Once upon a time, in land not far away from Lyon, there was a man with a dream. It was the beginning of 20th century and he was just a simple mailman, walking about 43 km every day to deliver letters, packages and other postcards in the homes surrounding the village. But that man, Ferdinand, had a dream. He wanted to build a castle. What he called his “perfect palace”. He had a vision of it. He drew it. And he started building it.
“In a dream I had built a palace, a castle or caves, I cannot express it well… I told no one about it for fear of being ridiculed and I felt ridiculous myself.”
~ Ferdinand Cheval
The ideal palace of the Facteur Cheval
Ferdinand would walk is 43 km everyday, finding rocks, shells, and whatnot; would put them on the side of the road and come back later, with his little wheelbarrow to pick them up and add them to his masterpiece. It took him 33 years, working evenings and weekends to build his Ideal Palace.
“I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture”
~ Ferdinand Cheval
The result is flabbergasting. I don’t think there is any better word than this one to describe the building, which is often described as an extraordinary example of naïve art architecture.
The Facteur Cheval’s palace: A worker’s wisdom
And beside the dream-like (or what I imagine an acid-trip-like) architecture, what amazed me most about Ferdinand Cheval’s work are all the quotes written on the walls, relating his commitment to his work, his life-calling.
“In creating this rock, I wanted to prove what the will can do.”
You could say that this palace is an open book of inspiring quotes. There are dozens to read all over the four facades and in the tunnels.
Some, in my group of friends, joked that if Ferdinand worked that hard on building his palace, it’s because he didn’t want to spend his down time with his wife. I don’t know what his motivation has been, it is so surreal to us to imagine dedicating every bit of 33 years to a single crazy dream. But I like to think that he found joy in creating, in seeing his fantasy come to life. And I’m really glad I had the opportunity to visit that wonderful and mysterious place.
The Ideal Palace of the Facteur Cheval is an inspiring trip down the power of a simple man’s mind.