Wisdom. Ferdinand did not lose his first stone! He mounted it on the terrace and called it a stumbling block.
First Ferdinand wanted to call his palace the Temple of Nature. But then the name Temple of Nature received only one of the four facades.
Perhaps the palace erected by Ferdinand Cheval is one of the strangest architectural monuments in the world.
The postman’s castle is not so great only 10 meters in height. But there you can see the semblance of Egyptian temples with columns, Chinese pagodas, figures resembling the stone sculptures of Easter Island, palm trees made of cement and wire, olive trees and aloe, created from limestone, spiral staircases, details typical to Hindu temples and mosques, arches and portals of the Renaissance … Egyptian gods and Catholic saints, pilgrims, animals, plants and seashells… The Chapel of the Virgin Mary adjoins the Moorish mosque, and the towers resemble the creations of Antoni Gaudi.
And the narrow passages of the palace inside and the towers outside are covered with philosophical thoughts and poetic lines of Ferdinand Cheval himself. Soon the palace began to attract the attention of the inhabitants of the surrounding cities, and foreigners. The persistence and purposefulness of Cheval had finally attracted the attention not only of the public, but also of well-known architects. After receiving the advice of professionals, the postman completed the construction of the palace in 1912. He willingly showed it to visitors, selling tickets, however, very cheap. And yet Cheval managed to write a book about his unusual construction.
In 1969 the Ideal Palace was recognized as a historical monument of France. Ferdinand Cheval proved that having a dream and willpower, you can do everything.
“It does not matter what age you are and what you want to achieve. While you are brave enough and ready to work hard, you will certainly achieve success.”