The ruined Château Gaillard is the innovative castle built in 1196 for Richard the Lionheart. Not only was it built in surprisingly quick time (two years), but it was also prominently placed on a chalk spur above the Seine River. The chalk base meant the foundations were easily undermined, making the castle quite vulnerable. The castle was built during the time when Richard, King of England and Duke of Normandy, was at war with the French king over Normandy. Richard had just taken the Andelys area, and ordered the construction of the castle. By 1198, when the castle was finished, Richard had regained control of Normandy. Medieval historians then suggest that the castle was more a symbol of Richard’s political power than a defensive structure, a statement of his dominance over Normandy.
The inner bailey has restricted access, and there is a charge. But visitors are free to walk around the middle and outer bailey at all times.
The castle is sited on the edge of a spur, that is about 120 metres above the Seine River near the town of Andelys in Upper Normandy.
Legend has it that Richard designed the castle himself. For its time, Château Gaillard was one of the most advanced castles in Europe, with many unique and sophisticated features. Gaillard is one of the earliest known examples at which machicolations were used – those openings in the floor of battlements through which objects and hot liquids were thrown on to attackers standing at the base of the walls.
With three baileys, each protected with a dry moat, this castle exhibits one of the earliest examples of complex concentric fortifications. An inner bailey surrounds the castle keep, that housed the kings accommodation and throne room. Within the inner bailey there are also the remains of a great hall – currently under restoration (2013/4), gatehouse towers flanking the entrance, bread oven and other storerooms. The inner bailey is surrounded by a dry moat and the ward of the middle bailey. Here the remains of the chapel, the latrines and a well can still be seen. The outer bailey, with its five towers is sited just south-east of the middle bailey – the two separated by a dry moat.
One of the most striking features of the castle, and one that is noticeable from afar, is the scalloped outer-wall of the inner bailey. This feature had two defensive functions. The arrowslits in the wall allowed arrows to be shot in many more directions with greater ease. Further, the curved wall provided a better surface than a flat surface to withstand shock and damage from missiles fired from seige engines.