Postman Cheval

One of the places we would very much like to visit is Le Palais idéal (the “Ideal Palace”) in Hauterives, France built by Ferdinand Cheval, a french postman who spent thirty three years building the amazing palace. 

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Cheval left school at 13 and became a baker’s apprentice and eventually a postman. Cheval began the building in April 1879. He claimed that he had tripped on a stone and was inspired by its shape. He returned to the same spot the next day and started collecting stones. For the next thirty-three years, Cheval picked up stones during his daily mail round and carried them home to build le Palais idéal. He spent the first twenty years building the outer walls. At first, he carried the stones in his pockets, then switched to a basket. Eventually, he used a wheelbarrow. He often worked at night, by the light of an oil lamp. Cheval bound the stones together with lime, mortar and cement. The Palais is a mix of different styles with inspirations from Christianity to Hinduism and is regarded as an extraordinary example of naive art architecture.

Cheval also wanted to be buried in his palace. However, since that is illegal in France, he proceeded to spend eight more years building a mausoleum for himself in the Hauterives cemetery. He died on 19 August 1924, about a year after he had finished building it, and is buried there.

Toward the end of his life Cheval began to be receive recognition for his work by luminaries such as Andre Breton, Max Ernst and Pablo Picasso.

In 1969 the Palais was declared a cultural landmark and had it officially protected. In 1986 Cheval was put on a French postage stamp. Le Palais idéal is open for visitors every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

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